ASHBURN, Va. (AP) Darrell Green has always said that his football career is secondary to his family, his church and his community. He admits that he unashamedly built his celebrity status so he could use it to help his nonprofit foundation.

Paul Wong
After nearly two decades in the Washington Redskins” secondary, Darrell Green plans to call it a career after the 2001 season.<br><br>DAVID KATZ/Daily

It was no surprise, then, when Green launched his farewell tour Tuesday on an upbeat note, with more talk about his exciting future than his glorious past.

“I learned a long time ago that this is just a job, a means to an end,” Green said. “Now it”s time for the real deal.”

Green formally announced that he will retire at the end of the season, his team-record 19th with the Washington Redskins. He used the occasion to ask fans to give money to his foundation, while those around him mourned the end of the career of the rare professional athlete who seized the mantle of role model and lived it to near perfection.

“I”m amazed he could keep up his speed and play at such a high level for so long,” defensive end Bruce Smith said. “And constantly be a true professional.”

Green made his announcement shortly after coach Marty Schottenheimer revealed that second-round draft pick Fred Smoot had won a starting cornerback job over Green. Green said he had made his decision during training camp, and that the coach”s move played no part.

“I”m not being run out of the league,” Green said. “I could play 20 years. I could play 22 years. But you know what? My time is now.”

At 41, Green is the oldest player ever to play his position. In 1997, at age 37, he became the oldest player to return an interception for a touchdown.

He has at least one interception in 18 consecutive seasons, another NFL record, and has played in seven Pro Bowls.

Green was the Redskins” first-round draft pick (28th overall) from Texas A&I in 1983. He owns team records for interceptions (53), regular-season games played (263) and regular-season games started (250).

But Green”s best-known title is the “NFL”s fastest man,” which he won several times in offseason competitions in the 1980s and carried unofficially for nearly a decade. He finally lost his title of the Redskins” fastest player in 1999, but marveled teammates by regaining it a year later with a 4.24 time in the 40-yard dash.

“He is a freak of nature,” former Redskins linebacker Ken Harvey said.

Green”s speed more than compensated for his 5-foot-9 frame. A receiver with a couple of steps on Green when the pass was thrown would be surprised to see him catch up and bat it down at the last second.

“Quite frankly, until I saw him run, I thought he was going to be too small,” said former defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon, one of Green”s many invited guests Tuesday.

Locally, Green is known as the consummate “Mr. Redskin,” a player who several times in his career passed up millions by not pursuing free agency.

His reputation is without tarnish, a rarity among superstar professional athletes.

“I”m a jock, as they say,” said Green, who was accompanied by his wife and three children. “But I”m honest, I”m faithful, I”ve been responsible. My kids can find a hero right here, and it”s not because I can run up and down the field.”

Once the season is over, Green will devote much of his time to the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation, which he founded in 1988. The foundation has a children”s learning center in Northeast Washington, and three others have recently opened across the country.

“You say you love Darrell Green? You love the little guy with the hole in the top?” said Green, pointing to his bald spot. “You love the little guy that can run fast? Then help the little guy help the young people. I”m not just a nice guy trying to help the poor little kids, I am living out God”s purpose in my life.”

Green also will probably stay with the Redskins in some capacity.

He is close to owner Dan Snyder, who joked that he keeps a photo of him standing next to Green and no other player at his house because the two are roughly the same height.

“All of Darrell”s activity comes from his heart, comes from his passion, comes from his person,” Snyder said. “It doesn”t come from his celebrity. It doesn”t come from his fame. It”s real. I think he”ll always be our most popular player.”

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