Friday, January 30, 2009

It's Easy to Root for Kurt Warner

He is 37 years old now, which is getting pretty long in the tooth for an NFL starting quarterback.

He is also a decade removed from his first trip to the Super Bowl, when he led Dick Vermiel's Saint Louis Rams to victory and was named the MVP of the Super Bowl. He also won the first of two NFL MVP awards that season.

The Midwest boy, born and raised in the Iowa corn fields, grew into one of the most accurate passers in the history of the National Football League. But perhaps more importantly, Kurt Warner grew into a leader of men, and a strong, positive example for mankind.

That's a mouthful to say about a football player, but the Arizona Cardinals quarterback is far from being your normal high-profile athlete. First, that football career.

Kurt Warner stayed home and played college ball at Northern Iowa. He was not able to win the starting job there until his senior year when he was named the Gateway Conference Player of the Year.

Still, the NFL did not come calling. Warner went undrafted in 1994, and so he went to work at a grocery store.

In 1995 the local Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League offered him a contract, and over the next three seasons he played well enough that he was considered the best quarterback in the AFL.

Officials with the Saint Louis Rams noticed, gave him a tryout, and signed him to a contract for the 1998 season. Warner spent that 1998 season riding the bench and went into 1999 expecting to again be a backup.


But an injury to starting quarterback Mark Bulger gave Warner an opportunity, and just as he had at Northern Iowa and with the Barnstormers, he made the most of it. Warner went on to an MVP season with the Rams, passing for more than 4,300 yards with 41 touchdown passes.

Warner was named the NFL MVP, led the Rams to victory in only their second franchise Super Bowl appearance (their first in St. Louis), and was named the Super Bowl MVP as well.

In both 2000 and 2001 Warner was again one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, and he won his second NFL MVP award after that 2001 season.

Then the career wheels fell off. Nagging injuries drove Warner to the trainer's room and to backup status. He left the Rams for the Giants, and then moved on to Arizona, all the while becoming more and more viewed as an aging, injury-risk, backup-type quarterback who was now just a shell of his former greatness.

Coming in to the 2008 season, Warner was expected to be backup to young phenom Matt Leinert. But it was Warner who was healthy and shined in the preseason, and it was Warner who was named the starter by coach Ken Whisenhunt.

He was phenomenal, passing for over 4,500 yards and 30 TD passes. He led the Cardinals to their first NFC West championship, and now will lead the Cards franchise into its first-ever Super Bowl on Sunday. Warner has thus gained a trip to the Super Bowl for both the city of Saint Louis and their former longtime Cardinals team. He may very well win his 3rd NFL MVP award.

With this season and his latest trip to the NFL's biggest stage he has likely cemented his place in the Hall of Fame.

But all of that only tells a part of the story, for it is Kurt Warner's personal life that has so endeared him to teammates and fans alike. Let's go back to those days when Warner was undrafted and stocking groceries for a year, prior to the AFL giving him his first shot at pro football.

The story is told like this. Kurt was a stock boy at the supermarket when one day a new voice came over the loudspeaker asking for a 'carry out' at register four. Kurt was almost finished, wanted some fresh air, and decided to go answer the call.

As he approached the checkout he noticed a new girl working there. As the girl smiled at him he thought how beautiful she was, but also that she was older. Turns out she was 26, while Kurt was only 22 at the time.

He found out that her name was Brenda, and after work he offered her a ride home, which she accepted. When he dropped her off Kurt asked if he could see her again outside of work. She said that it wouldn't be possible, but he pressed her and she responded that she had two small children.

Kurt was unfazed and volunteered to pay for a babysitter, and so Brenda agreed to a Saturday night first date. However, when Kurt arrived she told him that she wouldn't be able to go because the babysitter had called and cancelled at the last minute.

Kurt was again unfazed and told her that they could take the kids out with them. She again said that it wasn't possible, and again Kurt pressed her for a reason.

As Brenda called out, her cute-as-a-button daughter came running, and Brenda went to get her other child. She came back with him: a wheel-chair bound son who was born with Downs Syndrome. "I still don't get it, why can't they come out with us?" Warner asked.

Brenda was amazed, believing that most men would have seen this as their opportunity to bow out gracefully but quickly. After all, her husband had left when he found out about the disability and it's responsibilities.

But Warner wasn't like most guys. They went out together that night, and any time that the son needed help, Kurt was there to provide it. Brenda and Kurt fell in love, were married a year later, and Kurt adopted her kids.

Where did Kurt Warner get this fortitude, this maturity? It turns out that Kurt Warner is an open, out of the closet, wear it on his sleeves Christian.

Kurt Warner, you see, has been touched by the Holy Spirit and has never been ashamed to talk to anyone about his love of Jesus Christ.

His teammates on the Arizona Cardinals, as with anywhere else that he has played, have always been both moved and inspired by the depth and openness of his faith. Many of them have come to the Lord and been saved by his direct example and his willingness to share his beliefs with them.

So as you can see, there are many more reasons to be a fan of Kurt Warner than simply because he is a great football player. Despite the fact that he beat my Philadelphia Eagles to get here, on Sunday evening I will be rooting for Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals to win the Super Bowl over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

When you know the whole story, it's easy to root for a guy like that.

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