Remember when the Bengals broke out their sleek white and black-striped color rush jerseys on Thursday Night Football seven years ago? The night A.J. Green gave the shirt off his back to his newborn son Easton Ace Green after he striped the Dolphins for 173 yards?
Well, the kid they call "Eazy," turns seven next week, but not before he'll most likely wear a No. 18 jersey when his dad opens the Paycor Stadium season as "Ruler of the Jungle," Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in a game against that Ravens team he ruled.
"Well, I'm not really sure," says Miranda Green, his mom. "He's also got a Burrow jersey. We'll have to see."
But it is the No. 18 he wears to every flag football practice where his dad coaches his team in suburban Atlanta. They can't tear it off him even though he's also nuts about Ja'Marr Chase and two of his dad's ex-teammates, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. Later he'll find out that No. 9, Joe Burrow, passed for his first NFL first down when he hit A.J. Green over the middle for 11 yards in the 2020 opener.
"He's going to go crazy when he gets to see those guys," A.J. Green says. "He wants all their jerseys. He loves wide receivers. He knows them all. Justin Jefferson. Davante Adams. He loves sports. I tell him it's OK if he wears one of their jerseys. He asked me, 'You sure that's OK, Dad?"
"The kids love Burrow and Chase," Miranda Green says. "I asked him who his favorite Bengals receiver is and he said, 'Tyler Boyd.' I like Tee's game because he reminds me of A.J. I don't know if he knows Tyler is one of his dad's ex-teammates. I think he's met him. But I don't think he's met Tee or Joe. I don't think I've met Tee or Joe. There was no contact in 2020. It was such a weird year."
That all changes when the family attends Saturday's walk-through on the Paycor Stadium turf his father owned long before The Big Three Eazy now sees dancing on Madden. While Eazy and four-year-old brother Gunnar romp on the field, their dad will no doubt make the rounds.
"Some of the boys are still there," Green says. "Sam (Hubbard). Logan (Wilson). (Germaine) Pratt," Green says. "I saw Tee at a signing in Cincinnati a few weeks ago. I talk to TB."
Before all that, A.J. Green goes upstairs to see his old pen pal, Bengals president Mike Brown. The last time he was up there was just as the gut-wrenching 2020 season was ending. Green had really never been healthy after a training camp hamstring and they both knew pro football's sad inevitability.
This was it. Green took the initiative to go up and say goodbye. He was struck by how a quietly emotional Brown couldn't come around to talk about Green leaving.
"I love Mr. Brown. He's the most misunderstood man ever. Unbelievable. Unbelievable dude," Green told Bengals.com back then.
But Saturday is going to be different. After receiving handwritten letters from Brown when he retired in February and announced a draft pick in April, Green is going to receive Bengal for Life recognition.
"It's a dream come true," A.J. Green says. "I wanted to play my whole career in Cincinnati. It didn't work out that way. But I was here for ten years. It's home to me. To come back and retire as a Bengal and for them to embrace me like that, it's an honor."
Remember how we watched Adriel Jeremiah Green grow up?
He and Andy Dalton were fresh-faced rookies in 2011 when they instantly became the faces of head coach Marvin Lewis' second Who-Dey renaissance. He got engaged to Miranda Brooke when he was living in one of the first high rises on The Banks, where he put the ring in the Yankee Candle box when she thought she was receiving one of her beloved candles. They had both kids in Cincinnati with Miranda asking to be induced with Eazy so A.J. wouldn't miss a road game.
Before the spate of injuries that cost him basically two-plus seasons, he became the first wide receiver to be named to the Pro Bowl in his first seven seasons while the Bengals quietly went to five straight postseasons and won two AFC North titles. When he left for two final seasons in Arizona, the stage had been set for the Bengals' Super Bowl run in the mushrooming media age and his idyllic retirement.
"Cincinnati is like our second home. So many lifelong memories and lifelong friends," Miranda Green says.
Now, at 35, he found himself on Sunday's Opening Day not missing it, but excited to watch all the games. The kids' baseball team had a 3:30 p.m. practice he had to help run, but he kept up on his devices.
"I wake up and there's no stress," says Green, who is mulling the next chapter of a life that is still busy with media and signings. "I walk the dog, I take the kids to school, I go work out. I've been playing a lot of golf. I started playing in COVID. I played a lot in Arizona. A 12 handicap."
Miranda Green's friends whisper, "Is he really OK with retirement?" and she says, "Of course."
"He's the same guy. He gave it everything he had. He left healthy and he's just so happy with being a dad," she says. "Last year he didn't see Eazy play one football game. This year, they asked him to coach and he said 'Already?' Because once you do it, you do it. He's coaching with another guy and he's really into coming up with the plays. The little things bring him joy."
Green says Eazy can catch it like his name. But he doesn't throw it easy.
"Bullets," A.J. Green says. "I throw him bullets. He catches it away from his body, too. He can snag it. He loves it.
"I knew I would never have a problem with (retirement). When you've already given everything to the sport, I'm at peace. I already had a foundation set after football. Football was something I did. It was never who I was. I'm still a husband and a dad. I'll always have that."
Remember when we watched him get the big second contract? Eight years before Joe Burrow signed on a Saturday before he got on a plane for the opener, Green did it on a Friday before getting on the Marvin Lewis express to open the season in Oakland.
"The Bengals take care of their own. Always have," Green says.
Remember when he said he called his father to tell him about the $115 million deal and Woodrow Green was mowing the lawn? It was Woodrow and Dora Green who kept the country humility of Summerville, S.C., in their son. Woodrow may have been laid off twice, the last time as a heavy equipment operator at a concrete plant after 13 years, but he always found a way to provide and show him what it is to be a dad.
"I get on him about his hair," Woodrow Green told Bengals.com back then. "I always tell him, 'Keep it low like your Daddy wears it.' Never had any trouble with him. He's a good guy."
That is what A.J. Green is saying about the guy he still calls "Daddy."
"Great guy," Green says, still numb he lost him too soon so suddenly last month at just 65. They think it's a heart attack, but all Green knows is his heart is broken.
"We were just back a day or two from vacation," Green says. "The whole family. For a week. I hadn't had a vacation with my family in 20 years. Miranda asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I said I didn't want anything. I wanted to go on a vacation with my family.
"God makes no mistakes. He saw all my accomplishments. He saw the kids. But it's tough."
We've seen him through marriages and births and deaths and now we see him as the returning legend. When he talks to Higgins, he'll tell him not to be frustrated by the no-catch game last Sunday. "The rain is always ugly," Miranda says he played with Burrow long enough to know his character and is always pulling for him. When he holds the scepter on Sunday, the memories will flow.
"I remember the big wins. When we beat Seattle. They were coming off the Super Bowl," says Green of the 24-7 comeback capped in overtime. "The crowd was really into it. Loud. Like it was in the playoff game (where he gave them that short-lived 16-15 lead over Pittsburgh). We should have won that one. Beating New England, the Steelers. Some big wins. Great crowds."
Some big days and wins over the Ravens. His career-best 227 yards. Two go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdowns. A tying Hail Mary at the gun. Three touchdowns in the first 17 minutes. The quote from Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. "Maybe we'll cover him once before he retires."
"I'm retired," A.J. Green says. "Now he has to deal with TB, Ja'Marr, and Tee."