Kurt Warner, life's MVP

By Steven Martinovich
web posted January 31, 2000

If your window to the world is television, you might think that the seemingly endless parade of human misery that makes up telecasts of Jerry Springer or Jenny Jones is representative of the average person. You would be wrong because you haven't considered a man like Kurt Warner.

By the time the Super Bowl rolled into Atlanta last week, the Kurt Warner story was told a thousand times, each time a little more mythic. Even if you resort to sticking to the facts, Warner's story is the prototype of the American dream inspiration for us all.

Several years ago, Warner was stocking shelves in Cedar Falls, Iowa for not much more than minimum wage, his professional football career over before it even began. A tryout with the Green Bay Packers -- complete with taunting from the team's current golden boy Brett Favre -- ended as a failure. Warner went from a promising but undrafted quarterback to working in a grocery store, telling anyone who listened that he was really a quarterback.

A tryout in the Canadian Football League never materialized and Warner ended up playing for three seasons in the virtually unknown Arena Football League for the Iowa Barnstormers.

He then played for Amsterdam of the World League, where as a devout Christian he passed by the red light district on his way to church, something that Warner will tell you tested and strengthened his faith. Life dealt him another blow when a tryout with the Chicago Bears was cancelled because of a freak injury. A spider bite swelled Warner's arm, rendering him unable to throw.

But luck like a ray of sun light struck Warner because the deal he signed with Amsterdam also got him a deal with the St. Louis Rams, although along the way he was nearly released by the team and then exposed in the expansion draft to the Cleveland Browns.

Not only was Warner not supposed to start at quarterback this season after only attempting 11 passes in one game last season, he wasn't even the team's backup quarterback. It was only injury to Trent Green that gave Warner yet another chance.

The rest is history. Warner guided the Rams to a 13-3 record and threw for 41 touchdowns, second highest in NFL history. From a lowly stock boy only a few years ago, Warner ended the season as the league's most valuable player and created the myth in the process.

There's always been a lot of talk about the roles that athletes play in our society. Although Charles Barkley famously declared that he was no one's role model, just a basketball player, athletes do occupy a moral place in our society.

There's a reason for that, though most people don't give it much thought. Unlike our world, which is filled with arbitrary rules handed down by tradition or distant politicians and leaves us never quite knowing what we are allowed to do, whether we will be rewarded or punished, athletics is a clearly defined world. For the players, a sport is a mental and physical battle, while for the spectator, a sport gives us a shared universal language for excellence. Watching sports allows us to indulge in our capacity for admiration.

Whether it's the Super Bowl, the World Series or the Stanley Cup finals, we're told that our time would be better spent doing something productive. We should be worrying about homelessness, racism or wars in distant countries, not whether one team defeats another in what is ultimately a meaningless contest. Self-denial and service to others are ideals, we're told, and it's not right to watch something for no other reason than self-enjoyment.

Sports -- and specifically Kurt Warner -- gives us a chance to celebrate humanity. He and the sport he plays allow us to laud skill, intelligence and ultimately achievement. It gives us, as writer Thomas Bowden put it recently, a "spiritual fuel" that flows to us from another person's achievement. It inspires and gives us the moral courage to fight our own battles every day.

Kurt Warner may only be a quarterback, and not someone deemed important to society such as a doctor or teacher, but he reminds us that anything can be had with old-fashioned hard work and principles. For that, Kurt Warner -- along with being the Super Bowl MVP -- is life's most valuable player and a true example of humanity.

Steve Martinovich is a freelance writer and the editor of Enter Stage Right. He's also a Chicago Bears fan.

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