ASHBURN, Va. — Darrell Green can’t relate to what Tom Brady has done at quarterback. Nobody can. He can, however, relate to almost everything else: How to play at a high level in your 40s; what it’s like to be in a meeting room where you’re the same age as your teammates’ parents; how to stay motivated.
The former Washington Redskins cornerback, and a Hall of Famer, also played until he was 42 years old, retiring after the 2002 season. Brady, 42, and the New England Patriots play Green’s former team Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
“It has got to be historic in terms of, he’s starting, he’s leading his team, he’s undefeated,” Green said. “He’s at the most important position on the field. Everything you could say is extraordinary.”
“There is a lonesomeness I faced from that vantage point.” Former Redskins CB Darrell Green on being as old as the parents of some teammates late in his career.
Of the 61 players in NFL history who have played into their 40s, 17 made the Hall of Fame. Besides Green, only two other defensive players lasted into their 40s — late linebacker Junior Seau and defensive end Bruce Smith. No defensive back played as long as Green.
“I remember one day saying to [pastor Brett Fuller], ‘Man, I wish I could just talk to somebody,'” Green said. “He said, ‘You know what man, there’s no one to talk to. Consider yourself the pioneer and you take the notes and you be the guy.'”
Green spent 20 years with the Redskins; Brady is in his 20th season for the Patriots. Green was a key part of two Super Bowls in Washington, made seven Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro four times. One more: At age 40, Green still ran the 40-yard dash in 4.2 seconds.
This is what Green learned about playing for so long and differences between he and Brady.
Hard to relate: As difficult as it is for Green to comprehend what Brady is doing, the Patriots’ star would have a tough time relating to what Green did on the field. The mind becomes a more dangerous weapon as a quarterback ages; but as a corner gets old, the mind doesn’t help as much if the physical skills diminish. Green’s concession to age — his hamstrings weren’t as strong — involved altering his stance so it was more open.
“I had to train harder because I relied on reactions and speed and footwork,” Green said, “whereas his is repetitive, particularly in their system. It’s like free throw shooters, like Ray Allen shot so many balls a day or a golfer hitting so many chip shots or so many putts. It’s the highest level of professionalism. That’s what a professional is: I can do something at the highest level consistently for a long period of time.”
Clearly, Brady also has to work on maintaining his footwork. But for a corner, it’s everything. That doesn’t mean Green thinks what he did was more impressive.
“It’ll be tough to repeat what he does,” said Green, who is an associate athletic director at George Mason University and who also started the Strong Youth, Strong Communities initiative. “It may be tough to repeat what I’ve done. But what separates [Brady] from everybody is that he led the charge to six championships. I wasn’t leading a team; my hat is off to him.”
But for most of two decades, he did cover receivers such as Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin.
“Nobody played football like me and Deion [Sanders], we were mano-a-mano,” Green said. “That’s a lot of mental and physical pressure when playing the best. You get LeBron today, Kobe the next day, Bird, Magic. You don’t get any sleep.”
One day at a time: Brady entered the NFL as a sixth-round pick out of Michigan. Green was a first-round pick in 1983, but he was a small cornerback (5-foot-9) out of a smaller school (Texas A&I, now known as Texas A&M University-Kingsville).
“He still had an inauspicious beginning and the whole idea of, ‘Can you play?'” Green said of Brady. “They told me I would be a punt returner. You remember that.
“He’s probably the same guy. He goes through the same process every year; you train the same. People are saying that in Year 14, 15, ‘Oh, man, you’re the man!’ But you’re not saying that. That’s not how you see it. You see it as that first year. More knowledgeable but the same drive, the same everything else. … You just repeat that for 19, 20 years.”
There’s a consistency to Brady’s life, just as there was to Green’s. Brady’s parents have been married since 1969; they and his three sisters have been constants in his life. Likewise, Green, though his parents were divorced, saw his dad work the same job for 30 years. His sister did the same. To him, being a professional player was just about going to work.
“We waxed on, waxed off,” Green said. “I didn’t have a lot of drama on the side. I’m the guy next door. It’s like we just got up and went to work. We trained. My kids could set their clock by it: ‘Hey, he’s on his way to George Mason to run hills. Oh, he’s on his way home. Oh, he’s going to his second workout.’ It wasn’t a big deal.”
Green said every year, he would tell his wife the same thing after final cuts: “I made it again.” He said he didn’t say that lightly. By all accounts, Brady operates with a similar mindset.
“I was the same guy that left Texas A&I,” Green said. “The first year … all the critics — and your own internal critical nature and drive to be the best. My lifestyle added to my success. I was with the same woman, also the same team, reaching my community. I didn’t have a chick on the side, I wasn’t out in clubs partying or smoking and drinking. Some of it is lifestyle, but to that end I’m wondering if maybe we might be the normal guys.”
Playing with kids: Green said he walked to the parking lot after one game with a young teammate who introduced him to his parents. They were Green’s age. Meanwhile, Green’s son Jared, who was 13 during his dad’s final season, would talk on the phone with another young teammate of Green’s, Fred Smoot.
Green also said he became closer to reporters and coaches, mostly because he had more in common with them than his teammates.
“There is a lonesomeness I faced from that vantage point,” Green said.
The Redskins would bring in cornerbacks all the time; Green kept beating them out. The Patriots have drafted multiple quarterbacks of the future; two are starting with other teams.
“I laugh all the time, because over the years they drafted Tom Carter in the first round and Champ Bailey and a million other guys who came into that room who were kids when I was 35 … 41, 42,” Green said. “I was only a month and a half from my 43rd birthday on that last game.
“But I know what those kids were thinking: ‘Man, this old guy is my dad’s age.’ They were right. But, dude, I’m better than you are. I’m starting opposite Champ Bailey and he’s 22 and I’m 40.”
But there’s no lonesomeness historically anymore. He and Brady are in the same rare neighborhood.
“I don’t buy into the idea of the greatest football player,” Green said, “because I don’t know if you can be the greatest even in your own position. But you can only be — at minimum — compared to your own position. We didn’t play the same position, but we did it at a high level for a long time.”