For Green, a great year by any name
Thursday, January 1, 2004
The Tacoma News Tribune
JOHN MCGRATH; The News Tribune
GREEN BAY, Wis. - Last week, after Ahman Green completed a season in which he broke 10 Green Bay Packers rushing records, I referred to the running back as a "future Hall of Famer."
Only those words didn't appear in the newspaper. The sports copy desk changed "future Hall of Famer" to "star."
I must point out here that I am indebted to the editors who clean up writers' copy. When time is tight, deadlines are looming and nerves are fraying, they perform an honorable task with patience and skill. Which is to say, they've resisted the temptation to strangle me on those occasions I've transmitted a column 20 minutes late from Yankee Stadium, beginning with the words: "The Ney Work Ankees ..."
Put it this way: Without editors, I'd spend all my free time taking phone calls from readers wondering why I couldn't get the score right, or the name right, or the day right.
But I saw Ahman Green as a Hall of Fame talent, and when the copy desk refused to second that emotion, well, it hurt. It was as if my colleagues were telling me to abandon any aspirations of moonlighting as an NFL superscout.
Wandering around the corridors of Lambeau Field on Wednesday, waiting for the Packers to return from the Don Hutson practice complex across the street, I bumped into ex-Steelers great Terry Bradshaw, who is as outspoken as an armchair
quarterback as he was good during his career as a four-time Super Bowl champion quarterback.
I put the question to Bradshaw bluntly: Was I right to tout Ahman Green as a potential Hall of Famer, or was I right?
"What's he, in his sixth season?" pondered Bradshaw.
Yep. This is Green's sixth season. Only the first two really didn't count, as he was trapped in Mike Holmgren's doghouse in Seattle, playing minimally despite gaining 100 yards (on six carries!) in his NFL debut. In fact, it wasn't until 2001 that Green became a full-time starter for 16 games.
"Hall of Fame running backs are about yardage," said Bradshaw. "If he makes it to 12,000 yards, he's in."
Green has rushed for 5,685 career yards, but he is on a roll. Facing the Eagles on Nov. 10, he ran for a Packers single-game record of 192 yards. Last Sunday, he obliterated that mark with 218 yards against the Broncos.
"He's a high-stepping guy, a slasher with speed," Bradshaw said. "And I'm hard-pressed to think of who he reminds me of. He's not Barry Sanders. He's bigger and faster than Walter Payton. He's got more power than O.J. Simpson.
"You know what? Based on what he did Sunday, you weren't far off. Go with your gut. You don't need me to validate your hunch."
Perhaps, but it never hurts to get a second opinion from a Hall of Famer.
At 26, Green's most revealing attribute is that he defies typecasting. He's an original.
"When I look at him, I don't see anybody else," said Packers coach Mike Sherman, the former Seahawks offensive coordinator who saw enough of Green in Seattle to make it a priority to bring him to Green Bay. "Ahman is one of those players - like Bret Favre - who are unique in their own way.
"He's got that exceptional burst. Even to the untrained eye, it's very obvious what kind of explosiveness he has."
Sherman points to an arcane but telling statistic: On third-and-1 attempts this season, Green carried eight times - and moved the chains eight times, best in the league.
Along with the short-burst power, Green has breakaway speed: His 98-yard scoring run on Sunday broke a Packers record set in 1939.
"The hole the line made was so big," Favre told a reporter Wednesday, "you and me and Lee could've run 25 yards without being touched." (Favre was referring to Lee Remmel, the Packers' 79-year-old executive director of public directions.)
"The only difference is, we'd have been tackled after 25 yards," Favre continued. "Ahman just kept on running."
It's an appropriate metaphor for Green's revived career: He's finally been given a wide lane, and he's made the most of it.
Seattle didn't work for a number of reasons. There was, of course, his still-maddening tendency to fumble - he's lost five this season - and more serious problems off the field. On the day he was supposed to be married to high-school sweetheart Shaylnn Vance, he got into an argument with his bride and slammed open a door that chipped her tooth and bloodied her lip. Green was charged with fourth-degree domestic assault.
The charge was dropped and the couple eventually got married three years ago. But in March 2002, before Green's third season with the Packers, he and his wife were cited by police for disturbing the peace; two months later, Shaylnn filed for divorce.
Green's domestic troubles last year were exacerbated by an assortment of aches and pains during the season: a strained thigh, an injured knee, a concussion.
"I had a lot of stuff going on," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal in October. "Outside of football, I had to juggle a lot of things. And I was hurt. It was frustrating not being 100 percent sometimes."
Green still earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, but 2002, in retrospect, merely was a hint what he could do with a healthy body and a clear head. On the home front, Green will be married to Heather Walters in February, but remains close to the two children from his first marriage. He also completed the 30 hours he needed to graduate from the University of Nebraska with a geography degree.
As for football? With 1,883 yards rushing, 2,250 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns, Green had the most productive season for a running back in the history of the franchise, which is a mouthful: The Packers have been in operation since 1919 and boast five Hall of Fame running backs.
For what it's worth, Green's most rabid fans are his teammates.
"No. 30 is a total pro, just like No. 4," said center Mike Flanagan, referring to Green and Favre. "Those are two guys in the huddle who you can always count on to have a great attitude. There's no bitching. There's no showboating. There's no bull. They're all about winning."
Favre, of course, is a certain Hall of Famer. And Green? Any back who can combine the speed to outrace 11 men in a 98-yard dash and the strength to consistently achieve football's longest yard - a first down on third-and-1 - is a back capable of giving a long speech on a hot day in Ohio.
Assuming Bradshaw's 12,000-yard milestone is worth a ticket to Canton, Green only needs another, oh, 6,000 yards to bridge the gap between "star" and "Hall of Famer."
So my prognostication was a little premature.
But, hey, guys, what's four miles between friends?
John McGrath: 253-597-8742, ext. 6154
Drafted: Seattle, 1998 third round out of Nebraska
Traded: To Green Bay, April 2000, along with Seahawks' 2001 5th-round draft pick for CB Fred Vinson and Packers' 2001 6th-round pick.
Rush Yds Avg TD
1998 SEA 35 209 6.0 1
1999 SEA 26 120 4.6 0
2000 GB 263 1175 4.5 10
2001 GB 304 1387 4.6 9
2002 GB 286 1240 4.3 7
2003 GB 355 1883* 5.3 15
Totals 1269 6014 4.7 42
*2nd in NFL
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