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  1. #1
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    Kurt Warner – A Fond Farewell To A Great Man

    Kurt Warner – A Fond Farewell To A Great Man
    By Barry Waller
    June 3rd, 2004

    There are times when covering an NFL team that even the biggest fan
    might find to be more work than enjoyment. Dealing with professional athletes
    is a real pain at times, and trying to give fans the true story when so many rumors have sent them into so many directions is even worse. While there are times that the words fly out of a writer’s mind onto the pages he is composing, there are others when sitting down and rehashing the facts to tell a tale is almost excruciating. If I am doing a column twenty years from now, I probably won’t have had to labor over a story as much as this one.

    Oh, sure, nobody died, no beloved sports figure met his maker far too young on the day after Memorial Day, which is the toughest stuff to cover from a personal side; but in a lot of ways, it seems like something truly died for Ramsnation when the team released Kurt Warner. When the long predicted move was made official this past Wednesday however, there was no outcry from Rams fans, no wail of sorrow at a tragic event. Not surprisingly, Warner himself left town with the same class and good feelings that are his trademark.

    Like a parent, spouse, or child who has seen a loved one slowly slip away due to illness, those of us who will never forget what #13 meant to a team and a city have little emotion left to give as the irreversible end finally came. They have gone through the same predictable emotions of anger, denial, bargaining, and depression, then a numb acceptance of our fate, as cancer victims, ever since Kurt Warner began showing he was human after all. Ironically, the most incredible and improbable feel good story in NFL history involved a man who embodies everything decent about the human animal, despite his immortal like play when at his best.

    As the negative stories and feelings about Warner as the Rams quarterback appeared, they acted upon his legacy like tumors on bodily organs, some spreading and mutating to other areas. We may never know how the negative vibes played a part in what so quickly turned a two time MVP passer into a backup. If Warner shines with the Giants, another team needing the kind of miracle that Warner gave Rams fans and the world in 1999, maybe it will provide a bit of a clue.

    I was at Warner’s last start, in the Meadowlands against those same Giants, and as painful as it was having to suffer with him on that day, and suffer the slings and arrows of Giants fans during and following the game, I feel blessed that I got to see as much as I could of Kurt Warner in person. It was that personal contact over the past six seasons that makes his inexplicable fall from grace so distressing.

    In the NFL, everyone knows the salary cap, and other factors makes it nearly impossible to keep players for entire careers, something Rams fans have had to watch happen after 1999’s miracle season. It wasn’t easy to see Ricky Proehl, who made the catch to put the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV, or Mike Jones, who made the tackle to seal their championship, leave the team when their deals were up. It was tough to see a personal favorite like DeMarco Farr have his career end prematurely due to injury. But even though the Rams appear to have a fine replacement in place in Marc Bulger to replace Warner permanently under center, this time even being cognizant of the realities of the NFL brings little solace.

    That feeling comes from what I have seen of Kurt Warner off the field, as much as what amazing feats he performed on it. It comes from seeing Warner take questions at his locker from every writer who wanted an answer, after every game he played, even after a game where a cheap shot to his throat left him hoarse and later under orders to remain totally silent for a week or two. Ironically, his voice was provided by his wife Brenda over that time, something she was unfairly ripped for doing in 2002.

    Nor will I forget Warner taking the total blame for losses, when it was obvious that most of his teammates didn’t give half of his effort in those games, or how he played through pain most of the time, including the Super Bowl win, when he could not raise his right arm above his shoulder during halftime. Again, that character strength was turned against Warner, when he was no longer perfect on the field.

    For six years, I kept waiting for Kurt Warner to get impatient with a fan, surly with a dimwit reporter, or condescending to a lower echelon team employee. Not once did I see it happen, even after the negative campaign against he and his wife began, one that all too often became personal and downright nasty. I have been around a long time, and I can’t recall any person I have encountered being so consistently honest, loving, understanding, and caring, let alone one with the demands made on him that Kurt Warner did.

    Kurt Warner would have been one of my all time favorite athletes even without the magical story that inspired even people who were not NFL fans to write books based his life story in 2000. At the time, knowing that the best stories seldom end on the type high note that Warner had that February, I thought it would have been best to wait awhile to really capture the amazing life that it appeared he was living.

    In many ways, the way Warner was raised to a household name, one that earned him his own cereal brand after one starting season, gave fans the feeling that it couldn’t last from the start. It was an emotion born the night Trent Green writhed in pain on the turf of the dome, after a late hit by the Charger’s Rodney Harrison blew his knee apart. Though the Rams had been the laughingstock of the league for nearly a decade, even after moving to newer and richer climes in St. Louis, there is little doubt that rock bottom when it came to negative vibes for Rams fans was August 28th, 1999.

    After that “meaningless” preseason contest, the mood in the locker room was as low as it can get; though some players put up a brave front for the media. So did head coach Dick Vermeil, when promising tearfully that his squad would “Rally behind Kurt Warner and play good football,” the day it was announced that Green was through for the year. Even Vermeil admits he had no idea that Warner would be the key to that good football, or that the complete unknown would play as good or better than any quarterback ever has.

    Is it any wonder that fans would identify with such an athlete and give so much of their gratitude for the first NFL championship for St. Louis to Kurt Warner, who took them from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs in just five months?
    After what happened to Green, is it a wonder that every time #13 got hit hard, the entire Rams following held their breath until he got back up? Even head coach Mike Martz appeared to have that squeamish feeling, as he hardly used Warner in preseason, especially in 2002, when it may have led to his slow start.

    It’s human nature to fear the worst when things are going almost too good to be true, and that’s the way it was for Rams fans for three years during the reign of the “Greatest Show on Turf”. Sometimes that fear became anger, when it became clear that teams knew the only way to keep from getting creamed was to assault Warner, Marshall Faulk, and the Rams smallish receiving corps; in often highly illegal fashion.

    Though Kurt Warner gave the NFL the best publicity they had in years, he never seemed to get the protection from the referee that many top passers receive. Even when the league made it very clear that even borderline late or illegal hits should be called, it seemed that the flags stayed in the zebra’s pockets when it came to Warner. The memory of Hugh Douglas brutally slamming Warner to the cement- like turf of Veterans Stadium in the 2001 opener, or of man-mountain Ted Washington lifting Warner off his feet and pile driving him to the ground in another game, both without a flag, still sickens the stomach.

    For every time Warner was hit with a legitimate sack, he was drilled ten times once his pass was away, often by blitzing defenders with a clear run at #13. Even after interceptions, thugs like Warren Sapp sought Warner out to try to take him out of the game with savage blocks. When Sapp did it to Chad Clifton, a Packers offensive lineman, in 2002, the league passed a rule against such behavior. However, when Sapp blindsided Warner on a pick return that meant very little in terms of the final score a year earlier, the league did nothing.

    Had Warner gotten a bit better protection from cheap shots, maybe his health would not have deteriorated so rapidly. Maybe he would have even won a second Super Bowl MVP, since the key interception for a score by the Patriots came on a play when Warner was clearly forearmed across the face and neck by blitzing linebacker Mike Vrable. Maybe if Faulk had been healthier over the past three years, or if Mike Martz would have run the ball more or protected him better with his scheme, Warner would have been able to avoid some damaging hits as well.

    Those are questions that will never be answered now that Kurt Warner is no longer a Ram, a prospect that would have been unimaginable just a year ago.
    It should be no surprise that his meteoric rise and astonishing success ended far too soon however. That always seems to be the way in real life, as well as in fiction; we human beings are accustomed to it, and even expect it. When a fictional superstar named Joe Hardy emerged from nowhere and beat those “Damn Yankees” to win the American League for the lowly Washington Senators, it was assumed it would be a one-time deal. The same for Robert Redford’s character, Roy Hobbs, in “The Natural”.

    For some reason, we seem to think that sort of limitation makes up for how great it feels in the moment the magic occurs, as if no one deserves more than a flash of greatness at an eye opening level; a bolt of lightning splitting a dark night sky, but providing that dazzling light for only an instant. Maybe that makes it possible to somehow accept this latest chapter of Warner’s saga, but it sure does nothing for the ache of seeing the best person in town, and the savior of a franchise, leave for another place, and other fans.



  2. #2
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    Re: Kurt Warner – A Fond Farewell To A Great Man

    I agree with a lot of what Barry says in this, but I have to take issue with a few of his more pointed remarks:

    Like a parent, spouse, or child who has seen a loved one slowly slip away due to illness, those of us who will never forget what #13 meant to a team and a city have little emotion left to give as the irreversible end finally came.
    The best way to diffuse a good point is to overstate it. That is what Barry has done here. Don't compare a football player leaving town to losing a loved one. Sheesh!

    As the negative stories and feelings about Warner as the Rams quarterback appeared, they acted upon his legacy like tumors on bodily organs, some spreading and mutating to other areas. We may never know how the negative vibes played a part in what so quickly turned a two time MVP passer into a backup.
    I'm pretty sure that Howard Balzer, me, Tx and even Bernie had little if anything to do with Kurt's downfall from star to backup.

    Nor will I forget Warner taking the total blame for losses, when it was obvious that most of his teammates didn’t give half of his effort in those games
    Other than Kevin Carter, who could Barry be talking about. Maybe its better not to take shots at unnamed players.

    Is it any wonder that fans would identify with such an athlete and give so much of their gratitude for the first NFL championship for St. Louis to Kurt Warner, who took them from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs in just five months?
    It is unfair to players like Faulk, Bruce, Holt, Pace, Timmerman, Wistrom, Fletcher and others to make statements like this. Kurt was a huge part of the Rams' championship season, but he didn't do it alone.

    Though Kurt Warner gave the NFL the best publicity they had in years, he never seemed to get the protection from the referee that many top passers receive. Even when the league made it very clear that even borderline late or illegal hits should be called, it seemed that the flags stayed in the zebra’s pockets when it came to Warner. The memory of Hugh Douglas brutally slamming Warner to the cement- like turf of Veterans Stadium in the 2001 opener, or of man-mountain Ted Washington lifting Warner off his feet and pile driving him to the ground in another game, both without a flag, still sickens the stomach.
    Kurt's not alone here. Ask Rich Gannon (who still can't wash the scent of Tony Siragusa from his favorite jersey).

    Had Warner gotten a bit better protection from cheap shots, maybe his health would not have deteriorated so rapidly. Maybe he would have even won a second Super Bowl MVP, since the key interception for a score by the Patriots came on a play when Warner was clearly forearmed across the face and neck by blitzing linebacker Mike Vrable. Maybe if Faulk had been healthier over the past three years, or if Mike Martz would have run the ball more or protected him better with his scheme, Warner would have been able to avoid some damaging hits as well.
    There isn't a bigger Ram fan than me out there, but even I think this sounds like whining.

    For some reason, we seem to think that sort of limitation makes up for how great it feels in the moment the magic occurs, as if no one deserves more than a flash of greatness at an eye opening level; a bolt of lightning splitting a dark night sky, but providing that dazzling light for only an instant. Maybe that makes it possible to somehow accept this latest chapter of Warner’s saga, but it sure does nothing for the ache of seeing the best person in town, and the savior of a franchise, leave for another place, and other fans.
    Oh please. Do you really feel that bad for a multi-millionare who now has the opportunity to continue playing in the biggest market in the world? And save the "savior of a franchise" nonsense. Again, Kurt didn't do it alone.

    You know, I guess I didn't really like much about this article after all.

  3. #3
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    Re: Kurt Warner – A Fond Farewell To A Great Man

    Come on AR. :bored: You've got your opinion, which you are entitled to, and I value that opinion. But just let Barry write his article. Now that Warner has moved on, you had to expect articles like this. You got what you wanted. Warner is gone, Bulger is the undisputed starter. Just let it die peacefully. A page has turned, a new day has begun, enter poetic cliche referring to a noted change of your choice. On behalf of 99.9% of all Warnerites (except Blacktrout), we're ready to move on! 10 is our starter. Go Rams! :ramlogo:
    "Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod

  4. #4
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    Re: Kurt Warner – A Fond Farewell To A Great Man

    I really wasn't trying to prevent Barry from writing his article. I just thought it read as though it were written by a 12 year old girl who was just dumped by her first boyfriend.


    Oops, I did it again
    (See how I kept with the 12 year old girl theme there? :redface: )

  5. #5
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    Re: Kurt Warner – A Fond Farewell To A Great Man

    You know, I guess I didn't really like much about this article after all.
    Now there's a shocking developement!

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