ASHBURN, Va. -- As coach Joe Gibbs walked toward the press room at Redskin Park to begin his news conference yesterday, he spotted cornerback Darrell Green walking out of the front door.
Gibbs sprinted to the door and asked, "Is that thing doing any better?"
"So-so," Green replied.
That was the question of the day for the Washington Redskins. They all wanted to know the condition of Darrell Green's bruised left heel.
Green didn't make the trip to Minnesota last Saturday so he could stay off his feet, but he still doesn't know how well he'll be able to play Saturday against the San Francisco 49ers in an NFC divisional playoff game.
His status is important because the Redskins will be trying to defend the 49ers' gifted wide receiving duo of Jerry Rice and John Taylor.
"I think I used the right wisdom in taking the time off last week," he said. "I don't think I did. I know I did, so I'm looking forward to trying to play in some capacity this week. It's premature to say in what capacity. I think it's decided I will play. In what capacity, I don't know."
Green hasn't tried to run yet, so he'll have a better idea how much he can play later in the week.
He admits, though, that he's eager for a chance to play against Rice. This is a matchup of the highest-paid receiver in Rice ($2.55 million a year) and the second-highest-paid defensive back in Green ($1.5 million). Deion Sanders is the highest-paid defensive back at $2.05 million.
Of the matchup with Rice, Green said, "I have always played against these types of guys. That's what I do. That's what makes me tick as a football player. That's what has brought success to the story of my football career. It's driving me to get out there. Not to prove anything really because I know what I can do. It's just what's in my heart. When I play basketball, it's one-on-one. That's the make-up of my personality."
Green then laughed and suggested the prospect of facing Rice is helping him heal. "That's like an extra piece of ice on my heel," he said.
All Green can do for his heel is rest and give it hot and cold treatments.
He said the doctors can't do much more than say, "How's that thing feeling today?"
Another reason that Green would like the challenge of taking on Rice is that this has been a frustrating year for him.
"It's been such a long, hard road for me from the chicken pox to the broken arm to another virus to hurting my heel. You name it. It's been a rough year," he said.
He said he got the chicken pox this summer from a nephew and was recovering when he was holding out during training camp.
Green, who doesn't use the phrase "holding out" (he prefers to say he didn't have a contract), said he never even told his agent, Kyle Rote, that he had the chicken pox. He didn't want anyone to think it was a factor.
"I never said, 'Hey, I've got the chicken pox. I don't want to go to camp,' " he said.
He ended the holdout by signing a three-year $4.5 million contract when camp ended. But in the second game of the season, he broke his forearm. The first reports were he was out for the season, but he was back for the 11th game of the year against the New Orleans Saints.While he was recovering from the broken arm, he also had to fight a stubborn virus.
The long layoff prevented Green from hitting his peak form, but he still came up with big plays. Against the Dallas Cowboys, he caused a Michael Irvin fumble that set up the sequence of plays that ended with the Troy Aikman fumble.
Earlier in that game, however, he bruised the heel while leaping up to knock away a pass directed at Irvin. He started the final two games after having the heel numbed with a pain-killer, but he aggravated it in the finale against the Los Angeles Raiders and left the locker room on crutches.
"My injury had a big role in basically costing us the game," he said.
He couldn't stop Willie Gault from catching a 50-yard pass that set up the game-winning touchdown.
Martin Mayhew, who came back from a broken forearm of his own, replaced Green against the Vikings, but they'd like them both in the lineup against the 49ers.
The last time the two teams played (not counting exhibitions) was in 1990 when they met in the second game of the season and the second playoff game. Rice caught six passes in each game and the 49ers won both, but Green also had his share of plays in the meetings.
This season, though, Green hasn't been able to enjoy the challenge of facing the top receivers when he was at the top of his game.
"It's been a very trying year," he said. "It hasn't been a lot of one-on-one stuff. It really hasn't been the fun of Green on [Roy] Green, Green on [Mike] Quick, Green on Rice. Green on Irvin. It hasn't really been that because of the injuries and the intangibles."
Green hopes to at least have some fun Saturday.
NOTES: The Redskins will again practice only two days -- tomorrow and Thursday -- for the Saturday game instead of the usual three days for the third straight week. Gibbs likes to go hard in practice, but since his team is so beat up, he figures the players can use the rest. DT Eric Williams, who's on the injured reserve list with a torn abdominal muscle, probably will be activated for the 49ers game. If he can't go, WR Stephen Hobbs (knee) probably will be brought back.