SAN DIEGO — One of Jay Schroeder's bullet passes bounced off Darrell Green's tender ribs the other day, and as Green crumbled in pain, it was like a million sirens had sounded.
"Bubba! Bubba!" somebody screamed, and Bubba Tyer, Washington Redskins trainer, came running, though he was not first or even second on the scene. Instead, assistant trainer Keoki Kamau already had Green's helmet and teammate Alvin Walton already had Green's hand.
An observer suggested that what Green really needed was some spare ribs, though no one dared laugh. That's because the Redskins don't have a spare cornerback, not anyone like Green, who in his fifth season is the player the Redskins can least afford to lose.
Certainly, rookie Brian Davis was a competent replacement when Green left the conference semifinal against the Chicago Bears with his ribs hurt after a 52-yard punt return touchdown. But put Davis one-on-one with any of the Denver Broncos' "Three Amigos" (wide receivers Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson and Ricky Natteil), and Redskins coaches admit they could be holding their breath for a minute or two or three.
Moreover, Davis bruised a thigh last week-while recovering a Green fumble on a punt return-so can he be relied on further? Point is, the Redskins can lose Doug Williams, and they have Jay Schroeder; they can lose Art Monk, and they have Ricky Sanders; they can lose Joe Jacoby, and they have Russ Grimm. But lose Green, and there might be a Denver wind tunnel to the end zone, with Broncos quarterback John Elway serving as the conductor.
Green, before leaving for Super Bowl XXII in San Diego, talked about the damaged cartilage in his ribs and said there was little need to worry. First of all, he bounced up to his feet after getting shot by Schroeder's bullet, and proceeded to dance around the field so as to let Coach Joe Gibbs' heart return to its natural spot.
Nevertheless, teammate by teammate visited Green, asking the never-ending question that nags all of Washington anyway. "Can you go, Darrell? You okay?"
Perhaps people would rest easier if they knew a little of Green's past, which was just as fast as his present. At little Texas A&I University, Green was also little (not even 160 pounds) and also resistant to pain.
His coach there, Ron Harms, remembers a Thursday practice when the team was working on a goal line drill, and the secondary coach sent Green and everyone else on an all-out blitz. Harms was surprised by it and was soon livid about it when a lead blocker cut Green's legs out from under him, a vicious lick.
Green crawled in pain, and Harms remembers: "It made me so sick, I had to leave the field. Darrell was carried off, and I said, 'Oh, man. The guy's gone.' They tested the knee, and there were problems in there. But 24 hours later, he was using the knee flexor machine, and on Saturday, he tried getting on the (team) bus with us.
"I'm telling you, this was a potentially surgical injury for most guys, but he played a week later against East Texas State and made the darndest punt return."
The darndest thing about that particular punt return is that it reminds everyone at Texas A&I of the one Green had against the Bears this month. Against Chicago, Green-all of 5 feet 9-fielded the ball, ran a little, hurdled 6-3 Bears tight end Cap Boso, which is when he pulled the cartilage in his ribs, and jogged into the end zone. This was the game-winning touchdown.
Well, against East Texas State six years earlier, Harms remembers: "It was almost identical. I've just re-watched the films. Darrell leaped over some guy and scored. And I think Darrell jumped higher that day than against the Bears." And he didn't hurt his knee or his ribs doing it.
Naturally, Green took somewhat of a risk, playing hurt in the NFC championship game against Minnesota, but he said Dwight Garner, a former Redskin, and a bunch of his friends at church, prayed over his ribs the Tuesday before the game. Green, a born-again Christian, said he took a pain-killer right before kickoff to give him more "faith." He said others had prayed over him, but he himself needed the "faith" to play, and he says that's what the shot gave him. And he thinks it was "the grace of God" that got him through the game in one piece.
If necessary, he probably will take the shot again before the Super Bowl, although he said Saturday: "I think I'm ready, and I think the whole team is ready. If it takes a whole lot to get ready for this game, then you shouldn't be in the league."
Just this last week, the Broncos announced that wide receiver Vance Johnson-who Green knows personally from the "The NFL's Fastest Man" competition two years ago-is ready to resume practice for the Super Bowl after being injured earlier. Consequently, some are touting their matchup as a key one.
Green, though, downplays his reputation around the league, though some Redskins know he's more important to the team than he thinks.
"First of all, I don't think ('The Three Amigos') hold me in too much reverence," Green said. "I don't think they hold me in fear. And I'm nicked up a little bit, too.
"I do know when I walk off the field, I'll know that Darrell gave it all he had, and if they end up beating me, great. And if I end up beating them, great. So, it's just as long as I go out and play as hard as I can."
He's played in one Super Bowl before, but he was a rookie then and "didn't understand the magnitude of it." Now, he does. So, if he played hurt against East Texas State, it's safe to assume he'll do likewise against the Broncos.