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Fairy tale start, unhappy ending

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  • Fairy tale start, unhappy ending

    By Lori Shontz
    Of the Post-Dispatch

    He slipped into town so quietly, so unobtrusively, that barely anyone noticed. Kurt Warner's arrival was heralded, if that's the word, in the Post-Dispatch on Christmas Day 1997, his name buried in a list of seven other free agents the Rams signed after their season ended.

    Nothing hinted at Warner's improbable rise that would captivate the city - and, for that matter, much of the country - or at his fall, nearly as swift and sudden, that would trigger such strong emotions as well.

    So insignificant was Warner that he warranted only one sentence, and that sentence wasn't even correct. He was identified as a college quarterback at Northern (ital) Arizona (end ital), half a country away from his true alma mater, Northern Iowa.

    Nothing indicated that he would lead his team - which had finished 4-12 the season before he took over - to victory in the Super Bowl. That he would win the league MVP twice in his first three seasons as a starter. That his wife would stir up controversy by calling a sports-talk radio show to criticize his coach. Or that he would eventually tell an audience at a religious convention that his strong faith - not his lack of production - was the reason he lost his starting job.

    Nothing could have predicted all that came to pass. Who would have believed it?

    Warner's sojourn in St. Louis had enough highs and lows, enough twists and turns, to fill an opera. And like many heroes, the characteristics that made him a star were essentially the same ones that led to his fall.

    Confident Kurt

    This is an athlete who never once lost confidence that he had the skills to play in the NFL, not even while stocking grocery shelves at Hy-Vee for $5.50 an hour or toiling for three seasons with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League. So with that kind of faith in himself - and a strong religious faith as well - how could he be expected to characterize his struggles in 2002 and 2003 as anything other than an aberration?

    In his first lengthy interview with the Post-Dispatch, in December 1998, Warner gave this answer when asked the biggest myth about the NFL: "Because I've played in so many different leagues and have had so many people tell me that I didn't belong here, that I wasn't good enough to play here, to me the biggest myth has been that I can't compete at this level or that the NFL athletes are so much greater than all of the other professional athletes out there."

    In January 2003, after a season in which Warner went 0-6 as a starter, missed much of the season with broken finger problems and weathered a controversy sparked by his wife's outspokenness, he had the same attitude. "Did I play at a 'way' lower level than I did in the past three years?" he asked. "I don't believe I did. There were just different things that transpired that went against us that I would love to change.

    "I'm not saying I played great, or that I'm perfect. I know I still have a lot of work to do. But I just felt it wasn't as bad as the stats dictated, as far as decision-making and throwing the football."

    The circumstances

    So it seems that while the circumstances have changed, perhaps Warner never did. He's still a scrappy athlete, looking for a chance to prove himself ... again.

    He might never have gotten his first chance to do so had starting quarterback Trent Green not blown out his knee on Aug. 28, 1999, leaving backup Warner the only quarterback on the roster with an understanding of the team's offense. Warner took advantage of the opportunity and became a sensation so quickly that fans couldn't even find jerseys with his number in the stores, although his picture was readily available on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

    By mid-October, Rams coach Dick Vermeil was saying, "I've never been around a guy that's doing what he's doing now."

    Vermeil mentioned that he had spoken recently with Ron Jaworski, who was the league MVP in 1980, the year Vermeil coached the Eagles to the Super Bowl and told him, "Geez, Ron, I loved you as a quarterback. But this guy, my gosh!"

    And it seemed, at times, that Warner was maybe too good to be true. Although he was always confident in his skills - he spoke the words, "I knew I was going to be successful, whether it be here or somewhere else," repeatedly during his career - Warner always gave credit to his teammates. He signed autographs after every day of training camp. At the Pro Bowl, he signed for fans until he realized he was holding up his NFC teammates, when he apologized and returned to the bus. Discovering that everyone else had left and this bus was waiting for him, he returned to the remaining fans and continued to sign.

    He never complained in 1999 that he was woefully underpaid at $254,000 (the minimum salary for a player of his experience, plus a bonus for participating in offseason conditioning). The next season, in fact, he reported to training camp against the advice of his agent, who was continuing to negotiate a multi-year contract with perks and salary befitting a player of his stature.

    "My love for the game and my responsibility to this team and my teammates and coaches outweigh everything else," Warner said then. "I definitely want to take care of my family and do those types of things, but I realize why I'm here, and it's something I felt I had to do."

    When he finally signed the contract, he pledged 10 percent of it to his church. He gave, too, of his time. He and Brenda have been prominent figures in the community, spending time at hospitals and church camps and other charity events.

    "He sincerely wants to get involved with the people he helps," Carol Clarkson, program director for Sunshine Ministries, told the Post-Dispatch in 2002.

    The downturn

    After losing to New England in a huge upset in Super Bowl XXXVI, Warner's charmed athletic existence began to crumble. It wasn't as dramatic as, say, when Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Steve Blass suddenly lost the ability to throw strikes. But as injuries piled up, Warner's quick release and decision-making ability, the two characteristics that led him to the top, deteriorated.

    On Sept. 29, 2002, Dallas safety Roy Williams tackled Warner, who broke the little finger on his throwing hand, the same bone that was broken two seasons before, that time on a snap from center Steve Everitt. After surgery and rehab, Warner returned to the lineup on Nov. 24, but wasn't quite able to rally the Rams to a victory over the Redskins.

    He continued to try to play, however, until X-rays showed another crack in Warner's finger on Dec. 2. That led directly to "Brendagate," when Brenda Warner, hearing two talk-show hosts discuss the injury the next morning, called to say that coach Mike Martz had not, as he said, urged Warner to have X-rays taken. The resulting publicity storm appeared to expose rifts in Warner's relationship with Martz. It prompted speculation on whether Warner was hurt worse than he had let on, a proposed reason for why one season removed from the Super Bowl, he was 0-5 as a starter.

    Warner's season ended Dec. 12 when he was placed on injured reserve. He never recovered. In the first game of the 2003 season against the New York Giants, Warner fumbled six times and suffered a concussion. The next week, Martz named Marc Bulger as the starter, telling the assembled reporters at Rams Park before he told Warner himself.

    Warner never regained his starting job, and many speculated that he was working to be traded, a viewpoint that attracted more people after a speech in early February in Houston.

    "I actually had coaches say I was reading the Bible too much and it was taking away from my play," Warner said, according to "It was OK when we were winning, but now I was (messing) this thing up? People were saying I had lost my job because of my faith."

    Martz's reaction?

    "That's so far off the wall, it's incomprehensible," he said then. "I can't imagine Kurt saying that. Nothing could be further from the truth. If he said that, that's a bald-faced lie. I'm just tired of dealing with this type of behavior."

    If Brendagate was the beginning of the end, the banquet incident was certainly the final straw.

    Starting anew

    And so it came to pass that as soon as they could do so, considering salary cap restrictions, the Rams officially released Warner on Wednesday. And now he embarks on another chapter in a career already punctuated by twists and turns.

    "He's ready to have an MVP-caliber season like he's had in the past," said Warner's agent, Mark Bartelstein. "Once it became clear that probably wasn't going to happen with the Rams, at least as a starter, then I think, yeah, there is sort of a relief and a release off his shoulders, to say, 'OK, now I can go somewhere and get a fresh start and get back to having fun playing football."
    Attached Files

    Keeping the Rams Nation Talking

Related Topics


  • Yodude
    Insider: Warner earns vindication, another turn on top
    by Yodude
    Oct. 13, 2004
    By Pete Prisco Senior Writer
    Tell Pete your opinion!

    Insider | Notebook | Mailbag
    New York Giants quarterback Kurt Warner is on a cell phone, driving somewhere in New Jersey, talking about his new team and his new situation. As he speaks, he sounds more upbeat than he has in years, which is saying something because this is one happy dude.

    "I'm loving it here," Warner said.

    Showing vintage form so far, Kurt Warner is proving just how little his critics know.
    Why wouldn't he? This was a man who was written off the past year, many speculating that his time at the top had come and gone. They said his 15 minutes of fame were over.

    That feel-good story of grocery stock boy to league MVP was nice at the time, but as quick as he rose to the top, it was sure to be followed by talk that he would fall just as fast.

    Washed up. Over. Done. Finished.

    Warner heard it all the past couple of seasons, the talk growing from murmurs into a full-blown amplified beat by late last season in St. Louis. Forget his two MVP awards he won with the Rams. Forget his Super Bowl victory after the 1999 season. Forget all the passing numbers.

    The doubters, including the St. Louis Rams coaches, insisted his time was up.

    "I guess it's unprecedented what happened to me," Warner said. "To go from where I was to the last two years, it's hard to make sense of it. People formed an opinion on what was wrong with me and they all seemed to jump on the bandwagon. It was easy to come to the conclusion that I wasn't the same player based on the past couple of years. But I never put a lot of stock in what people were saying. I knew what I was capable of doing. The bottom line for me has not been what people think about me, but what the people in my locker room and in the organization think about me. I knew I could still play and still win."

    He's doing both, too.

    The Giants are the surprise team of the first five weeks, winning four consecutive games after losing their opener to the Eagles. At 4-1, heading into their bye week Sunday, they are a half game behind Philadelphia in the NFC East.

    Warner is big reason for the success.

    So much for his just keeping the seat warm until rookie first-round pick Eli Manning takes over. Warner isn't going anywhere. Not the way he's playing. There had been some talk that Warner would keep the spot until the bye week, and then hand the keys to the car over to the younger kid. That's laughable now.

    Warner may not be putting up the huge numbers he did with the Rams from 1999-2001, but he is running the offense with precision, he's taking care of the ball and he's getting it out on time.

    -10-17-2004, 08:21 AM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Kurt Warner Ends His Storybook Career
    by r8rh8rmike
    Kurt Warner ends his storybook career

    By Jim Thomas

    He walked into the room in typical Kurt Warner style, with humility in his heart and a Bible in his hand. And then directly and with clarity announced what everyone expected: that he was retiring after 12 storybook seasons in the NFL.

    In no way did he seem conflicted about his decision. The only time he got emotional was after he brought wife Brenda and their seven children onstage at Friday's news conference in Tempe, Ariz.

    The MVP awards, the Super Bowls, the amazing statistics will always be associated with Warner. But that's not really what Warner wants as his legacy.

    "The one thing that I always want to leave people with ... is that anything is possible," Warner said. "I think that's one of the reasons that God's placed me up here and allowed me to do what I do. To encourage people out there that although sometimes it doesn't look really bright, and there's moments you want to give up ... that anything's possible.

    "I hope that when people think back on my career ... that that's what they remember more than anything else. Not the way I threw the football. Not particular games that I won. That they remember that here's a guy that believed, that worked hard, and although things didn't always go in his favor, he continued to press through. And with his faith in himself and with his faith in God, he was able to accomplish great things. That's what I want everybody to remember."

    How could we ever forget?

    From grocery store clerk in Iowa to triggerman for the Greatest Show on Turf. It was a made-for-TV movie if ever there was one. But then came the wrenching loss to New England in Warner's second Super Bowl. Injuries. The Brenda-gate controversies with Mike Martz.

    After his unceremonious release by the Rams following the 2003 season, Warner seemed lost in the wilderness career-wise with the New York Giants, and initially, with the Arizona Cardinals.

    "After leaving the Giants, it looked like that was probably it," current Rams general manager Billy Devaney said. "There were questions about him, about his thumb. And then he puts on the glove (on his throwing hand for the 2007 season)."

    And suddenly, it was vintage Warner once again, and for the second time in his career he took a woebegone franchise to the Super Bowl. Call it the rise and fall — and rise again — of Warner.

    "It's absolutely one of the most amazing stories in sports," said Charley Armey, Rams GM during most of Warner's six-year stay in St. Louis. "It probably never happens again in our lifetime."

    "It's an unbelievable story," said Dick Vermeil, head coach of the Rams' Super Bowl championship team. "No quarterback...
    -01-30-2010, 01:10 PM
  • RamWraith
    Warner article--sure to drum up a debate. Interesting read
    by RamWraith
    Just like with Rams and Giants, Warner out to prove critics wrong
    By Darren Urban, Tribune

    The resumé is too long for the story to begin where it once did. Kurt Warner knows that.
    His past is decorated with two MVP awards, three Pro Bowls, two Super Bowl appearances and a St. Louis fan base that still follows him two stops later.

    Warner is no longer the nobody who took over at quarterback for the Rams in 1999, but in some ways, he is starting over.

    He has more doubters than believers, which is where he stood that day St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil made him the starter after Trent Green's season-ending knee injury almost six years ago.

    And like his Rams back then, his new team in Arizona carries few expectations.

    "There are a lot of people out there that don't think I can still play, and there's a lot of people out there that don't think this team has a chance to do anything," Warner said. The statistics haven't been gaudy for three years, and for Warner, his history has become his burden. But it is also his proof.

    "There has never been a story like Kurt Warner's," Cardinals coach Dennis Green said. "It's a result of him believing in himself." Warner still believes. He believes that winning football, if not video game-like stats, remains in him.

    He believes politics dragged him out of the lineup with both the Rams and the New York Giants. He believes he will be reborn as an NFL starter with the Cardinals this season. And he believes he has lived this scenario before. "It's kind of my story, the underdog story, no chance to have success," Warner said. "It's kind of like what I stepped into in St. Louis.

    "I get a chance to rewrite my story, and I get a chance to hopefully rewrite the story of the Arizona Cardinals."


    The first version of Warner's story came straight from Hollywood.

    He was nowhere, bagging groceries at one point after college, eventually thinking a successful arena football career in his native Iowa was as far as the dream might go. Then, in one stunning two-year period, he rose from Iowa Barnstormer to St. Louis Ram as ringleader of the "Greatest Show on Turf."

    "St. Louis football was dog meat for so long," longtime St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz said. "Then this mythical character out of a W.P. Kinsella novel walks out of the Iowa cornfields."

    He won a Super Bowl that first season as a starter. He set team records. He was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. And he was a good person, friendly almost to a fault, a sports hero fans could feel good about embracing.

    Warner was going to be a Ram forever.

    That he isn't now, "flabbergasts me a little bit," Warner
    -05-14-2005, 06:25 AM
  • RamDez
    Kurt Warner – A Fond Farewell To A Great Man
    by RamDez
    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...
    -06-06-2004, 03:38 AM
  • psycho9985
    Warner on Sunday:Rams game nothing special.
    by psycho9985
    September 14, 2005

    TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- Kurt Warner made his fame as quarterback of the St. Louis Rams, then lost his starting job before moving on.

    For the first time since that uncomfortable separation two years ago, Warner will go against the Rams, directing the Arizona Cardinals in a matchup Sunday of NFC West teams trying to avoid 0-2 starts.

    But he brushed aside any suggestion that he has added motivation for this one.

    "Of course how it all came to an end was not how I had dreamed it up and was disappointing for me," Warner said after the Cardinals' worked out Wednesday. "But how do you have any animosity for an organization that gave the opportunities that they gave me, that allowed me to fulfill a dream when nobody else would?"

    Warner's abrupt rise from an Arena Football League quarterback to NFL and Super Bowl MVP was the sport's biggest story six years ago. He was league MVP again, and the Rams made the Super Bowl, in 2001.

    But injuries slowed him in 2002, and he went down with a concussion in the opener of the 2003 season. Warner never started a game with St. Louis again, watching from the sidelines as Marc Bulger took over.

    "It had gotten to the point where we just felt like we needed a change to try and stimulate something, whether it was Kurt or whoever it was in that situation," Rams coach Mike Martz said in a conference call Wednesday. "Unfortunately, it was Kurt. And it was good for Kurt to change scenery probably and get in a different situation."

    If any hard feelings linger from those days, Warner is keeping them to himself.

    "I still love the people there. I still love the people in that organization," he said. "I still have strong feelings for so many people there that I can't say a bad word. I know you want one, but as of now I've got nothing for you."

    Warner signed with the New York Giants, and never got a chance to face the Rams last season. Now that he's with Arizona, he'll get the opportunity twice a season. His previously stated motivation for the entire season is to prove he still can be an elite quarterback.

    "That doesn't have anything to do with St. Louis," he said. "I want to prove that to everybody. That has nothing to do with this game or trying to prove it to them. I think they know as an organization what kind of quarterback I am, what I still am."

    Warner still has contact with many of his old teammates. He said he talked to Bulger on the phone Tuesday night.

    "He's doing great. It was a good conversation," Warner said. "I think...
    -09-14-2005, 06:13 PM