For the first several decades of the NFL’s existence, teams primarily played “one-platoon” football.
That meant athletes played on both sides of the ball, and there were limited substitutions.
Shortly after World War II, the NFL allowed free substitutions, essentially leading to a “two-platoon” system.
The new system meant players could play on just one side of the ball and become specialists at a certain position.
From then on, athletes who played on both sides of the ball were considered an anomaly.
In the early 1980s, Roy Green was one of those anomalies.
Under the radar standout Roy Green was one of the few reasons to cheer for the #Cardinals in the 1980s; Madden once called him “the best” in the game pic.twitter.com/RL3AlvoyK2
— Ye Good Ole Days (@ye_days) January 7, 2022
Green began his NFL career as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals secondary squad and also returned punts and kicks.
Then, when Cardinals coaches realized he could run and catch the ball with skill, they moved him to the offensive side of the ball.
His transition to receiver went so well that, by the mid-1980s, Green led the NFL in receiving yards and touchdowns.
Although Green played most of his career as a receiver, he was a threat from anywhere on the field.
His legacy became the blueprint for future NFL players who wanted to try their hand at one-platoon ball.
This is the story of Roy Green.
Roy Calvin Green was born on June 30, 1957, in Magnolia, Arkansas as the oldest of three children.
Happy birthday to former Cardinals great Roy Green who led the NFL with 1555 receiving yards in 1984. Roy was first two-way player in over 20 years when he played DB and WR for Cards in 1981. #LomaxToGreen was as good as there was in '83 and '84. 2x All-Pro. #JETSTREAM pic.twitter.com/RusNQqaKw2
— St. Louis Football Cardinals (@BigRed_STL) June 30, 2020
By the time he was in eighth grade, Green knew he was a good athlete and went out for his school’s football team.
That idea ended abruptly when the coach told Green where he would play.
“I wanted to be a runner, and he wanted me on the offensive line,” said Green in 1981.
Offended at not being seen as an athlete, Green stayed away from the gridiron for a few years and competed in basketball and track instead.
When he finally joined the Magnolia High School football team as a junior, Green made up for lost time.
At various points over the next two years, he played as many as six different positions including receiver, cornerback, and even kicker.
“I used to practice with a Dixie Cup as a tee,” Green said. “A lot of distance, but no accuracy.”
As a senior in 1974, Green led the Panthers to a state championship.
Magnolia High School which is located in Magnolia Arkansas, will be retiring Roy Green’s high school jersey number next weekend. Roy Green is the only football player from Magnolia who went on to have a successful career in the NFL with the @AZCardinals ! Job well done dad! pic.twitter.com/5PYtKUbgfu
— Chef Candace G. (@CandaceJade84) October 10, 2019
Roy Green was honored as an All-State and All-District player, and his number 25 was retired by the school in 2019.
Green Thrives at Henderson State
Even with his prep stats, the big schools didn’t seek out Green, so he matriculated to NAIA Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.
He played as a freshman for the Reddies in 1975 as a defensive back and kick and punt returner.
Henderson went 11-1 that year, won the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference (AIC) title, and was also champion of the Bicentennial Bowl.
From 1976 through the 1978 season, the “Green Machine” (as Green was called by his teammates) led Henderson in interceptions and was named All-AIC each season.
In 1977, the Reddies went 9-2 overall and 5-1 in conference play to win the AIC championship. Green was listed as an NAIA All-American Honorable Mention.
Then, as a senior in 1978, his team named Green a team captain. He also led the conference in punt return yards and interceptions (9) as Henderson went 7-2-1.
Roy Green Henderson State university pic.twitter.com/yBpIzvqagU
— brewstercogburn (@brewstercogburn) December 6, 2022
During a game against the University of Arkansas-Monticello, Green put on one of the finest performances for an athlete in school history.
That afternoon, he scored three touchdowns that included a 90-yard kick return, a 65-yard punt return, and a 40-yard pick-six.
For good measure, Green also blocked a field goal attempt against Monticello.
“There was nothin’ he couldn’t do. Nothin’,” Green’s college coach, Ralph Carpenter, said.
His play that year earned Green NAIA All-American status.
Green has since become a member of the Henderson Reddies Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Fourth Round Pick
Green may have played at a small NAIA school, but he had enough talent to get noticed.
It also didn’t hurt that he ran a blazing 4.3, 40-yard dash in pre-draft activities.
The St. Louis Cardinals needed a quality return man and depth at defensive back. They took Green with the 89th overall selection in the fourth round of the 1979 NFL Draft.
“For a guy from the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference, being drafted in the fourth round was like being a first-round draft pick,” said Green to the Washington Post.
During the first round of the same draft, the Cards had taken Miami running back Ottis Anderson. He became fast friends with Green.
St. Louis had a decent roster in 1979 that included Jim Hart, Mel Gray, Pat Tilley, Dan Dierdorf, and Roger Wehrli.
As a fourth-round pick, Green was buried on the depth chart as a rookie safety.
However, he earned his money by returning 41 kicks for 1,005 yards and a touchdown.
His kick return touchdown came in dramatic fashion against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 8.
Roy Green tied an NFL record with a 106 yard kickoff return against Dallas his rookie season in 1979. #JetStreamGreen pic.twitter.com/TUSarbaBaW
— St. Louis Football Cardinals (@BigRed_STL) June 30, 2021
After Dallas scored a touchdown to lead the Cardinals, 17-6, the Cowboys kicked off.
Green corralled the ball in his own end zone and scampered 106 yards for a touchdown.
That tied a league record and cut Dallas’s lead to 17-13.
“All season long, I’ve been dreaming about breaking one,” Green said. “I’ve had some pretty big thrills in football, but this one… against the Cowboys… on National TV. Well, not too many people saw me play at Henderson State.”
Green’s play on special teams that year earned him accolades as the top return specialist by both the Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly.
Green Accidently Becomes a Receiver
During his first two years in the NFL, Green saw limited time in the St. Louis secondary. He didn’t snag his first career interception until 1980.
He continued playing well on special teams that same year, returning a game-winning punt for a touchdown against Detroit and racking up 745 kick return yards.
Then, before the second week of the 1981 season, Green’s NFL future changed forever.
🥳 Happy Birthday 2x Pro Bowler & Cardinals great Roy Green! Originally drafted as a safety in 1979, Roy switched to WR in his 3rd season and by 1984 was the NFL's top receiver w/1,555 yds. Green retired as the #Cardinals all-time leading WR w/522 catches for 8,496 yds & 66 TDs! pic.twitter.com/x429tejlWQ
— 80s Football Cards 🏈 🙌 (@80sFootballCard) June 30, 2021
St. Louis was lacking healthy receivers and second-year coach Jim Hanifan had noticed in practice that Green was adept at catching the ball.
Desperate to roll out a competitive team against Dallas that week, Hanifan made a move.
“I thought to myself, if he’s (Green) not on the field, it’s kind of ridiculous,” Hanifan recalled.
Initially, Green wasn’t supposed to get much playing time at receiver, just enough to keep the Cowboys honest.
“I’m putting you in for one play on offense against Dallas,” Hanifan told Green. “I just want you to go in and run by everybody.”
Excited by the prospect of playing on offense, Green wanted to do more than just run a route.
“It didn’t matter what they called in the huddle,” Green said that year. “I knew what I was doing.”
The Cowboys’ coach assigned corner Everson Walls to cover Green. He did a miserable job.
At the snap, Green juked Walls out of his socks and ran down the field.
Green was one of the most underrated players in NFL history. Green played receiver, defensive back, and special teams in the same game for the Cardinals many times over 2 seasons. He was a unique talent! pic.twitter.com/unLxv0WH8K
— Carter Frost (@CarterDFrost) May 14, 2022
Cardinals rookie quarterback Neil Lomax spotted Green and heaved a 60-yard bomb his way.
The completion set up a Cards’ touchdown and prolonged Green’s stay on offense.
Hanifan kept Green in the game on offense, and fellow receiver, Tilley, gave quick pointers to Green between plays.
“I was kind of in limbo out there at that point,” Green says. “I had maybe a slight idea of what was going on.”
Once Hanifan saw what he had in Green, he didn’t want to take him out of the lineup, ever.
The week after the Dallas game, Green sat in on meetings for the defense, special teams, and offense.
He began learning the St. Louis playbook and was trotted out for certain offensive series the next few weeks.
In Week 3 against Washington, Green caught a 58-yard touchdown pass from Hart, his first NFL touchdown as a receiver.
“There are certain guys you want to throw to, guys you know will hang on to the ball,” said Hart. “Roy’s one of those.”
Then, in the fourth quarter, Green intercepted Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann.
That made Green the first player since 1957 to intercept a pass and catch a pass for a touchdown in the same contest.
From #25 DB to Homerun hitting #81 receiver, Roy Green should be in Ring Of Honor. St.Louis/Arizona #Birdgang origns pic.twitter.com/aMUsR3iy8Q
— Weav (@weav54) December 5, 2015
By the time the Cards faced division rival Dallas again in Week 5, Green acted as if he had always played receiver.
At one point during the contest, he caught an acrobatic one-handed catch for a score.
“Oh, you can tell Roy’s a receiver,” said receiver coach Emmitt Thomas. “Every time he comes back from a route, he’s saying, ‘I was wide open….’ “
For the remainder of the 1981 season, Green remained a dual threat for the Cards. That made him the NFL’s first full-time, two-way player in more than two decades.
“Maybe a lot could play both ways, but it’s one thing to say you’re able and another to actually do it,” said Dan Dierdorf. “In a game of gifted athletes, Roy is exceptional.”
Including the Washington game, Green intercepted a pass and caught a touchdown pass in three different games that year.
By the end of the 1981 season, Green had 33 receptions for 708 yards and four touchdowns, 60 rushing yards and another score, 135 yards on kick returns, and three interceptions for 44 return yards.
“The only thing Roy hasn’t done is tape all our ankles,” joked Dierdorf.
Birth of “Jet Stream”
One thing was certain: Green loved being a part of all aspects of a football game.
“I’m on one side of the ball or the other side of the ball, but I’m not on the sideline side of the ball,” Green said. “When I was a senior in high school, I never left the field. Your body gets used to it.”
Even the St. Louis coaching staff was blown away by Green’s talent.
“I’ve never been around a player like him,” Hanifan said.
However, Hanifan also knew that Green couldn’t maintain playing both sides of the ball for long.
After all, one of the primary reasons the NFL first allowed two-platoon football was to preserve the health and safety of their players.
It also made good sense to Hanifan that Green stick to one side of the ball and give up his special teams duties as well.
“I think he has the opportunity to become one of the really premier wide receivers in the game,” Hanifan said. “He has so darn many things going for him as an offensive player. He’s got great speed and hands and body control. He’s one of the key guys for us.”
The 1982 NFL season was shortened to nine games due to the player’s strike. Green started every game as a receiver for the Cards.
St. Louis switched his number from 25 to 81 and Green helped lead the team to a 5-4 record. His touchdown reception in Week 8 against the Giants won the game and qualified the Cardinals for the playoffs for the first time since 1975.
Jet Stream Roy Green!! 2 of my childhood favorites right here 😊 https://t.co/NhLkXSENhI
— Scotty Melvin🏈 (@melvinator76) June 30, 2022
The Cards lost in the First Round to Green Bay, but Green had nine receptions for 113 yards.
That season, Green established himself as a reliable receiver and he posted 32 receptions for 453 yards and three scores.
His speed was nearly unmatched on the playing field, and teammates began calling Green “Jet Stream.”
In 1983, Green was a bona fide NFL receiver. He responded with 78 catches for 1,227 yards and an NFL-best 14 touchdowns.
His receptions and receiving yards were the most in team history and Green received his first Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro nods.
“Last year at this time I stated that Roy Green has yet to realize his potential,” Hanifan said. “Well, you saw it all unfold in 1983, and there’s no doubt in my mind he can come back for an even better performance in 1984.”
The following season Hart retired, and Lomax stepped into the full-time role as quarterback.
The 1984 season also happened to be Lomax’s best year as a pro. He passed for 4,614 yards and 28 touchdowns for his only Pro Bowl appearance.
Happy 63rd Birthday to #Cardinals WR Roy Green. "Jet Stream" was fun to watch play! #LomaxToGreen https://t.co/XWOAh95MDs
— A new era of football in the desert! 🏈 (@MontiManiaAZ) July 1, 2020
Of course, “Jet Stream” became his favorite receiver and the duo replaced “Hart to Gray” as the soundtrack of the Cardinals’ offense.
“We’ve really had a thing going,” Green said of his relationship with his quarterback. “He anticipates what I’m going to do and I anticipate what he’s going to do.”
In just his third year as a full-time NFL pass catcher, Green caught 78 passes for the second year in a row, led the NFL with 1,555 receiving yards, and scored 12 touchdowns.
In Week 14 1984, St. Louis paid a rare visit to Foxboro and Neil Lomax, Roy Green and Ottis Anderson led #RedSea to a 33-10 win over #GoPats, keeping the Cards' playoff hopes alive. Consequently, the loss kept New England from the postseason. #NFL pic.twitter.com/VhPmOkuTLC
— Ken Gelman (@kengfunk) November 29, 2020
His totals brought Green another Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro nod.
Remarkably, during a three-game stretch against Dallas, Chicago, and Washington, Green carved out more than 500 total receiving yards and four scores.
“The guy (Green) is on the ball… literally,” Lomax told Irv Cross in an NFL Today interview in 1984. “He makes such fine adjustments to my throws. And everybody knows about his speed. I’ve never seen a guy accelerate the way he can accelerate to the ball.”
Injuries Hardly Slow Green
Before the 1985 season, St. Louis gave Green a new contract befitting someone who had already proven himself one of the best receivers in the NFL.
Then, Green sustained injuries to his toe and ankle and was limited in 1985 and 1986.
The Cardinals had just missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record in 1984. They were ready to take the next step.
However, with Green’s absence, the team won only nine games total in the next two years, which led to Hanifan’s firing after the 1985 season.
Even though he struggled with injuries, Green still caught a combined 92 receptions for 1,210 yards, and 11 touchdowns in ’85 and ’86.
Neil Lomax, Roy Green, and head coach Gene Stallings on the sidelines in 1986. pic.twitter.com/JajUGuNH1d
— St. Louis Football Cardinals (@BigRed_STL) January 17, 2016
Then, in 1987, Green returned for his ninth season and seemed to be the forgotten man in the Cardinals’ offense.
“When you don’t put the numbers on the board, people have a tendency to forget,” Green said prior to the 1987 season. “And maybe rightfully so. I kind of like it. I just hope defensive coordinators are thinking the same way, and they forget about me.”
Those defenders who slept on Green were burned that year when he caught 43 passes for 731 yards and four scores.
“Roy Green still worries the defense,” head coach Gene Stallings said. “He still has the ability.”
The Cardinals Relocate
During the 1987 season, rumors circulated around St. Louis that the football Cardinals would be leaving after the season.
In the spring of 1988, the rumors proved true when the Bidwell family moved the team to Phoenix.
#OTD in 1988, @AZCardinals played their first-ever regular-season home game since relocating to Arizona.
In front of a crowd of 67,139 at Sun Devil Stadium, then then Phoenix Cardinals fell to the @dallascowboys, 17-14. pic.twitter.com/qBOK5svQNl
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) September 12, 2022
Several players, including Green, were upset that they were leaving St. Louis for the desert, but there was nothing they could do.
“I promised myself I wouldn’t get emotionally involved with this because it’s a business,” Green said. “But when the announcement was made, I had a hollow feeling. It hurts. It’s just disappointing to me that a big effort wasn’t made to keep the team.”
Playing in Arizona did nothing to change Green’s skills. He caught 68 passes for 1,097 yards and seven touchdowns in 1988.
It was his best season, statistically, for the Cardinals since 1984.
In 1989, Phoenix fired Stallings after a 5-6 start only to have interim coach Hank Kuhlmann go 0-5 the rest of the season.
Green had 44 receptions for 703 yards and seven scores that year. He then made 53 catches for 797 yards and four touchdowns in 1990 for new coach Joe Bugel.
Green Becomes an Eagle
After a 5-11 season in 1990, Bugel made a desperate attempt to win more games and traded Green to the Cleveland Browns.
However, the Browns already had Brian Brennan, Webster Slaughter, and Reggie Langhorne and drafted Southern Miss receiver, Michael Jackson.
That left no room for Green, and Cleveland coach Bill Belichick released him.
A few weeks later, the Philadelphia Eagles needed a receiver after starter Calvin Williams suffered an injury. They signed Green for the season.
Roy Green, as an Eagle, 1991. @BigRed_STL @Ol_TimeFootball @NFL_Journal @RetiredNFLers @PHLEaglesNation pic.twitter.com/0gJltDdAcY
— Eagles Over the Years (@EaglesOrtheYear) November 11, 2021
He arrived in Philly just in time for Week 4 against Pittsburgh and hit the ground running.
“All week, guys were tutoring me, helping me out. It’s not a simple offense to get a grasp of,” Green said. “But it’s not like I’m a freshman out of college. It’s just a matter of getting the terminology and letting everything else take over. It’s a matter of opportunity. Take what the defense gives you.”
Eagles starting quarterback Randall Cunningham had been lost for the year in Week 1 leaving former Bear, Jim McMahon, as the quarterback.
During the contest against the Steelers, McMahon found Green six times for 114 yards.
Three of Green’s receptions led to scores for Philadelphia and a 23-14 win.
After catching 29 passes for 364 yards in 1991, Green was re-signed by Philly for the 1992 season.
He saw action in nine games but didn’t start for the first time since his rookie year.
Roy Green with the Eagles just did not look right @BigRed_STL pic.twitter.com/pFbA888Ys0
— Seb 🏈⚾️⚽️🇺🇦 (@CJ28MTL) June 6, 2017
During the ’92 season, Green collected eight passes for 105 yards and went scoreless for the second year in a row.
Once the season concluded, he retired.
In his NFL career, Green racked up totals of 559 receptions, 8,965 yards, 66 receiving touchdowns, 140 rushing yards and a rushing score, four interceptions, four fumble recoveries, 230 punt return yards, one punt return touchdown, and 2,002 kick return yards and another score.
Green’s 69 touchdowns as a Cardinal are second only to Larry Fitzgerald in franchise history.
He was a two-time Pro Bowler, two-time first-team All-Pro, NFL receiving yards leader once, and NFL receiving touchdowns leader once.
Former receiver Roy Green to enter Cardinals' Ring of Honor #GoCardsGo https://t.co/2RQUKUiPTn pic.twitter.com/4RAKggdO0x
— Cardinals Report (@azcards_fanly) May 11, 2016
In 2016, Green became a member of the Arizona Cardinals Ring of Honor and was inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame in 2017.
Life After Retirement
Although Green was initially repulsed by the idea of moving to Arizona, he remained in the Phoenix area after retiring.
He has worked several years for the Cardinals Radio Network and has also spent time as a speaker on behalf of The Pro Players Health Alliance.
The American Sleep & Breathing Academy, the NFL, Roy Green, Alan Hickey & David Gergen CDT of Gergen's Ortho Lab https://t.co/yALfylJ40i #sleep #healthprofession #americansleepandbreathingacademy #proplayersleep #sleepappliances #sleepapnea #NFL #orthodonticlab pic.twitter.com/HgVChomEfk
— Howard Farran (@HowardFarran) December 14, 2018
The Alliance was founded to help NFL players get tested for sleep apnea and provide treatments for those found with the disorder.
In 2012, Green was diagnosed with a kidney ailment that was a result of taking anti-inflammatories when he was in the NFL.
Both of his daughters, Candace and Miyosha, were found to be matches for a kidney donation to their father, and ultimately, one of Miyosha’s kidneys was used.
He recovered and continues to live in Arizona with his wife, Sharon.
Since his retirement, a few NFL athletes have played on both sides of the ball, but the achievement is still considered rare.
“It was fun times,” Green said in 2016. “I loved the game, loved being out there, contributing any way I can. There’s nothing like making plays, as far as I’m concerned.”
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