Late in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft, the player Bobby Beathard rated near perfect at his position drifted ever closer to being claimed by the Washington Redskins. An expectant Beathard, the team's scouting guru, watched the 25th team make its choice, the 26th followed and then. . . .
Beathard held the 28th selection and his target was now in range. He loomed at fingertip distance, which was as close as Beathard came to getting a grip on him. With the 27th pick, one slot ahead of the Redskins, the Miami Dolphins drafted Dan Marino.
"I personally had Marino rated way up there, near 8 1/2 or 9 on a 10-point scale, even if we didn't need a quarterback like we did a cornerback," Beathard recalled this week from a skiing site in Colorado.
The Redskins were fixed at quarterback with Joe Theismann, fresh from leading them past Miami 27-17 in Super Bowl XVII. Miami's glaring flaw had been magnified by a record low four completions during the defeat. So Marino fit, and left Beathard ever after bragging that the Redskins also set some sort of record.
"We were the only team that didn't pass up Marino," said the general manager and scout who spent 1978-89 with the Redskins.
Twenty-seven teams in need of eye charts then compounded their myopia. Beathard smiled as they also overlooked cornerback Darrell Green, whom he happily named as Washington's No. 1 pick with the 28th and last choice in the first round. Thus two future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees emerged back-to-back from the bottom of the first rotation.
"Would we have taken Marino if he'd been there? Yes," Beathard conceded. Some would say, based on future team results, he got the better of the deal in Green.
Marino set a directory of passing records, but lost in the only Super Bowl the Dolphins qualified for during his 17-year tenure. Green helped the Redskins win two of three Super Bowls over an astonishingly long 20-year career for a cornerback. Buried with their brilliance were predraft rumors that Marino's hands were too small and Green was an obvious risk because he stood no taller than a toadstool.
Skip forward a quarter century and earlier this month the NFL shrine in Canton welcomed Green as a member of the 2007 class during SB XLII festivities. He over-qualified for enshrinement on his first year of eligibility. Résumé highlights included team records for most career interceptions (54), touchdowns via interception returns (6), games played (295) and 20 seasons in service; also playoff records for most interceptions (6) and longest fumble runback for a touchdown (78 yards).
"He could have punt return records if he'd been allowed to run back punts," Beathard declared.
Green did his game-turning NFL feats after leaving small college Texas A&I in Kingsville, deep in the Rio Grande Valley. Beathard knew the place well. Prospects bloomed there alongside grapefruit.
Green was the fastest among potential keepers in 1983. Beathard had him timed with the fastest 100-meter dash time in the world -- a 10.08 blur -- and wondered whether Olympic champion Carl Lewis could handle Darrell in a dash-off.
In an impromptu match race to come, ultra-fleet Tony Dorsett of the Cowboys failed to outrun Green in an open field. Dorsett appeared long gone for a touchdown at RFK Stadium when out-of-nowhere Green ran him down from behind, "like a heat-seeking missile," Beathard recalled.
"He was so impressive you forgot about his size," Beathard said, harking to memory of Green as an embryo pro.
Ah, his size. There wasn't much of it. As late as 1992, with Green in mid-career and physically mature, the NFL officially listed him as 5-foot-8, 170 pounds. He was nearer the size of a jockey than a jock.
Yet he thrived against the game's fastest players, many receivers who were half a foot taller and others at least 50 pounds heavier. He survived against run-leading, wooly mammoth-size linemen and their knee-buckling bad breath. Green also endured negative reaction from his first defensive coach, who judged his size unfit for the position.
Beathard said Richie Petitbon never felt comfortable with Green and therefore his early years passed quietly. He blossomed as soon as Emmitt Thomas, a crack cornerback for Kansas City during 1966-1978, became his position coach in 1986. Beathard saw Thomas mesh with Green and enhance his game to the point that Green immediately led the team with five interceptions.
Further beauty of the Green-Thomas association lay in both entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame at the same time. Approved as a candidate by the Veterans Committee, Thomas still holds Kansas City records for most career interceptions (58) and touchdown returns (5). Teacher and pupil reunited at the pinnacle moment of their post-NFL lives.
Green's rare speed fails to isolate him as anything special. Fast guys with eerie dash times enter the NFL every year, most often as receivers. They run fast, but in a straight line to negate their advantage. Either the hands on too many of them turn to syrup if crowded or their speed is useless after the fast guy gets popped alongside his head, which makes him flinch and not run so fast.
Beathard supplied intangibles that separated Green from the pack.
He mentioned the mobility of a hummingbird: "His reflexes, the stop and go and acceleration were instant. I don't think I ever saw another like him."
Mental toughness: "Darrell had such courage. [Washington coach] Joe Gibbs called it 'athletic arrogance.' He wasn't afraid of any receiver. He'd challenge anyone. Maybe he had a small man's complex like, 'You're not going to beat me.' And if you beat him once you won't beat him twice. He was cocky, so full of confidence. He had a cornerback temperament.''
Tackling ability: "He was tough, aggressive. He had such balance and body control that when he hit someone it wouldn't damage him. I don't think Deion [Sanders] had that mentality.''
Green played for five head coaches from Gibbs to Steve Spurrier, earned seven Pro Bowl credits and multiple All-Pro honors. He retired following the 2002 season at 42, then the oldest player in the league. Even then the scout who drafted him joked that Green quit too soon.
"Aw, he could have been the George Blanda of defense,"Beathard laughed.
Frank Luksa is a freelance writer based in Plano, Texas. He was a longtime sports columnist for The Dallas Times Herald and Dallas Morning News.