Football Bonds

The Green boys, T.J. and Derek, both have baseball games scheduled for this weekend. And as his father did with him and older brother Troy during their various athletic pursuits as youngsters, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Trent Green won't miss a single pitch.

What he will miss is being able to spend Father's Day with his dad, Jim Green, who died last October of a heart attack at only 58 years of age, and with no health problems of which his family was aware.

"It's going to be emotional, sure, and it already has been as we get closer [to Father's Day]," Trent Green said Friday afternoon, heading into a weekend where he will typically immerse himself in the type of family activities that were such an important component of his own upbringing. "I think about him every day, and I know I will on Sunday, but I also know I'm blessed to have had the time I did with him and to have had my mom and my [siblings] and all. But I'm sure that, even with the boys' baseball games and all the other things going on, it will be hard."

Many men, in sneaking a wistful peek over their shoulders at their boyhood, think their dad was the absolute greatest guy in the world. Less than eight months removed from his father's passing, Green has more reason than most to stare hard into the mental rearview mirror and some justification for feeling that the reflection therein is even bigger than it appears.

Because that's the kind of impact Jim Green clearly had on his youngest son.

As complicated as the male bonding process is presented as being, it is characteristically less complex than analysts suggest. In the case of Jim and Trent Green, it can be reduced to a simple equation: Jim Green loved football and his son. Trent Green loved his dad and, even though he was a little leery the first time his father signed him up to play tackle football in the seventh grade, he came to share Jim Green's passion for the sport that has enabled him to earn a nice livelihood and helped to make him one of the most embraced athletes in Kansas City history, on and off the field.

There wasn't, it seems, much pretense about Jim Green. He was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, starred in football at Jefferson High School, where his team was undefeated his senior season, played at a small South Dakota college for a couple years, then went off to Vietnam. Upon returning from the war, he enrolled at the University of Iowa and finished his degree work. Too old to resume his career, he may have lost his chance at a career in the game he loved, but he never lost his love for football.

And so when Trent Green was 12 years old and starring in AAU basketball tournaments, Jim Green tossed him a football and suggested that his youngest son try the sport for just a year. Nearly two dozen years later, Trent hasn't put down the football yet, thanks in part to his dad, who basically wouldn't let him.

"When I was in the seventh grade, I actually played left tackle and free safety, if you can believe it," Green said. "In the eighth grade, I was a wide receiver and a free safety, and my brother was the other receiver. Our quarterback broke his collarbone, and we needed someone to play, and it was my dad who went to the coach and suggested he try me. The coach, he didn't know if I could play [quarterback] or not. But my dad had watched me and Troy throwing the ball in the yard every day, and he knew I could do it. He always had faith that I could."

Thus was born a quarterback who has persevered through some trying times. An eighth-round choice of the San Diego Chargers in 1993 after a solid career at Indiana, Green was released twice, including by British Columbia of the CFL, before settling onto a roster. In his first three seasons with the Washington Redskins (1995-97), he threw one pass before a breakout campaign in 1998 earned him a big free-agent contract from the St. Louis Rams. But in the '99 preseason, Green tore two ligaments in his left knee and watched as the Rams won the Super Bowl and his replacement, Kurt Warner, captured league Most Valuable Player honors. In 2001, he was dealt to the Chiefs.

Through it all, Jim Green was there, watching his son compile a résumé that some might be surprised to discover includes the eighth-best career passer rating in history. Well, Jim was there until last October.

Trent Green can recall watching the Monday Night Football game on Dec. 22, 2003 in which Brett Favre played so heroically against the Oakland Raiders, throwing for 399 yards and four touchdowns just one day after his father died of a heart attack. While he marveled at Favre's performance and how his Packers teammates rallied around him, Green never envisioned himself in a similar situation. "At that point," Green said, "it's not something you think about. You just watch Brett and think, 'How can he do that?' You can't put yourself into that situation. It's impossible to relate to something like that."

And then, last Oct. 30, Green found out he could, indeed, relate.

Playing at San Diego, three days after Jim Green died, with funeral arrangements still pending, operating on a truncated practice week, Green played marvelously, especially in the second half of the loss. Even his opponents praised his performance in the teeth of personal adversity and numbing loss, with Chargers counterpart Drew Brees terming the performance "inspiring."

"You never know how you're going to react until you're [in the moment], and you're just trying to make a play and then build on it," Green said. "You don't want to try to do too much, just because you're playing for a special reason. You try to be yourself … but it's not easy."

Nor was it easy the following week, in the Chiefs' first home game following his father's burial, for Green to climb the stairs at Arrowhead Stadium, to locate Jim Green's place in Section 121, and to tape a hand-lettered placard to the seat, which read: "Jim Green, we miss him and we love him."

Eight months after he didn't want anyone to occupy Jim Green's seat at Arrowhead Stadium, memories of his late father will certainly occupy some of Trent Green's time this weekend. On Friday, he reminisced about attending Iowa football games on Saturday afternoons, about watching the only NFL game on TV the next day, hurrying out to the front yard at halftime with his brother, to emulate the players they had seen on the screen, and then returning for the second half.

When he was younger, on Father's Day, the Green family would pack up the car, round up some friends and neighbors and drive to southern Missouri for a weekend of camping, fishing and canoeing, what Trent called a "float trip." There weren't as many such outings as the Green kids grew older. But chances are that, maybe between innings of his sons' games this weekend, Trent Green will take a mental "float trip" to the past.

"My dad was such a patient man," Green said. "He was a salesman, then a manager, and people really enjoyed dealing with him. At his funeral, a lot of the people who attended were former customers and they seemed to have [fond] memories of him. That patience of his, it's something I've taken into some life situations, but probably not enough. I've got kind of a perfectionist personality. I'm really hard on myself. There were times I'd be beating myself up, or things weren't going well, some of the tough times, and he would sit and tell me, 'People would give a million dollars to be doing what you're doing. Do you know how lucky you are?'"

The guess is that, even on the toughest Father's Day he'll have experienced to this point in his 35 years, an appreciative Trent Green will, indeed, know how lucky he was.