It was with a heavy heart that I received the news of Dexter Green's death from cancer at the age of 46 on Sunday. Coming on the heels of Ennis Haywood's untimely death, this has been a sorrowful few days for Cyclone fans.
Dexter and Ennis were not only two of the greatest running backs to ever wear the Cardinal and Gold, but were very similar in other respects. Always wearing smiles, they were both quiet young men who blossomed on the Ames campus and matured into team leaders, earning the respect of teammates, coaches and fans. More importantly, they were quality human beings.
During my years at CI, I had many opportunities to visit with Ennis Haywood and considered him a friend. Dexter Green was a player whom I had watched and admired as a fan. I watched every home game that Green played in, as well as many of his road games, but never had the opportunity to interview him until the weekend of his induction into the Hall of Fame.
Here is the text of that question and answer session with Green from September, 2000. - CI Steve
Dexter Green was a tailback for the Iowa State Cyclones from 1975-78 and achieved All-American status in 1978. He is ISU’s third leading all-time rusher with 3,437 yards, trailing only the Davis brothers. Green was a two time all-Big Eight selection and was a key player for the Cyclones in their last two bowl appearances, rushing for 172 yards in the 1977 Peach Bowl against North Carolina State, and 148 yards in the 1978 Hall of Fame Bowl against Texas A& M.
Although he wasn’t drafted by the NFL, Green tried out with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1979 and was one cut away from making that team. After that he went to the Canadian Football League where he played for the Hamilton Tiger Cats. After tryouts with the Washington Federals and Chicago Blitz, Green decided that the best thing for him to do was to go back to Iowa State to get his degree and pursue other career opportunities. He received his bachelors degree in November, 1980 in industrial education.
He taught junior high school for two years at the same school that Elvis Presley attended in Memphis, Tennessee. After several other teaching stints, Green is currently the computer instructor for the Columbus Urban League where he helps train people who are on public assistance the skills that will enable them to get better employment.
Green married his wife Betty while at Iowa State and they just completed 22 years of marriage. They have two children, Sabrina, 18 and a freshman at Central State University, and Dexter Jr., 11. The Green family now lives in Columbus, Ohio.
Dexter Jr. is quite a football player already. He tells Green that he’s going to attend Iowa State and break the record of the person who broke his dad’s record, Troy Davis.
“I think he might be a little bit better than I was,” Green said. “He's playing football now and is a running back and linebacker. Right now his defensive skills outweigh his offensive skills, so I can tell Troy that his record will probably be intact for a while.”
CI caught up with Green in the Jacobson Building, where he was videotaping the various display cases in the atrium.
CI: What do you think of this new athletic building?
Green: This is the first time I’ve seen this facility. It's a very beautiful building. I can really appreciate that one would be in the Hall of Fame, but the fact is that it's a rich history as far as sports in general at Iowa State. The changes they have done in the Olsen Building are marvelous and I wanted to film it.
I saw few freshmen that were coming in. I introduced myself and told them about how things have changed from '75 up until now. There are so many things that have been added onto the field that makes it an outstanding facility.
CI: You were part of an Iowa State team that improved from a string of three 4-7 years to three straight eight wins seasons and a couple of bowl games. What are your memories of that turnaround?
Green: When I reflected back on 1975 coming here, it was a very exciting time because we had a nucleus of a lot of young players coming from all over the country. We also had a nucleus of seniors that were back there like Bob Bos and Maynard Stensrud. They had the leadership and the
drive that made us as younger players want to excel and become the best that we could.
I remember that Coach Bruce ended up going to the Hula Bowl and coaching over there. When he came back in 1976, he told us that he felt the only difference between a lot of the outstanding athletes and us was that a lot of them worked on the fundamentals. He said that if we worked on the fundamentals that we were capable of becoming an outstanding team.
I remember the Class of 1975 with Tom Boskie, Ray Hardee, Stan Hickson, Mike Clemons, Al Grissinger-- we had so many players that came here and jelled together as a team. We began to think that we could win. We started practicing harder and realized that we had to put on our uniforms just like everybody else. A lot of the guys got into the gym, started pumping iron and became 400-pound bench pressers.
When 1976 came and we didn't go to a bowl game, we all got together and knew that we had the nucleus coming back, so let's pursue trying to go to a bowl game. That became a reality in 1977 when we went to the Peach Bowl. We had an outstanding team that year and had a majority of seniors coming back in 1978. We made up in our mind at the beginning of the season that we could do the same thing we've done in the last two years. We were shooting for much more than eight wins, but it panned out that all we could muster was eight wins and three losses.
CI: You played in the first game ever held at Jack Trice Stadium in 1975 against Air Force. What are your memories of that game?
Green: The first game in the stadium, I was talking to some of the younger Cyclones today about that. I remember something happened in that game that I didn't think was going to happen. Coach Bruce had a lot of confidence in me as a running back and kick returner. The first play in that stadium, the ball was kicked short and I ended up muffing the ball out like around the two- or three-yard line. Coach Bruce got mad at me and wouldn't play me anymore.
I remember that game well, because I made a freshman mistake. A couple of games later, when the coach still wasn't playing me, I went to him and told him I wanted to play and asked him to send me down to junior varsity. He said to go on down there. I went down there, played maybe two games and they brought me back.
CI: What happened the rest of the season?
Green: We had an outstanding team in 1975, even though the record didn't reflect it. We had an outstanding defense. I used to practice with them everyday. We had Tony Hawkins, Maynard Stensrud, Ron McFarland and Mark Benda. I usually had to go with them everyday and they usually put a hurtin’ on me. I decided I would have to do my best.
Later on in the season, the last three or four games, Coach Bruce brought me back up to the varsity. I remember the Colorado game that I came in they threw me a screen pass. I ran it for like 30 or 40 yards. We got down close to the goal line and I scored one of my first touchdowns in my college career.
CI: What were some other memorable games that stand out for you?
Green: The game against Missouri in 1976 will always stand out in my mind, because prior to that I was hurt. I had severely torn cartilage in my right knee and hadn't practiced all week. I didn't know whether or not I was going to play that game. Coach Bruce asked me before the game if I
could play. I hadn't made up my mind. They let me stay out in the locker room to think about it. While I was in the locker room, one of the greatest running backs that we had, hurt himself that year. Mike Williams was bandaged from his ankle to his hip. We had the nerve to call each other “home boys,” because he was from Maryland and I was from Virginia.
He said, “Homey what you gonna do? If I could throw away these crutches and help the team any kind of way I could, I would.” That encouraged me in the locker room in Missouri. I went back out and told Coach Bruce that if he needed me, I would play. The ironic thing was that on a bum knee, I had the best game of my college career. I had 214 yards. The first play that I carried the ball went 65 yards for a touchdown. That was a game that I would always remember.
The other game was when we went to Nebraska in 1977. We had just beaten them in 1976, then we were out there in '77 and there were so many redshirts out there. We had some fans rooting for us. We winded up scoring a couple of touchdowns. I remember a trap up the middle that was so wide
open that I walked in. I put a number one finger up and went into the end zone. Then our defense played outstanding the rest of the game and we beat them by three points.
CI: You were from Virginia originally. Tell us about the experience of going so far away from home to go to college.
Green: Coming from Virginia all the way out here, I called it a place to grow. I was a little wild coming from Virginia. I was always enthusiastic. But when I came out there, it taught me that there's some things that happen in your life that your family will not be there to help you. You have to
become a man and do it. When I came out there in '75, I was a little rusty around the collar. But we had training tables where they helped you get your grades. It was a learning experience, because you met people that you will remember the rest of your life. My roommate was Stan Hickson, who wound up being the best man in my wedding. Some of these people I see from time to time.
Sometimes you have to get away from your family to be able to see your full potential in things. By getting the chance to have a full scholarship, I don't even know whether or not I would have gotten a scholarship anywhere else if Iowa State wouldn't have given me an opportunity at that time. It was really an outstanding experience. I made some mistakes and may have said some things to some people while I was growing up. But what I've learned is that you look back at your past and don't let your past determine your future by becoming the best you can be.
CI: How did the Cyclones become involved in recruiting you?
Green: It was kind of strange, because when Iowa State started to recruit me, the recruiting part as far as football was almost over with. The reason I like the Missouri game is because I had been recruited by Missouri and Missouri was going to offer me a scholarship to come there. But they
renegged at the last minute and so I was in the state football tournament down in Charlottesville when Iowa State came and started to recruit me in football.
Iowa State came to look Russell Davis, who was the number one running back in the nation that went to Michigan. We had every coach that you could imagine at that game. We were both 9-0. I don't know if Coach Bruce or one of the coaches came to see him, but I wound up having close to 200 yards and a couple of touchdowns. That opened the door for others to look at me, not according to my size but to my ability.
CI: Do you keep in contact with Coach Bruce?
Green: I have talked to him on occasion. When he was at Ohio State, I went to visit him several times. He helped me out with a couple things, like the way he's always been. I have always tried to keep in touch with him, whether it was on the phone or just finding out where he was going to
be. The last time I talked to him was at the end of '98 or '99. I came back to Columbus after being down in Memphis for three years. I called him and found at that he was announcing radio for the Buckeyes.
CI: What type of a relationship did you have with Coach Bruce?
Green: I think Coach Bruce would say that I was a little strange, because I had this mentality that I always believed in doing my best, but also had my own mind set. There were some times that we had some heated arguments on things. But we had a good relationship where we could sit and talk to
one another. I believed that I could go in his office, sit down and talk to him about anything that was bothering me. I believed that he would give me a good opinion of what he felt that I should do.
One thing I do remember was that he didn't want me to get married to my wife during my senior year. I understand now, but didn't then. I understand that he was trying to make sure that I kept my head clear, as far as playing ball. But now, after all these years, he has told me that I made the best
CI: What were the circumstances of you finding out you had been named to be inducted into the Iowa State Hall of Fame?
Green: I was at work and while I was teaching my wife called me. She was happy for some reason. She said, '”You're going to be inducted into the Iowa State Hall of Fame.' I said, “What,” because I didn't know they had a Hall of Fame. I think that was in January when I received something. When class was over, I remember sitting down and thinking about what she said. At the time, I was trying to teach.
As I sat down and reflected, I thought it was a high honor for anyone to be inducted into a Hall of Fame. When I think about the outstanding athletes that have come through Iowa State, I felt it was a big privilege. I saw in the letter the people that would be inducted. I saw some very familiar names on that list. Not only did I see Coach Bruce, but I saw Mike Stensrud was going to be inducted also. I remember going into our senior year in 1978 and seeing the Des Moines Register before the season having a picture of Mike, Coach Bruce and I on the front cover. I thought it would be outstanding to go in with these two people.
CI: Have you communicated with Mike Stensrud?
Green: I hadn't talked to him, but I saw him play on television with the Oilers and some of his outstanding playing while he was there. I think it was last year that I was looking at the Iowa State game on TV I heard the name Stensrud. That caught my eye and I saw his son playing. I saw his son today and told him that he was bigger and taller than your uncle Maynard. I would say that it's probably been over 20 years.
Both of us stayed on the same floor while we were playing ball. Mike stayed in the corner room and they put me by the elevator, so I wanted to ask him what was up with that. Were they trying to hide him and have me closer by the elevator?
CI: Did you have a chance to follow Troy Davis over the years as he pursued your rushing record?
Green: A couple of times when I was in Memphis, I visited a couple of the alumni and they would all get together for Iowa State games. I read the paper and looked for Iowa State. Every now and then when I see certain names, I wonder if that is so and so's son playing at Iowa State. Of course, there was the time when Troy Davis was playing, I kept contact as far as looking in the papers. When he started getting all of those 300-yard games, I was wondering if this was the one. I had calls from the Register and a couple of other papers wondering if my record would ever be broken. I knew it would be broken by a great player and Troy Davis is a great player.
CI: When was the last time you actually visited the campus at Iowa State?
Green: The 1977 Peach Bowl team had a reunion and I hadn't been out here in 10 years and that was '87. We went out on the field and I thought I was playing, because so many people were rooting. It's good to know that people remember you for the things you've done.
CI: One of the few people still on the staff from your playing days is Frank Randall, who was then the trainer. Do you have any stories about him?
Green: He was something else. A few of us didn't understand him. I think he laughed at us. He'd always say, especially when you were freshmen, “come on, sit down, put your leg there rookie.” He was always calling us, “rookie.” He kind of intimidated you. You didn't say anything to him,
because you were hoping he taped your ankle right. We knew that he really cared, that was just the way that he carried himself. We always gave him respect when we went into the training room.
CI: In addition to your work in teaching, we understand you are a minister also.
Green: I’ve been ordained elder in the Church of God in Christ since 1992, but I've been preaching since 1988. Some things have changed in my life. I came here and was a little rough on the collar, but now I feel that I'm a complete person. I have my head more straight on and look to the lord
for all my decisions instead of me doing things I regret. I reflect back on some of the decisions I made as a younger man and wish I could take them back. But when I look back, God was there.
When I look at my size when I was playing and the things I was able to do-- I had to have someone who was greater guiding me and it was God. I'm in a church that has a pastor, but he gives me an opportunity a couple times a month to preach. I also go to other speaking engagements and churches. I love the opportunity to men and younger men, for I feel that's my gift and my calling.
CI: You had a chance to address the Iowa State players. Could you share the message that you gave them?
Green: We only have today, not tomorrow. We need to give our best today and not leave our best for tomorrow, because tomorrow's not promised. If you practice hard, you'll play hard. If you are practicing and not playing in a game atmosphere in practice, you're going to play the same way on Saturday morning. Make your goals high even if you can’t get close to them. It's better to have some goals that you can't reach, instead of having no goals to reach because you haven't set them high enough.