He was known as “Jet Stream” in St. Louis, but at Henderson State University they called Roy Green the “Green Machine.”
“Every now and then we’ll be talkin’ about the ol’ days and someone’ll bring up the Monticello game and how incredible Roy was,” Green’s college coach Ralph Carpenter said in a St. Louis Post Dispatch story back in 1981.
Carpenter was referring to the Green Machine’s performance against the University of Arkansas-Monticello in 1978. Green returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, a punt 65 yards for a touchdown, and returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown. He even blocked a field goal late in the game.
“There was nothin’ he couldn’t do. Nothin’,” Carpenter said.
Green was a NAIA All-American cornerback at Henderson State. He intercepted 9 passes his senior season and averaged over 13 yards on punt returns and almost 22 yards on kick returns.
Green was a speed burner, running the 40 yard dash in 4.3 seconds. The Cardinals drafted the Magnolia, Arkansas native in the fourth round in 1979 as a defensive back. He played in all 16 games his rookie season and was named the top return specialist by The Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly.
In a game against the Cowboys, it took the Cardinal rookie just 18 seconds to tie an NFL record. That’s the time it took Roy to race 106 yards up the left sideline at Texas Stadium after he received a Rafael Septien kickoff just before halftime. The Cards lost the game, but Jetstream had left his mark.
“All season long I’ve been dreaming about breaking one,” Green said in a St. Louis Post Dispatch story. “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 would set another milestone at Texas Stadium in 1980 when he nabbed a Danny White pass for his first NFL interception. Three weeks later he would score the game winning touchdown by returning a punt 50 yards against the Detroit Lions at Busch Stadium.
TWO WAY PLAYER
In 1981, head coach Jim Hanifan would make a decision that would change Roy Green’s career. After watching Green catch passes one day after practice, Hanifan decided to give him a shot on offense.
“I thought to myself, if he’s not on the field, it’s kind of ridiculous,” Hanifan recalled in a Post Dispatch story.
Hanifan informed Green the next day of his plan to use him at wide receiver against the Dallas Cowboys. It was a decision that neither would ever regret as Green hauled in a 60 yard pass from rookie Neil Lomax on the first ball thrown to him.
A week later Green caught his first NFL touchdown on a 58 yard pass from Jim Hart. He also intercepted a Joe Theismann pass late in the game to become the first player to catch a TD pass and intercept a pass in the same game since 1957.
“He may be one of those young men from the days of yore,” Hanifan told the Post Dispatch.
“I just like being on the field playing,” Green said after the game.
Roy Green became a full-time two way player in 1981 when he caught 33 passes and four touchdowns.
Green became the first two-way player in the NFL in over two decades. He averaged over 21 yards a catch and led the team in touchdown receptions. He intercepted 3 passes on defense, had 15 tackles, and broke up 11 passes. Green also excelled on special teams. He was named the team’s MVP in 1981 and Sports Illustrated named him to their All-Pro team.
“There are certain guys you want to throw to, guys you know will hang on to the ball, quarterback Jim Hart told Sports Illustrated. “Roy’s one of those guys.”
“I’ve never been around a player like him,” Jim Hanifan said.
But Green’s days of being a two-way player would end in 1982 when Coach Hanifan announced that he would become a full time wide receiver.
“I think he has the opportunity to become one of the really premier wide receivers in the game,” Hanifan told the Post Dispatch. “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.”
Green would have another fine season in the strike-shortened 1982 season. He took Mel Gray’s place in the starting lineup and led the team in TD receptions and averaged almost 15 yards per catch. His biggest game came against the Cowboys with a 10 catch, 170 yard performance, both career highs. He also caught the game winning touchdown with 27 seconds left in the home finale against the Giants to put the Cardinals in the playoffs. He followed that up with a 9 catch, 113 yard performance against the Packers in his only post season appearance.
Roy Green had a break-out season in 1983. He scored 14 touchdowns and set franchise records for receptions (78) and receiving yards (1227) earning his first Pro Bowl appearance. He was also named to numerous All-Pro teams and was chosen as the top wide receiver by the NFL Alumni.
Green caught five passes in a game ten times including a four TD performance against the Seattle Seahawks. Roy also caught Jim Hart’s last TD pass, a game winner with 29 seconds left at Veteran’s Stadium against the Eagles.
A poster of Roy “Jet Stream” Green sitting on a jet in a Kangaroo Shoes ad in the early 1980s.
“Last year at this time I stated that Roy Green has yet to realize his potential,” head coach Jim Hanifan told the Post Dispatch. “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.”
LOMAX TO GREEN
While Jet Stream was setting franchise records, so was his quarterback and friend Neil Lomax, who set team marks for completion percentage (59.0) and passer rating (92.0) in 1983. “Lomax to Green” was becoming all the rage in St. Louis, much like “Johnson to Randle” was in the 1960s and “Hart to Gray” in the 1970s.
“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.”
Lomax and Green elevated their games even further in 1984 and emerged as one of the most potent passing combinations in the NFL. Green’s 1555 receiving yards was the third most in NFL history. He scored 12 touchdowns and averaged almost 20 yards per catch earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors. Meanwhile, Lomax threw for a team record 4614 yards and tied Charley Johnson’s record with 28 touchdown passes. Lomax to Green TD passes averaged an astounding 45.3 yards in 1984.
“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.”
Green added, “Neil has brought me from a mediocre wide receiver to a threat, where I think teams have to come in now and say hey, we’re going to have to shutdown Roy Green.”
“They really work closely together,” Coach Hanifan said. “They are close friends and when you have that kind of thing going for you it really helps out. They really know what the other guy’s going to do.”
The Cardinals had their best team of the decade in 1984 and Lomax and Green were the stars. Green had a monumental game in a comeback win at Indianapolis (8-183-2) and had over 500 yards and 4 long touchdowns in a three game stretch of victories over the Cowboys, Bears and Redskins.
Perhaps Jet Stream’s biggest catch of the season didn’t count. Big Red fans still remember the Lomax to Green third quarter 39 yard TD pass against the Cowboys in a 17-17 game at Busch Stadium. Green ran right by Cowboys cornerback Everson Walls to score the go ahead touchdown. However, Green was called for a phantom offensive pass interference on the play. A seven point lead turned into a 3rd and 20 drive killer. The Cardinals went on to lose 24-17 and missed the playoffs by a game.
“Yeah, I looked back and saw the flag,” Green told the post Dispatch. “But I thought it was for something that happened back upfield. When I heard what the call was, I was pretty outraged. I couldn’t believe he made that call.”
Apparently, neither could Walls. “I thought he’d beat me for a touchdown,” the Cowboys cornerback said after the game.
The Cardinals still had a chance to win the NFC East heading into the a season finale at RFK Stadium in Washington. A victory would secure a first round home game, something Big Red fans had never seen. A loss would send them home. After spotting the Skins a 23-7 halftime lead, the Cards stormed back in the second half. Lomax connected with Jetstream to take a 27-26 lead late in the game. But, the Skins took a two point lead with about a minute left in the game and Neil O’Donoghue’s last second 50 yard field goal sailed wide left. The Cards lost the game 29-27. Season over.
Lomax and Green had their best games of their careers. The Gateway Gunner threw for 468 yards and Green caught 8 passes for 196 yards and two TDs including a 75 yarder. But the loss left the team and Green crushed.
“This was very heartbreaking and discouraging,” Green said after the game. “I feel for our fans in St. Louis, too, because they wanted this one badly.
JET STREAM GROUNDED
After the near miss in 1984, many were predicting the Cardinals as a Super Bowl contender in 1985. And why not? The Big Red offense averaged 26 points a game, Lomax and Green were in their prime, and there weren’t many better running back combinations than O.J. Anderson and Stump Mitchell.
The Cardinals quietly gave Green a new contract prior to the ’85 season which made him the fourth highest paid wide receiver in the NFL.
However, Green would endure injury plagued seasons in 1985 and 1986. He failed to post a 100 yard performance in ’85 after severe toe and ankle injuries caused him to miss three games and several weeks of practice. Ankle surgery early in the 1986 season caused Green to miss six weeks and he had to dispel rumors that he wanted out of St. Louis after being criticized by the team doctor. The Cardinals finished in last place both years.
Despite the injuries, Green still managed to catch 50 passes for the third consecutive year and finished with 693 yards and 5 touchdowns in 1985 and scored six more touchdowns in ’86.
FINAL SEASON IN ST. LOUIS
Green appeared to be a forgotten man heading into training camp in 1987. He had just turned 30 years old and had missed nine games the past two years. He was omitted in most preseason magazine “top receivers” lists. It hadn’t been that long ago that defensive backs couldn’t cover Jetstream, now it appeared they had forgotten his name.
“When you don’t put the numbers on the board, people have a tendency to forget,” Green told the St. Louis Post Dispatch prior to the 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.”
It didn’t take long for Green to remind Big Red fans and the league that he was still a premiere receiver.
Lomax connected with Green on a 45 yard bomb on the first play of the season opener against the Cowboys at Busch Stadium. Later they would later hook up for two touchdowns in the final two minutes in the Cardinals 24-13 comeback victory.
“You’re in trouble, then you see Lomax hitting Green, not once but twice,” Ron Wolfley told the Post Dispatch after the game. “You see our money guys come through like that and all you can say is that it’s magic.”
“Roy Green still worries the defense,” head coach Gene Stallings said. “He still has the ability.”
The following week Jet Stream caught seven passes for 139 yards in San Diego. However, a hamstring injury and NFL strike would put a dent in Green’s total numbers. He caught only 43 passes and four touchdowns, but did average over 17 yards per catch in the Cardinals final season in St. Louis.
Unofficially, the Cardinals played the 1987 season as a lame duck team. Everyone knew the team was most likely leaving St. Louis, but no one knew where. When the official announcement was finally made on January 15, 1988, many players were disappointed, including Green.
“I promised myself I wouldn’t get emotionally involved with this because it’s a business,” Green told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “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.”
Green played pretty well the following three seasons in Arizona. His biggest moment came in 1988 when he caught the game winning touchdown pass with 3 seconds left to give the Cardinals a 24-23 come from behind win over the eventual Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers.
He scored 7 touchdowns in 1988 and had over 1000 receiving yards for the third time in his career. He scored 11 touchdowns the following two seasons and averaged almost 16 yards per catch.
The Cardinals traded the 34 year old Green to the Cleveland Browns in 1991, but he was cut before the season started. He later signed with the Philadelphia Eagles where he would finish his career before retiring after the 1992 season.
Green finished his career with more receptions (522), more receiving yards (8496) and more touchdowns (66) than any receiver in Cardinals history. It’s pretty amazing considering he played defense for most of his first three years. Green has continued to live in Arizona and currently works for the Cardinals Radio Network. He was finally inducted into the Cardinals Ring of Honor in 2016.
“I’m proud to be going up there for the organization that drafted me, gave me a chance, and put me up there with some guys who actually taught me how to be a pro, Dan Dierdorf, Roger Wehrli, and those guys,” Green told Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “So this oughta be fun.”
Green told Thomas that he appreciated his days in St. Louis.
“That’s where it all starts. It’ll never be forgotten. I still have a lot of friends, acquaintances there. It’s where my daughters had their memories as young kids. It’s very important, the linkage between the two (St. Louis and Arizona), for me.”
John Madden once called Jet Stream the best player in the game. Redskins cornerback Darrell Green called him his toughest receiver to cover. Cowboys cornerback Everson Walls once said the Green “stands alone” at the receiver position.
“It was fun times,” Green told Jim Thomas 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.”