Former NFL player now finding his way

April 04, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - Few players in the NFL in the 1970s were as fierce as Bubba Smith. Fans chanted, "Kill, Bubba, kill," when the Baltimore Colts defensive lineman went after the opposing quarterback.

Which is why offensive tackle Donnie Green of the Buffalo Bills, new to the league and soon to block Smith, was queasy.

Last week, Green recalled this story from three decades ago during an interview at the Hagerstown Union Rescue Mission, where he lives, for now.


The Colts pounded the Bills early in the 1971 season in Buffalo. Smith broke through the Bills' line too many times for the Bills' liking.

The coaching staff decided to put Green, in his first year out of Purdue University, into the starting lineup.

Before the rematch in Baltimore, Smith invited O.J. Simpson to bring some Bills over for a steak dinner at Smith's home.

Green remembers sitting across the table from Smith that day, intimidated, because in the next game, it would be his responsibility to stop Smith.

From nowhere, Buffalo wide receiver J.D. Hill, who was sharing a hotel room with Green, called out something to the effect of, "Bubba, my roommate says he's going to mess you up" - but in stronger terms.

Green never said that; Hill was stirring up trouble.

Green laughs and lowers his voice to mimic Smith's sharp reply that day: "Just tell him, 'Man, I'm going to be coming all day.'"

Green kept Smith at bay - "The Lord gets the glory for that," Green said - but the Colts shut out the Bills again.

"After Bubba Smith, I had no problems with anybody else," he said last week.

Green was part of the Bills' famous "Electric Company" offensive line, which plowed through defenders, allowing Simpson to rush for a then-record 2,003 yards in 1973.

More than 30 years later, Green is living in Hagerstown as he finds his way.

Fateful coin flip

Green had been living in Annapolis, near a slew of his relatives, until he "violated a lease" on his apartment, he said.

Unsure whether to work at a Bible institute in Detroit or come to Hagerstown, Green and a friend prayed over a quarter, then flipped it. Hagerstown it was.

Green said he knew of Hagerstown because he had been there before with his friend, who is a minister.

Green moved into the rescue mission in August. While he waits to hear if he can get another apartment in Annapolis, he works in the mission's kitchen every other day.

"I set up tables," he said. "I clean them when people leave. I fill the salt shakers. It's a real humbling job."

Green, who lives off a pension from his NFL job, said he's enjoying a quieter lifestyle and he's finding opportunities.

He recently went to Chicago and was offered a good job, which he's considering. Ministering also is a possibility.

Green, who's about 6-foot-8, also is working on his weight. At the peak of his pro career, he weighed about 285 pounds.

A year ago, his weight soared to 370 pounds. A low-carbohydrate diet has helped him drop to 320 pounds, but he's still trying, exercising, lifting weights.

Annapolis to Buffalo

Green's family is from Annapolis, but they moved to Chesapeake, Va., when his mother died.

He attended Purdue University on a scholarship. He majored in physical education and minored in political science, but didn't graduate.

During his sophomore year, Purdue was ranked No. 1 in the nation early in the season. But in their fourth game, the Boilermakers lost to Ohio State.

"That was one of the blackest days of my life," Green said.

He went from a successful team at Purdue to a Buffalo Bills team that won one game and lost 13 his first year.

Then, the Bills stocked their offensive line so it could carve room for Simpson to run.

In 1973, the blockers - Green, guards Reggie McKenzie and Joe DeLamielleure, center Mike Montler, tackle Dave Foley and tight end Paul Seymour - became known as the Electric Company. A team official came up with the nickname because the blockers "turn on the juice," a play on Simpson's nickname, The Juice.

Simpson started the season with 250 yards against the New England Patriots and just kept going.

Green said McKenzie realized around game 12 that 2,000 yards was possible.

Simpson gained 219 yards against the Patriots in game 13.

On Dec. 16, 1973, in a season-ending freezing game against the New York Jets, he ran for 200 more. Simpson broke Jim Brown's record of 1,863 yards in that game and also went over the 2,000-yard mark.

In a 2003 story, Montler recalled that the networks interviewed Simpson in a crowded boiler room after the game. He insisted on having his blockers there, too, and introducing them, or he wouldn't do the interview.

After the season, Simpson bought gold bracelets for the teammates who helped him get the record. Green, whose football memorabilia is in Annapolis, said he doesn't have his bracelet anymore.

But he has proud memories of what he helped Simpson achieve.

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