Trent Green didn’t exactly light the NFL on fire as a rookie.
An 8th round pick out of Indiana University by the then-San Diego Chargers in 1993, he recorded zero snaps as a rookie backup. After being cut, he spent some time with the Canadian Football League’s British Columbia Lions before being released there as well.
His next stop was a multiyear stint with the now-Washington Commanders as a backup. He finally threw his first NFL pass in 1997 and ended up taking over as the team’s starter in 1998. Green ended that season, a contract year, having thrown 23 touchdowns to 11 interceptions before having his choice of teams on the free agency market.
Ultimately, Green signed a multiyear contract with the then-St. Louis Rams ahead of the 1999 season. Set to be the starter, he took the field for a preseason game against the same Chargers team that drafted him and tore a Jim Harbaugh-led San Diego to shreds, completing all 11 of his pass attempts for 166 yards. Then a hit from safety Rodney Harrison ended Green’s time as the Rams starter before it could even begin.
Who took Green’s place that day? Unheralded backup Kurt Warner.
“It’s tough to really be excited to be the starter in this situation,” Warner said following the game. “I’m just going to try to fill his shoes the best I can.”
You probably know how that story ends.
But what if Warner had remained a backup, with Green staying healthy for and throughout the regular season? Indiana football already has a notable Super Bowl performance from quarterback turned Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle-El, but what if the program had another to hang its hat on?
Green, a member of Indiana Athletics’ Hall of Fame, is one of the greatest quarterbacks in program history. He helped lead the Hoosiers to three bowl appearances, including the Peach Bowl, and was named co-captain and team MVP in 1992.
His NFL career continued on following his 1999 injury with stints as a starter for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins before multiple injuries and the draw of the broadcast booth led him to retire in 2009.
But what if that injury just hadn’t happened? Could Green have led the Rams to the same success they’d experienced under Warner, maybe also earning the same individual accolades?
Green was consistently a starting-level quarterback throughout his NFL career following his breakout in Washington. He proved a capable starter for St. Louis the following season when Warner went down with an injury.
In the event that he doesn’t get injured and instead leads the Rams offense, it’s entirely possible that St. Louis still reaches the Super Bowl.
With Hall of Fame-caliber talent like running back Marshall Faulk and offensive tackle Orlando Pace along with wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, it’s not like quarterbacks weren’t set up to succeed in coordinator, and later head coach, Mike Martz’s offense.
Green had the ability to lead the offense, showing some of it in his ill-fated preseason. If he remains uninjured and the season plays out as it did, with an MVP award in the regular season and a win in the Super Bowl, what could that change?
Well, for one, Indiana football would have an NFL MVP quarterback to its name. With rival Purdue having produced Drew Brees, one of the greatest quarterbacks of his era, Indiana may have *some* bragging rights with Brees famously having never won the award.
Green would, in all likelihood, be Indiana’s highest-profile NFL alum. He would’ve retained his starting role for years to come and perhaps have kept Tom Brady from winning his first Super Bowl in 2001.
The Rams, then led by Warner, were Brady’s opponent during first Super Bowl win of what would become seven.
If Green starts for those Rams, perhaps the game ends differently. Does this make much of a difference for Brady and the Patriots? Maybe not. He played well enough to be named a starter and this likely would’ve just added fuel to his fire. But still, his debut could’ve been far different had Green remained healthy.
If Green is a multiyear starter and the Rams remain successful, do they still move to Los Angeles all those years later? The city being a geographical threat for any NFL owner looking for help from their city for a new stadium until the Rams finally did so, they likely still leave St. Louis behind for the City of Angels under Stan Kroenke.
What of Green’s legacy overall? He may be treated in Bloomington as Brees is in West Lafayette, having led the program to some of its greatest seasons while having a successful, high-profile career.
With his longest stint as a starter occurring in Kansas City, Green mainly associates with the Chiefs in his retirement as a broadcaster, with appearances at the team’s Super Bowl parades and various advertisements.
Could he have instead been that for the Rams? If the Rams had a vocal voice like that, could that have affected the eventual move to Los Angeles? Again, maybe.
No matter what, Green’s injury affected multiple legacies. Maybe we just never hear about Kurt Warner, and that terrible-looking movie never happens with it. Perhaps Indiana football has a bit more of a profile, known as where Green got his start. Maybe Tom Brady has one less Super Bowl ring!
There’s no way of knowing, but it’s a compelling What-If tale.