- Elizabeth Merrill
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It is lunchtime quiet Tuesday afternoon at the Ronald McDonald House, and the fitness center that bears Trent Green's name is empty. Here, they believe Green can be anybody -- a senator, a TV star, a starting quarterback.
Sometimes in the fall, he'd show up with his wife, Julie, and a few buddies to make dinner for the families. Oh, Trent never did much cooking. But he shook hands, flashed that million-dollar quarterback smile and everybody melted.
"He sat in my chair once and talked on my phone," says Lauri Sherry, a house manager. "And we bragged about that for weeks."
He used to be Mr. Kansas City, the confident voice of the team and the chiseled face plastered everywhere from bank commercials to junk-mail flyers. He was the quarterback, the most recognizable modern-day athlete in a place that weeps with its baseball team by May and clings to the annual hope that maybe, just maybe, this will be the year the Chiefs finally win a playoff game. On Sept. 10, he started in his 80th straight game, the only real certainty in an uncertain sports landscape.
And now he's losing his town.
They won't say it, that Green is moving on, probably to Miami, and that it's OK with Kansas City. In the Midwest, that would be considered rude. They won't even think poorly of Green as his body works out at Arrowhead Stadium but his mind is on another team 1,500 miles away.
Fifteen months ago, Green stood upstairs at the dedication of the new Ronald McDonald House, which helps families with sick kids, and proudly said he'd restructure his contract if it helped the franchise. Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson called him a true team player. Green shrugged it off as nothing. It's what town icons do.
Now Green is on the outside, he won't take a pay cut and he won't stay in Kansas City. He promises the folks at the Ronald McDonald House he'll be back to help. At Arrowhead Stadium, he isn't promising anything.
"It's sad," Sherry says as she stands near a Chiefs floormat. "It's so sad."
There was a time when Trent Green ran the locker room, when an afternoon stroll up to the fourth floor to visit the Chiefs' brass was considered a gab session among friends.
Now it's called uncomfortable. Green stands in front of a snakes' nest of wires and camera cords Tuesday, and says his teammates don't know how to react to him anymore.
Every time I come in to lift, and I'm here every day, [they ask] 'What's your situation? What's going on?' I answer that a hundred times a day, whether it be on the street or in here. There's just an awkwardness. Guys don't know how to react to me.
Trent Green, Chiefs quarterback
"Every time I come in to lift," Green says, "and I'm here every day, [they ask] 'What's your situation? What's going on?' I answer that a hundred times a day, whether it be on the street or in here. There's just an awkwardness. Guys don't know how to react to me. They don't know how to treat me.
"You're a leader, but now publicly they're saying they want to go younger. Well, what does that mean to you? From a leadership standpoint, I've had to take a step back because I don't even know my role."
Green's descent was fast and hard. He threw for 4,000 yards for three straight seasons, led the NFL's No. 1 offense in 2005. Then came the arrival of Herm Edwards, a defensive-minded coach, and a jolting hit in the opener that left Green unconscious and out half of the season.
When Green finally came back, the town was split. Half wanted Damon Huard, a journeyman quarterback who'd put the Chiefs in position to make the playoffs. The other half was loyal to Green. Edwards eventually went with Green, and the offense stumbled in a playoff loss at Indianapolis.
By late January, Edwards said the team needed to get younger and that he was going to give second-year quarterback Brodie Croyle a long look. In February, Peterson met with Green and told him he needed to take a pay cut and brace himself for a lesser role in the offense.
It was almost surreal for Green and Peterson, who had become close friends in six years. When Green was in the hospital, Peterson sat at his bedside. When the calls for Huard came, Peterson stuck up for his veteran quarterback.
But then there was that other side, the business side that has won Peterson respect and disdain. Green sought out trade offers, found a home at Miami and essentially reached a deal. But the teams haven't agreed on compensation, so Green waits.
"If you look at it from a business side Their job is to put this team in the best situation possible," guard Brian Waters says. "But for a guy who's done as much as he's done for this program, and went through the things he went through to get back in this league, I don't think it's fair to him.
"A guy in his position, I think he's owed the right to be in a stable position and know where he's going to be at, to know where he and his family are going to be."
As a man who left Kansas City peacefully in 2006, with a handkerchief in one hand and a glass of fine wine in the other, Dick Vermeil's policy is not to voice his opinions on how his good friend Edwards is doing with his former team.
But Vermeil, who speaks from the heart, just can't help it when it comes to Green. They worked together in St. Louis, when Green watched from the sideline with a torn-up knee while the Rams won a Super Bowl. They talk about everything, from relationships to offense to saying goodbye.
"Let me tell you this," Vermeil says on the phone from his ranch in Pennsylvania. "When I retire, so does my opinion."
He pauses for a nanosecond.
"I'll say I'm disappointed, because I truly believe he can play as well as he ever did as long as everything around him is the same. They want to go younger, so he moves on. I personally I just think it's taken too long for him to move on."
In Miami, Green will reunite with Cam Cameron, an old coach of his in Washington, and Terry Shea.
Would he have rather stayed in Kansas City and finished out his career as the starter? Of course he would. But under the current conditions, the competition for the starting job, it can't be fair at this point.
Jim Steiner, Green's agent
Shea was the Chiefs' quarterbacks coach before he was let go in the offseason. That's another source of contention with Green. He says he learned about the new quarterbacks coach from Croyle, who apparently was in Alabama.
"I figured having been here for six years, and you're going to change the quarterback coach," Green says, "maybe they'd give me a heads-up on that.
"I live here in town, and I find out from Brodie a couple thousand miles away that they hired Dick Curl. That was confusing. I wish that'd been handled differently. I found out word from the other quarterbacks that parts of our offense were changing. I live here, and I'm here every day, and I find out from them and they don't even live here."
On Tuesday, the first day of offseason training activities, the Chiefs' four quarterbacks (Green, Huard, Croyle and Casey Printers) took an equal number of snaps. Green went first. They'll rotate the order throughout the spring. He and his agent, Jim Steiner, assume that if Green stayed around until the start of the season, he'd be slotted as the No. 3 quarterback.
But neither expects him to be around then.
"Would he have rather stayed in Kansas City and finished out his career as the starter? Of course he would," Steiner says. "But under the current conditions, the competition for the starting job, it can't be fair at this point. We know where it's going. We know the direction of where they want to take the franchise."
In the window of Sports Nutz memorabilia on the Blue Ridge Cutoff sits a life-size cutout of quarterback Joe Montana, and inside is a shrine to the late Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas.
Kansas Citians, owner Phil Morreale says, just can't let their heroes go.
Inside, they sell Trent Green jerseys at full price, and there are only three left. Green's jerseys always will sell, Morreale says. Trent is one of them. On Tuesday, the No. 10s sit on the same rack as defensive tackle Ryan Sims, who was recently traded.
"Kind of ironic, isn't it?" Morreale says.
Green has come into the store during the season to grab trinkets for his kids. The store is for hardcores only and has everything from a Raiders helmet with an arrow sticking through it to a Chiefs toilet seat.
A guy inside is talking about the quarterback situation, and how there's no way Edwards would go with Croyle, whom he considers too wet behind the ears. Morreale disagrees. It's only a matter of time. In his head, he knows it's time for Green to move on. In his heart, he wants Green to stay, to retire a Chief and grow old and paunchy in red and gold.
"They want him to be here, but they don't want him to be here," Morreale says of his customers. "I think it's kind of bled over."
About the only thing certain on this Tuesday in May is that Green doesn't want to be in Kansas City. He spends about 30 minutes with the media, then braces for another day of practice with awkward friends. Someday, he says, things will be comfortable again. But not now, when he has somewhere else to be and so many things to prove.
Elizabeth Merrill writes for ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
No longer wanted by the Chiefs, quarterback Trent Green is an athlete who has lost his town, Elizabeth Merrill writes.