Dad's legacy lives in Green
Trent Green’s father, Jim, gave Chief valuable lessons on the importance of family.
By J. BRADY McCOLLOUGH
The Kansas City Star
Trent Green will scroll through his phone today. He’ll see the name “Dad,” and he’ll feel normal again.
Each time Green flips through that phone and sees that number, he holds on to hope. He holds on to the belief that his dad is still with him. Nobody can take that away.
“His name’s still there,” Green says. “I was thinking about it the other day … at what point should I not have that in there? I don’t know when that day will come, but I’m not ready to do it yet.”
Dad was always the easiest to call. They talked almost every day, but the voice on the other end of the line was often silent. Jim Green was a listener, a sounding board for the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, someone to crack a joke when his boy seemed way too serious.
Today, on Father’s Day, Trent Green’s phone will ring — but it won’t be Dad. Jim Green died almost eight months ago, and with each day that passes, it becomes more real for his son.
“I still think about my dad every day, I miss him every day,” Green says. “Even though this weekend is the actual Father’s Day, it doesn’t mean that I don’t think about him all the time.”
The firsts are always the hardest. The Greens have gotten through the first Christmas, the first Pro Bowl and the first Easter. Last week, it was Trent’s annual charity golf event. Jim would come up for it every year, and he’d often play with Dick Vermeil. Jim loved that.
Now, it’s the first Father’s Day. For the longest time, the Greens would go camping and canoeing that weekend.
“It was a very special day to him,” says Judi Green, Trent’s mother. “That’s why he picked Father’s Day weekend for the campout, so he could have everybody there. He enjoyed being a dad. It’s kind of sad.”
But today is Trent’s day, too. Trent will spend the day watching his 8-year-old son, T.J., play baseball. It’s Trent’s turn to make memories and fill photo albums with T.J., Derek and baby Janelle.
“He’s always been one to spend as much time as possible with the kids,” says Julie Green, Trent’s wife. “From the moment T.J. was born, he changed diapers before I did. He doesn’t golf very often. He’s Superdad.”
Jim Green understood something about being a dad. To support his children, he had to be there. Tangible gifts could only go so far. Time was what he had to give.
So, Jim went to everything. He coaxed Trent into playing football in seventh grade and watched him develop into a star quarterback at Vianney High School in St. Louis. And when Trent played at Indiana, Jim went to all the road games.
One time, Julie and her friends stayed in the same hotel on the road as the Greens. She was planning to follow Jim to the game because, of course, he would know exactly how to get to the stadium. But Jim liked to be at the game at a certain time, and Julie and her friends were still out and about when it was time to go. On their way back to the hotel, Julie’s friend spotted Jim driving.
“Your boyfriend’s father just left you,” she said to Julie.
“He was going to the game,” Julie says, “with or without me.”
Years later, in 1999, Julie and Jim would be together at a St. Louis Rams exhibition game. They were so excited. Trent had put in his time as a backup in Washington, and now he was the starter for the hometown team. But that night, San Diego’s Rodney Harrison hit Green, tearing up his left knee.
Trent was out for the season, but Jim’s season had just started. He hurried down to the locker room and sat by Trent on the way to the hospital.
“He was with him the whole time,” Julie says.
Jim wasn’t going to give up on Trent, even though most people had. Jim and Judi had already sacrificed so much.
They had lived the simple, Midwestern life. Jim worked 30 years for Signode, a packaging company. The Greens didn’t have an extravagant lifestyle, and the extra money they did have went for nice vacations for their three kids or for private schools.
“They spent more money traveling and doing fun things with us than on cars or whatever,” says Trisha Logan, Trent’s sister. “It was more about us having a good time.”
Maybe Jim’s greatest sacrifice was that he never became a football coach. Jim considered being a high school teacher and coach, but he knew it would eat up too much family time.
“He always wished that he would have pursued his dream of being a football coach or referee,” Judi says. “To us, family is your life. You do everything with your family.”
Because he couldn’t be a coach, Jim learned everything he could about the game for the sake of his sons Trent and Troy.
“He knew everything about football, from every Internet chat site to Sporting News magazine,” says Chiefs quarterback Damon Huard, a good friend of Trent’s. “He was a dictionary for football.”
Football became Trent’s and Jim’s language. Trent would talk to Judi about her grandkids before she’d pass the phone to Jim for postgame analysis.
“Jim didn’t live vicariously through what Trent accomplished as an athlete,” former Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders says. “Jim was proud of Trent as a son, what he brought to his family. Trent is a chip off the old block. You could feel the respect and admiration they had for each other without a spoken word.”
Trent and Jim watched “Monday Night Football” in their final act as father and son. Trent’s boys were watching too, which Julie Green saw as fitting.
“It carries on,” she thought to herself. “Three generations.”
It was like any other visit from Jim. He roughhoused with T.J. and Derek in the backyard. There were certainly no signs that Jim’s heart was about to give out. Only a year before, he and Judi had hiked down the Grand Canyon and all the way back up. The day before he died, they had walked four miles near their home in Bella Vista, Ark.
Jim went to the office on Oct. 27 looking forward to playing golf with a neighbor at 1 o’clock. “Beat Rocky at golf,” Judi had urged him.
Later that morning, Jim, 58, experienced sudden cardiac arrest. The paramedics couldn’t do anything. He died immediately.
Trent and Troy drove down to Bella Vista together that afternoon. Chiefs teammate Tony Richardson called Trent on the way.
“Just total shock,” Richardson says of Trent’s demeanor. “Trent was telling me his dad had been working out, eating right, doing all the right things.”
Trent and Troy arrived in Arkansas. Judi and daughter Trisha were a mess. Trent and Troy were, too, but they had to be strong. The Green men started making some decisions. They set up all of the funeral arrangements.
Through it all, Judi didn’t forget that Trent had a game Sunday in San Diego. She told Trent the obvious, that Jim would want him to play.
“He’ll be up there cheering you on,” she said.
So Trent left his heart behind and flew across the country. He sobbed with his teammates in chapel on Sunday morning as Richardson prayed for Trent and his family. Green made an emotional speech to his team in which he thanked them for being his second family. And after throwing for more than 300 yards in a tough loss, for the first time he wasn’t able to talk to Jim.
That reality would not compare to the next Sunday, Trent’s first home game without his dad in the stands. Jim had been to every Chiefs home game Trent could remember for the last five years.
At 9 a.m. that morning, three hours before the Chiefs played the Raiders, Green walked through Section 121 and taped a note on Jim’s orange seat. “Jim Green, we miss him and we love him,” it said.
You know the rest. The Chiefs, down 23-20, went for it on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line with 5 seconds left. This was not a day for a field goal. Larry Johnson plunged into the end zone, and the Chiefs won 27-23.
Green had kept his cool for his family and for his teammates all week long. So when he embraced his close friend Vermeil on the field after the game, and Vermeil said the gutsy call was for his dad, Green finally lost it.
“Never did I think he wasn’t hurting,” Vermeil said, “because he was. He just had the inner strength to control it and direct it in a way that would help him perform.”
With Jim gone, even the sweetest things in Trent’s life tasted bittersweet.
Julie gave birth to Janelle Green on Dec. 5, just over a month after Jim died.
“He had five grandsons,” Trent says. “He was all fired up about having a granddaughter.”
Julie says, “He would have been going to dance recitals instead of games.”
Jim had a display set on his desk at work that pictured each of his five grandsons. When the family cleared out his office in Bella Vista, they noticed that Jim was already making room for Janelle.
“We were going through his stuff,” Trent says, “and he already had an empty frame that said, ‘baby girl Green,’ waiting to be filled up.”
Janelle would never get to meet her grandfather, but she still had good timing. Janelle was a blessing for Trent as he tried to finish out the football season.
“It was such a roller-coaster,” Julie says. “Janelle definitely was a diversion from all the sadness that had been surrounding the family. Life goes on, and a new life was born.”
Janelle’s birth reinforced what Trent already understood. His dad was gone, but he still had to be the best father he could be.
“She’s his little girl,” Julie says. “She does this little pouty lip sometimes, and that just gets him. She’s definitely going to have him wrapped.”
After the Pro Bowl, Trent finally had a chance to take in everything that had happened the past four months. Football had helped him get through the initial mourning period, as he learned how to play a season without his talks on the phone with Jim. Now, it was time for his own family to help him heal.
“The thing about Trent, he’s a lot like his father,” Richardson says. “He’s very involved in his children’s lives. As soon as the season over, Trent goes into hibernation.”
Today, at his son’s baseball tournament, Trent Green tries to live up to a man who was always there.
These are the moments when Trent can’t help but think about Jim. After all, a couple of Father’s Days growing up were spent at Trent’s baseball games.
“My emotions, my feelings, they come out on a daily basis when I do stuff with my own kids,” Green says. “I’m sitting there playing catch with my boys, and I’ll say, ‘Man, I remember doing that.’ Going to their school and doing teacher conferences and hearing those things, I try to put myself in his shoes.”
Jim’s shoes were a little different from Trent’s. He didn’t have the money to do all the things Trent can do for his family. Trent knows that, which is why he and Julie watch to make sure they don’t spoil T.J. and Derek.
For instance, the Green boys are very into their shoes. They like them to match their outfits. One time, Derek scuffed up a new pair, and Trent scolded him. Derek assumed he could just get another pair. Trent didn’t see it that way. He told Derek that he has to take care of what he has.
“That’s huge in this family,” Julie says. “We’ve had that conversation many times. We’re not just going to buy a new one. We don’t want them to see an unrealistic world. We grew up not getting everything we wanted but being happy. We like to stay true to who we are and who our families are.”
Of course, the Greens live in a nice home, but they could have nicer. They don’t have a swimming pool, and Julie hasn’t traded up her wedding ring, which Trent saved up for and bought himself before he hit the big time.
“Just the fact that Trent hasn’t turned into this, ‘I have to have the best of everything, I have to have the top of the line,’ I think a lot of that comes from what he grew up with,” Julie says. “His dad was a great role model.”
Trent plans out the family’s finances like he’s making $50,000, not $5 million. The Greens don’t buy anything on impulse.
“It’s funny, I ask him about doing things to the house, and he says, ‘We’re budgeting,’ ” Richardson says. “Budgeting?”
Trisha, Trent’s sister, says Trent is stricter with his boys than Jim ever was. He’s especially strict with T.J.’s flag football team, which Trent coaches.
“They’ve got a playbook,” says Troy Green, Trent’s brother. “I will say, some of the plays that T.J. is running look very familiar. They’ve got the motion and everything.”
Jim would certainly appreciate that. Winning football is winning football. More than anything, though, he’d appreciate the time it took Trent to make the playbooks.
“It’s a tribute to both of my parents,” Trent says. “They supported us in whatever we were doing. I just try and do those same things for my kids.”