American football player
Kurt Warner went from $5.50-an-hour grocery clerk to National Football League (NFL) and Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. He has won the league MVP twice and competed in two Super Bowls since taking over as St.
Louis Rams' quarterback in 1999 following a teammate's injury. Ironically, Warner himself struggled during an injury-riddled and controversial 2002 season that left him with his own job in question—his coach, Mike Martz, said the first-string job may be up for grabs in 2003.
Warner, born in Burlington, Iowa, lettered in football, basketball, and baseball at Cedar Rapids Regis High School. He was a Des Moines Register all-state selection as a senior. At the University of Northern Iowa, where he graduated with a degree in communications, Warner didn't start until his senior season, 1993, when he was Gateway Conference offensive player of the year and led the conference in total offense and passing efficiency.
Green Bay drafted Warner in 1994, but cut him during training camp. Warner then made a living at a Hy-Vee supermarket in Cedar Rapids, stocking shelves. He and his wife, Brenda, needed food stamps. Tragedy also struck when a tornado killed Brenda's parents at their home in Arkansas in 1996. "There were times I remembered praying that no matter what I had to do, just praying that the Lord would give me a job that I could take care of my family," Warner said years later. "I didn't care if I had to work till I was 90."
"We loved each other and he loved the kids, so our dates really involved him playing with the kids," Brenda Warner said. "So it was a cheap date."
Warner, meanwhile, persevered in football. He played for the Iowa Barnstormers for the Arena Football League from 1995 to 1997, twice leading the team to the championship game, the Arena Bowl, and passing for 10,164 yards and 183 touchdowns in three seasons. (Arena football is an indoor version of the game played on a shorter field). The Rams signed Warner in December 1997 and optioned him to the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe. In the spring/summer 1998 season, Warner started all ten Admirals games and led the league in passing yards, completions and touchdowns.
Warner, after the NFL Europe season ended in summer 1998, was the Rams' inactive third quarterback for fourteen of their first sixteen games that fall. He finally saw action in the team's final game, against the San Francisco 49ers, completing four of eleven passes for thirty-nine yards.
Warner, Rams Rise
In August 1999, St. Louis starting quarterback Trent Green tore his left medial collateral ligament in an exhibition game against the San Diego Chargers, and was out for the season. Things looked dark for the Rams, who had lost twelve of sixteen games the year before. But Coach Dick Vermeil immediately embraced Warner, a 28-year-old second year player. "We will rally around Kurt Warner and we will play good football," Vermeil said.
|1971||Born June 22 in Burlington, Iowa|
|1989-93||Quarterback at University of Northern Iowa|
|1994||Cut by Green Bay Packers of National Football League; works as grocery clerk at Hy-Vee store in Cedar Falls, Iowa.|
|1995-97||Plays for Iowa Barnstormers of Arena Football League; leads Iowa to two straight Arena Bowl appearances|
|1998||Plays for Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe.|
|1998||Makes NFL debut for St. Louis Rams against San Francisco 49ers.|
|2002||Quarterbacks Rams during 20-17 loss to New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI (2001 season)|
|2002||Misses part of the season with broken hand; Rams miss playoffs amid quarterback controversy.|
|2002||Announces partnership with Back Home Studios to create the Kurt Warner's Good Sports Gang children's home video programs.|
"I always felt that I had the talent," Warner told the Des Moines Register. "I just felt that I had to get in the right situation and organization to utilize my talent. That is what has happened here with the Rams." Warner started the team's final exhibition that summer and never looked back. The Rams opened the regular season with six straight victories and finished atop the NFC West with a 13-3 record. Warner, en route to winning the league's Most Valuable Player, led the NFL in touchdown passes and completion percentage, and was second in the league in passing yards. He threw more touchdown passes in his first four starts (14) than any NFL player.
In the NFC playoffs, Warner completed twenty-seven of thirty-three passes for 391 yards and five touchdowns in a 49-37 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, then threw the winning 30-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ricky Proehl with 4:44 remaining to give Rams 11-6 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship game.
In Super Bowl XXIV in Atlanta, against the American Football Conference champion Tennessee Titans, Warner passed for a record 414 yards and threw the winning 73-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Isaac Bruce with 1:54 remaining. The Rams stopped Tennessee on the 1-yard line on the game's final play and St. Louis emerged a 23-16 winner. It was the first championship since 1951 for the franchise, which began in Cleveland in 1937, moved to Los Angeles in 1946 and then to St. Louis in 1995.
"It is not a fairy tale, it is real life," Vermeil said of Warner, who wears number 13 largely to show his disdain for superstition. "He is a great example of persistence and believing in himself and a deep faith. He is a movie; he is a book, this guy."
After the season, the Rams signed Warner to a seven-year, $46.5 million deal that included a $11.5 million signing bonus. "We just laughed," Brenda Warner said. "Our first two kids were born in poverty and our next two years are born with, you know, riches. It's kind of a different world." The Warners established charities with some of their money. Hy-Vee stores throughout Iowa, meanwhile, began stocking shelves with Warner's new frosted flake cereal, Warner's Crunch Time.
Returns to Super Bowl
Warner missed five games in 2000 with a broken right little finger and the Rams exited in the first round of the playoffs. St. Louis stormed back the following season, and Warner, despite difficulties with his hand, earned MVP honors for the second time in three seasons, edging teammate and running back Marshall Faulk by one vote. Warner led the NFL in passing yards with 4,830, second most in league history, and touchdown passes.
In three postseason games, Warner completed sixty-eight of 107 passes for 793 yards with four touchdowns. The Rams, under Martz, who succeeded the retired Vermeil in 2000, beat Green Bay 45-17 and Philadelphia 29-24 to capture another NFC title, and were 14-point favorites to beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans.
New England, however, won 20-17 on Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal as time expired. The Patriots forced Warner to throw two interceptions, one of which defensive back Ty Law returned for a 47-yard touchdown. Warner completed twenty-eight of forty-six passes and rallied St. Louis from a 17-3 fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game right before Vinatieri's winning kick. Warner ran for a two-yard touchdown and threw a twenty-six-yard pass to Ricky Proehl.
The Rams, picked by many to return to the Super Bowl, stumbled badly in the 2002 season, dropping their first five games. In the fourth loss, Warner broke the same right pinkie. In stepped rookie Marc Bulger, as Warner had for Green in 1999; the Rams won five straight under Bulger to pull to 5-5 and within a shot of a playoff berth.
But Bulger sprained his right index finger and Warner returned, insisting his hand was fine; St. Louis, though, dropped three straight to fall out of playoff contention. Warner reinjured his hand, this time a hairline fracture at the knuckle of his little finger. Although Martz during the season accused Warner's critics of being part of an "amnesia crowd," controversy erupted in early December when Brenda Warner called a radio talk show to complain that she, not Martz, insisted her husband have his hand X-rayed. "Martz had nothing to do with it," she said. "All week long I said, 'Kurt, I'm a nurse, you should go get it X-rayed.' The doctors never once said he should get an X-ray. They said, 'No, it's only bruised.'"
Awards and Accomplishments
|1999, 2001||Most Valuable Player, National Football League|
|2000||Most Valuable Player, Super Bowl XXXIV (1999 season); passed for record 424 yards as St. Louis Rams defeated Tennessee Titans 23-16.|
|2000||Outstanding Pro Football Performer, ESPN Espy Awards|
|2000||Breakthrough Athlete, ESPN Espy Awards|
He is a family man and a man of God, an out-of-nowhere sensation whose story has been called too schmaltzy even for Hollywood…. With Super Bowl XXXIV slipping out of the grasp of the St. Louis Rams, Warner took over in a way that must have impressed even the game's legendary signal-callers…. Warner dropped five steps in the pocket and, an instant before absorbing a hellacious hit from defensive end Jevon Kearse, launched the 73-yard touchdown pass to wideout Isaac Bruce that gave the Rams a 23-16 victory in the greatest Super Bowl ever. All across the land spines straightened and eyes moistened, and anyone who has ever been doubted felt a surge of satisfaction.
Source: Silver, Michael. cnnsi.com, February 7, 2000.
"Once he let his wife take the lead in fighting his football battles, then he lost sight of what it takes to play this game," Michael Kinney wrote in the Sedalia Democrat. The Rams in mid-December put Warner on the injured reserve list, thus ending his season. One day before doing so, Martz said that if Bulger picked up where he left off, the quarterback job in St. Louis would be wide open in 2003.
Future in Question
Warner seized the opportunity in 1999 when he stepped in for an injured teammate; three years later, his season ended with backup Bulger more than eager to fill Warner's shoes. Whether Warner starts or not in 2003, some of the luster, for sure, is off.
"More than Kurt Warner's hand has taken a beating this football season," Les Winkeler wrote in the Southern Illinoian. "His reputation as the perfect quarterback, the perfect man and the perfect teammate has been shredded. Warner's actions this season have been nothing short of selfish. Warner insisted he was healthy. (But) even the casual observer knew that couldn't be true. It has become clear that Warner has put himself above the team. Despite the public bravado, he apparently is worried about losing his job. That doesn't make him a bad person—only human."
SELECTED WRITINGS BY WARNER:
(With Greg Brown) Keep Your Head Up, Taylor, 2000.
|STL: St. Louis Rams.|
(With Michael Silver) All Things Possible: My Story of Faith, Football, and the Miracle Season, Harper San-Francisco, 2000.
AFL Roundhouse. Kurt Warner Profile. http://www.aflroundhouse.com, (December 6, 2002).
"The Greatest: Kurt Warner Was His Usual Stellar Self as the Rams Hung On to Beat the Titans in the Best Super Bowl Ever." cnnsi.com, http://www.cnnsi.com/football/nfl/features/superbowl/archive/2000 (February 7, 2000).
NFL.com. Kurt Warner profile. http://www.nfl.com/players/playerpage (December 12, 2002).
St. Louis Rams Official Web Site. Kurt Warner Profile. http://www.stlouisrams.com (December 12, 2002).
"Selfish Warner Just May Be Tarnishing His Perfect Image." Southern Illinoian http://www.thesouthern.com/rednews/2002/12/12/build/sports/SPO004.html (December 11, 2002).
"Warner Cereal Benefits Kids." Des Moines Register. http://www.DesMoinesRegister.com (December 21, 1999).
"Warner 'Ready' for NFL Break." Des Moines Register. http://www.DesMoinesRegister.com (August 31, 1999).
"Who's Really Running the Rams?" Sedalia Democrat. http://www.sedaliademocrat.com/Sports (December 5, 2002).
Sketch by Paul Burton