Quite a Class

The Class of 2008 may be the most unique in the 45-year history of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Among the six enshrinees, you will find:

The 13th undrafted free agent to make it to the Hall (Emmitt Thomas) a black belt in karate (Andre Tippett) a Div. II player (Darrell Green) a finalist in the Hall voting for seven consecutive years before finally getting in (Art Monk) two players who almost never made it to the NFL (Fred Dean, Gary Zimmerman).

One thing they all had in common: They were scouted by Gil Brandt coming out of college. Here are observations and recollections of each:

» Fred Dean                » Darrell Green
» Art Monk                 » Emmitt Thomas
» Andre Tippett         » Gary Zimmerman

Former Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green is the only member of the Class of 2008 to be elected in his first year of eligibility. The honor is well-deserved. Still, few teams recognized that Hall of Fame potential when he first entered the league.

In every draft, there are one or two guys who are really hard to evaluate -- making those players among the most talked-about before the draft. Green was one such prospect leading up to the 1983 draft.

Why was that? For starters, Green played college football at a small school, Texas A&I (since changed to Texas A&M - Kingsville), where he also played a little wide receiver and returned kicks. Plus, he only played three years. And there were concerns about his height, since he was a mere 5-foot-8.

The Cowboys dispatched a scout to Kingsville, Tex., to work out Green in early April. When he returned to Dallas, his message was clear: "Don't worry about Darrell Green's ability to play in the NFL."

Our guy measured Green at just under 5-8, but he noted that Green could "jump out of the gym." More importantly, Green had one major asset in his favor: blazing speed.

The scout brought Green down to the Texas A&I football field to have him run the 40-yard dash, but the turf was a mess. They needed to bring in a university custodian to cut a lane of grass that was about 6 inches high. Still not ideal conditions. Nevertheless, Green ran 4.28 and 4.3.

That was the end of our concerns about Green. Still, while he did end up being a first-rounder in the legendary 1983 draft, he lasted until the 28th pick.

Green made an instant impact with the Redskins. In fact, he scored a touchdown the very first time he touched the football as a pro -- returning a punt for a 61-yard score in a preseason game against Atlanta.

Allen Dean Steele / National Football League
At 5-foot 8-inches, what Redskins CB Darrell Green lacked in size he more than made up for with his speed.

But his bread and butter was as a shutdown corner. Most teams tried to avoid throwing at him, even though he covered receivers one-on-one. He finished his career with 54 interceptions, returning six for touchdowns. He scored two more TDs on fumble recoveries.

During his 20 years with the Redskins, of course, the Cowboys had to face him twice a year. He made a lot of great plays against us, and perhaps the one I remember most occurred in the first regular-season game of his career.

We opened the 1983 season in Washington on Sept. 5. Dallas running back Tony Dorsett took a handoff and started running left, toward our bench, and then he took off into the clear. It was going to be another long touchdown run for Dorsett. All of a sudden, here comes Green -- from the opposite side of the field -- to make a touchdown-saving tackle.

Blazing speed.

Another key play from Green's career highlight reel came in the NFC Championship Game after the 1987 season. In the Jan. 17, 1988, game, the Minnesota Vikings trailed by a touchdown and faced a fourth down inside the Redskins' 10-yard line. Green was covering Vikings star receiver Anthony Carter, but the pass went instead to running back Darrin Nelson coming out of the backfield. Green came off Carter at the last second and got over just in time to knock the ball out of Nelson's hands. The play enabled Washington to go on and win Super Bowl XXII over Denver.

That was Green's second Super Bowl appearance with the Redskins and his first win. Four years later, he had an interception in Washington's Super Bowl XXVI win over Buffalo.

Amazingly, Green patrolled the secondary until 2002 -- he was the oldest player in the NFL that season at age 42 -- and yet he retained that great speed. So it's only fitting that he made it to the Hall of Fame so quickly.

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