Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 5/17/12
HOUSTON -- Two years ago, Darrell Green celebrated his 50th birthday by running the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds. Documentation of this is limited. It's basically Green's own word and that of his brother, though it should be noted he did clock a 4.2 40 at age 40 while he was still playing cornerback for the Washington Redskins. But that 40 time is somewhat beside the point. That a 52-year-old man who played 20 seasons in the NFL is capable of running the 40-yard dash at all is a counterpoint to the complicated and popular narrative that the physical consequences of playing football at the NFL level are inherent. Green couldn't even explain his remarkable physical fitness, which had him bouncing up onto the stage at Houston's Jones High School this week to be honored in Allstate's Hometown Hall of Fame. "It's just a gift," he said. There were two such inductees this week in Houston. The other was Thurman Thomas of Willowridge High School. Thomas, 46, played 13 seasons at running back for the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins, amassing 2,877 carries and 472 receptions. He looks good, too, though he didn't exactly bounce on stage the way Green did. He said he wasn't concerned about his safety as a player. "I still don't worry about it today," Thomas said. "I was very fortunate to leave the game healthy and have an opportunity to still play with my kids." These are just two men, and two of the best football players who ever lived; both are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Their circumstances don't prove anything, but they aren't insignificant. They both had exceptionally long NFL careers and still move and feel at least as good as men their age should. But both are sympathetic to the issue. "If it wasn't a story now, in a couple of years it would be a bigger story," Thomas said. "I think when you look at the National Football League and you look at the guys are getting stronger, they're getting bigger, they're getting faster. Back when we played they'd give you two aspirin and tell you to get back out there, you know. But now with the safety issue and the lawsuits that are going on, it's something the National Football League has to be aware of. They can't just push it aside anymore." Green doesn't think football can be made safe and still exist as we know it. But like Thomas, he doesn't see the issue evaporating any time soon. "Anybody would be brain dead if they don't realize football is a tough sport," Green said. "You get hurt. I've got a plate in this arm. You ice, you get injured, that's a part of it. I don't think that's gonna go away unless they start playing touch or tag. But that conversation, if they want to keep it going, it can stay alive forever." Green did suggest one unorthodox solution. He thinks kids who play full-contact football in helmets and pads at a young age are learning poor tackling techniques that follow them the rest of their careers. "Because I didn't play until really high school, I probably learned to tackle in my back yard with my brothers, down the street with my friends," he said. "Because I don't want to hurt myself and I really don't want to hurt my brother, but I do want to get him down. So you'd probably learn more techniques if you didn't have Little League. You didn't hear that here, though." Thomas understands he might be lucky, and he understands that luck might change. But that doesn't mean he would. "I might have some effects a few years down the line, but right now I'm feeling good," he said. "I wouldn't change it for anything in the world."
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