Life after football was fairly typical for Roy Green.
He spent most of his days on a golf course.
It was an easy respite from the brutal punishment his body took as a wide receiver for the Cardinals from 1979 until 1990. It also the quenched his never-ending thirst for the competitive edge that drove him to become one of the NFL’s best players. Three times he had more than 1,000 receiving yards, including a career-high 1,555 in 1984, when the Cardinals were still housed in St. Louis. And in 1983 and ’84 Green caught double-digit touchdowns, 14 and 12, respectively.
For the last few years Green, 55, applied the mindset on the fairways that made him a two-time Pro Bowler.
“I think it was helpful just because of the mentality as far as we feel we’re bulletproof and we think we can overcome anything,” Green said. “We’ll do what we have to do to get to an objective.”
Green became a 2-handicap playing every day, sometimes two rounds a day, at The Golf Club of Scottsdale while managing high blood pressure that started after his career ended. Then Green started getting weaker. Golfing became more chore than enjoyment. Kidney Disease had set in.
Green said it was a “direct result” of all the anti-inflammatories he took to relieve the pain of playing in the NFL. A year ago he started dialysis three days a week.
“It was just terrible,” he said. “My kidneys had completely failed.”
His days on the golf course were over, at least temporarily. A walk the length of half a football field would sap his energy for the day. He lost muscle. He was weak all the time.
“That was the biggest thing, going from an athlete and being well conditioned and never being tired to being tired all the time,” Green said.
Green’s family took it harder than he did. His ex-wife and two daughters have been steadfast in their support, through every appointment and check-up. But then his daughters, Miyosha, 30, and Candace, 26, offered the ultimate sign of support.
Both volunteered to donate a kidney to their father.
“I was never going to ask anyone for something of that magnitude,” Green said. “I was touched. I was very moved. My first thought was, ‘What do they face? Is this dangerous for them?’
“I lived a great life. I had a lot of great things happen to me. If they were in danger a half a percent, I wouldn’t have allowed it.”
Both daughters were matches, but Miyosha, the older one, was chosen to donate. Green went into surgery at 9 a.m. on Nov. 14 at the Mayo Clinic and didn’t wake up until 6 p.m. that night with a new kidney and a new lease on life.
SUPPORT FROM AN OLD FRIEND
While his daughters, ex-wife and sisters were caring for him from nearby, the support grew from everywhere else, including the Cardinals. In particular, Nicole Bidwill.
During Green’s 12 years with the team, Green and Bidwill became close friends. A friendship that still holds strong today began when Bidwill was 11 years old and Green was a 22-year-old rookie out of Henderson State. Nicole, the only daughter of Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill, traveled with the team to away games. Nicole would make her way to the back of the plane where Green usually sat and sit with the star receiver and they’d talk about school and Bidwill’s friends. He kept tabs on the boys she liked and her grades. He became another big brother to her and she was another little sister to him.
The conversations took place on the flights to and from games while Green taught Bidwill how to play gin rummy.
“That was one of my biggest mistakes because she beat me all the damn time,” Green said with a laugh. “She probably bought her first car with my gin rummy money.”
Decades after sitting with Green, Bidwill has spent more time thinking more about those moments since learning about Green’s Kidney Disease. The two strengthened their friendship during the last year through text messages and phone calls.
“I was so worried about him,” Bidwill said. “I felt just worried about him. I wanted him to be OK. I didn’t want to lose my cherished friend.
“I prayed every day that the operation would go well.”
Another chapter of their friendship was written a few months ago when Cardinals president Michael Bidwill, Nicole’s brother, signed her up for the National Kidney Foundation of Arizona’s Dancing with the Stars on Feb. 22 at The Phoenician -- without telling her.
“I’ve never danced before,” Nicole Bidwill said. “I don’t like being in the spotlight. I was really uncomfortable with it.
“I started taking dance lessons and I liked it and I started thinking about Roy. I wanted to make more of a positive out of it. That’s why I dedicated the dance to Roy.”
Green was touched and humbled when Nicole Bidwill told him about the dance. He’s attended a few of her practices and he’s awed by how much work it takes to perfect what looks like a simple dance move.
And now Nicole Bidwill knows what it’s like to be Green, putting in hours of work to perfect their craft.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life because the dances look at lot different than they feel,” said Bidwill, who grew up playing soccer and tennis, and riding horses. “You’re having to learn so many different things. You’re having to tell your muscles to do the opposite of what you learned to do through sports.
“I’m having a blast.”
ROAD TO RECOVERY
Bidwill grew up in a football family but she learned the game from one of the league’s best players. Now she’s able to give back to him what he gave to her.
“He’s one of the nicest people you could ever meet,” Nicole Bidwill said. “One of the reasons I love football so much is because he was so exciting to watch.
“I’m so happy he’s OK.”
Less than three months in, Green’s recovery is progressing better than he expected.
He wasn’t allowed to do anything physical for the first three weeks so Green laid around thinking about the golf course. Doctors cleared him to play golf about a month ago, but he beat them to it.
Before Christmas Green “cheated” and snuck onto a course for a round.
“It wasn’t great though,” he said with a laugh. “But it wasn’t Charles Barkley-kind of bad.”
The day after surgery, Green made a promise to himself. He was going to dust off his athlete’s mentality and use it to get in the best shape of his life. It’s working. He’s not winded anymore and he’s taken his game to The Raven Golf Club.
Green’s feeling healthy and back in the tee box, and he and Bidwill couldn’t be happier.
“I just love (golf),” he said. “I just love the game and everything about it. And now I have a goal to be where I was before. It’s just fun. It’s just fun to have a goal that’s sports oriented.
“I’m almost back to my old self, so look out Arizona.”