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Chris Chase

Could Darrell Green have won Olympic gold?

Chris Chase
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Former Washington Redskins CB Darrell Green, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame tonight, is best known for the blazing speed that enabled him to become one of the NFL's premiere cornerbacks and return men. The most famous clips on Green's highlight reel -- chasing down Tony Dorsett on Monday Night Football, returning a punt return at Soldier Field after tearing rib cartilege to put away a 1987 Divisional Playoff game for the Redskins, winning the NFL's fastest man contest four times -- all demonstrate the quickness that made Green one of the fastest men in NFL history. But being quick in the NFL is one thing. Was Darrell Green fast enough to have run in the Olympics?

Absolutely, and he probably would have a gold medal to show for it. When he was drafted in 1983, Green had the fastest 100 meter time in the United States. That time would have earned a silver in the 1984 Olympics and certainly would have put Green on the U.S. relay team which won gold. But Green chose football over track, even though he still held on to those sprinting aspirations through the early part of his career.

In 1986, after smoking Herschel Walker and Willie Gault in a 60-yard exhibition race, Green wanted to run in the Milrose Games in New York, but was denied by track's governing body because he was a professional athlete. (The games were still open only to amateurs.) That decision effectively ended any hopes Green had at a real track career, but the creation of the NFL's Fastest Man contest later in '86 only helped further establish Green's credentials.

Those races might have been a made-for-TV gimmick, but they featured Olympians-turned-football players like Willie Gault, Sam Graddy and Ron Brown and were serious business in a time when a $25,000 first prize was a meaningful payday. Green won all four of the Fastest Man competitions he entered, smoking the likes of Brown (a 4x100 relay gold medalist in the '84 Games) and Gault (a member of the '80 Olympic team that didn't compete in Moscow). At that time being the fastest man in the NFL meant that you were one of the fastest men in the world.

In 1987, Green told Christine Brennan of The Washington Post:

"I felt I could have made the last Olympic team if I hadn't gone into football. It was a great choice to go to the NFL, but I could have beaten anyone in the Olympics in Los Angeles . . . . If I get a chance to run in the Olympics, you better believe I'd go for that. Bob Hayes is the only football player to be the world's fastest man. Hayes won the 1964 Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters. I'd like to be that, too."
During his senior season at Texas A&I, Green ran a 10.08 in the 100, which was only good for second in the NCAA. It must have been especially galling for him, seeing as how Green had beat the runner with the best time just two years before. Green never raced that runner again, but even after Carl Lewis won his second-straight Olympic gold medal, Darrell Green said he still thought he could take him. I don't doubt him for a second.
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