When Trent Green gives you his address, well, he's called double reverse flea-flickers that were easier to deliver. "Get ready," he says, and he gives you some real estate developer's fever dream, a street name that incorporates no fewer than four geographical distinctions, an escalating crescendo of suburban silliness. "I know," he says. "It hardly fits on an envelope. We really got screwed there."
Then he laughs, which is pretty much how he always treats bad luck. But what else can he do? He is, for the moment, the Unluckiest Guy in America, a title that is at once absurd and understated, but true nonetheless. He's the poster boy for missed opportunity, the ultimate what-if, a reminder that a man's fate can be, at once, both tragic and comical. Really, he just has to laugh. He could as easily live on Pine Street or be the Most Famous Player in the NFL.
For the moment he's just another of the NFL's walking wounded, a typical guy working through rehab, hoping he can make up for the year he missed because of a preseason knee injury. There are dozens like him, sad cases all, but let's think about the season that Trent Green missed, the exaggerated gap between his reality and his particular fantasy. It's a yawning chasm of disappointment, a canyon so wide that no amount of intellectualizing can bridge it. One day you're the starting quarterback of the St. Louis Rams, playing in the same city where you starred at Vianney High. The next, through no fault of your own, you're standing on the sideline, slack-jawed, as your understudy completes a miracle season that takes your team to the Super Bowl and brings the understudy the kind of celebrity reserved for heroes like Lindbergh.
The hard part, as even Green is eager to point out, is that Kurt Warner fully deserves his success. Becoming the new Spirit of St. Louis was hard work, and Warner, the Greatest Grocery Store Clerk to Become League and Super Bowl MVP, did not stint his team or his legend. But, at the same time, did Green deserve the obscurity forced upon him just because he stayed in the pocket too long during an exhibition game? Really screwed there.
Assuming Green could just as well have led the Rams to the championship—"I assume that," he says—the difference the injury made in his life is so enormous that you can hardly bear to consider it. It won't be a surprise if Green, whose high-dollar contract might be too expensive for a backup quarterback (uh, the competition for the starting job won't be open this time around), is traded. He will certainly have to move on if he intends to start again anytime soon. What a difference a preseason injury makes.
The real story, though, is that no matter what happened this past season, Green can't sustain any amount of self-pity. A week after the Super Bowl, while local TV was still turning up Warner angles (a visit to his old high school led one newscast), Green was already retooling for another season. He seemed kind of cheerful about it. "Well, look around," he told a visitor by way of explanation. "We've got these two healthy kids who make us laugh. We've got this great house. Our families are nearby. I'm not saying there weren't times when I was mad, when I came home from rehab and thought life was unfair. But look!"
T.J., 2� years old, was throwing around a miniature Rams football. Derek, five months, was sucking on a football-shaped pacifier. Trent's wife, Julie, his college sweetheart at Indiana, was packing for a trip to Florida. "It's still pretty good," said Trent.
Green, a sturdily handsome guy whose domestic perfectionism (he recently painted part of the master bedroom a second time because the two cans he used the first time did not exactly match) carries over onto the football field, knows he will get another chance. He'll be 30 at the start of next season, and the damaged ligaments in his left knee are mending, so there's still time. "Maybe not a Super Bowl," he says. "Who can guarantee that? But I still have some years." He has three of them remaining on a $16.5 million contract that St. Louis used to lure him as a free agent from the Washington Redskins last February. That's pretty good, too.
So he's not quite the Unluckiest Man in America. He knows that better than you. It might have been hard for him to watch the Rams move on without him, especially as he had worked so hard to make the offense his, but it wasn't impossible. After all, it wasn't that long ago that Green was a Kurt Warner story himself. For most of his career Green was happy just to make a team. And by the way, he didn't always make it.
"You see what I mean?" he says. "How could I possibly be upset that Kurt did well? He's one of us!"