MAN OF THE HOUR

The tributes started Saturday and will pour in throughout the season. That's what happens to a guy who's entering his 19th season, with seven Pro Bowls and numerous records to his name. Darrell Green's retirement--he'll make the official announcement at 4:30 p.m. ET Tuesday--has provided teammates a chance to once more sing his praise.

''This is what defined the guy to me,'' Redskins safety Sam Shade, a teammate since 1999, said. ''We used to have a defensive night out once a week (in '99), when we all had to go out as a group. I kept saying, 'Darrell's not going to come. This guy has so much going on. He has his foundation, TV and radio shows, his family. He's not going to make time for this.' And he was there every week and probably one of the first guys to get there and just about the last one to leave.

''Whenever he does leave the game, he's really going to miss it and miss being around teammates and the camaraderie and friendships.''

Green will find out Tuesday whether or not he'll start the opener, or whether it will be Fred Smoot. The rookie is confident that he deserves the job. But he's equally confident that Green can still play.

''It surprised me that he was as fast as he is,'' Smoot said. ''There's no doubt he's still the fastest man on the team. I'm sorry. That amazed me. The first couple of days I sat there with my mouth open. How can this man still be this fast and quick? Retire? I don't see why he's retiring.''

Because it's time for him to do something else. And because his life is about more than just football. Of course, he's been a professional football player nearly half his life. And, in that time, he won over tons of fans.

''The guy stood for a class act,'' Redskins defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson said. ''He's a guy you love to be around and he's one of the guys. He's a lot older than everybody, but it's how he relates and communicates to each player. The time I've spent with him has been great.''


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