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Green settles in for a new ride
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Every time Trent Green takes the field for Kansas City's first series, coach Dick Vermeil tells his quarterback, "I love you, buddy."
Green grins and tells the older man he loves him, too.
Then, anchored by a player-coach bond rarely seen in the here-today, gone-tomorrow world of professional sports, the NFL's leading offense goes to work.
Because Vermeil rolled the dice for a quarterback coming off his fourth knee surgery, the coach, the quarterback and the Chiefs are 9-0.
"He's very genuine," Green said of the man who probably rescued him from football oblivion. "He's open. He's caring. Those aren't terms that are used about NFL head coaches very often."
In careers that have taken several teams to championship games, Vermeil and his close friend, Chiefs president Carl Peterson, have made any number of shrewd decisions.
Agreeing to surrender a first-round draft pick to the Rams the night before the 2001 draft, however, will always rank with the shrewdest.
Vermeil was certain Green could get the job done and Peterson was certain Vermeil would know.
Since then, Green hasn't missed a single start in two and a half seasons. Heading into Sunday's game at Cleveland, he's thrown 81 straight passes without an interception while expertly guiding a complex offensive machine to the top of many NFL categories, including points per game to go along with the league's lone perfect record.
Included in their 9-0 mark is an impressive overtime win at Green Bay where Green got in a shootout with Bret Favre and threw for 400 yards. Green's 83.5 rating with Kansas City is the best in franchise history. His 41 consecutive starts trail only hall-of-famer Len Dawson's 51.
"It was a big decision," said Peterson, who had always seen eye-to-eye with owner Lamar Hunt about the need to avoid dealing first-round picks. "But if there's anybody on this planet I can trust and give complete trust to, it's Dick."
Peterson was giving up a first-round pick for a former sixth-round pick of the San Diego Chargers, a guy who had never established himself as a starting quarterback even before wrecking a knee.
"We brought him here because we thought we could win an AFC championship with him and go on to the Super Bowl," Vermeil said. "He's here because of the kind of person he is and how he would fit into the organization and as a leader."
After one year starting for Washington in 1998, Green was signed as a free agent to be Vermeil's No. 1 in St. Louis. But a season-ending knee injury shelved him in August of 1999, and the emergence of Kurt Warner shoved him even deeper into the background.
But in 2001 the Chiefs were quarterback-desperate. Elvis Grbac, in a decision that landed like a punch to the Chiefs' solar plexus, had suddenly opted out of his contract and headed for Baltimore.
In a shaky first season, Green threw a team-record 24 interceptions. The Chiefs went 6-10 and critics dubbed him "Tr-INT" Green.
The next season, the Chiefs had the most productive offense in the league and Green hit 61 percent of his passes for 3,690 yards, with 26 TDs and 13 interceptions.
And now, in his third season in Kansas City, Green has fulfilled every promise Vermeil and Peterson believed they saw.
While guiding the Chiefs to a 9-0 start, he's completed 171 of 281 passes for 2,203 yards, with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
In his last two games, he's 49-for-77 for 641 yards, with five touchdowns and no picks.
A victory Sunday in Cincinnati would make the Chiefs just the 10th team to start a season 10-0, putting Green in the company of such quarterback luminaries as Dan Marino, John Elway and Joe Montana who also were at the helm of 10-0 teams.
"Dick never wavered. He never wavered," Peterson said. "He said, I know this guy's going to be good.' Then the second half of that second year, he really turned the corner."
As for that expression of mutual respect he and his quarterback exchange every game, the emotional Vermeil is not about to apologize.
"I get pretty close to some of these players," he said.