JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — When it comes to Kurt Warner as a player, his football career has been better than a movie script.
An undrafted quarterback out of the University of Northern Iowa, Warner experienced some success in the Arena Football League and with NFL Europe. Then he secured the backup role to Trent Green with the St. Louis Rams entering the 1999 season.
When Green went down in the preseason with an injury, Kurt took the reins and blazed a path few will forget anytime soon. In leading the Rams to a 13-3 record, he produced one of the greatest seasons for any quarterback in the history of the NFL, leading the Rams through the playoffs and on to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV. Along the way, he was awarded NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP.
For the next two seasons, Warner was at the top of football, taking his Rams back to the Super Bowl in 2001 and earning another NFL MVP award.
But Warner's stellar career slipped. The Rams released him. He lost his starting job in New York. He had two average seasons with his current team, the Arizona Cardinals. As Warner was facing the twilight of his career, some were probably thinking he was more of a "flash in the pan" than a bona fide NFL superstar.
This season Warner is back on track. His current play has him in contention for another NFL MVP award and on a trajectory for a sure spot in Canton's Hall of Fame.
But Warner the player is not as impressive as Warner the person. In the three times he's lost his starting job, he has enthusiastically taken on the role of backup, cheerleader and even mentor to the younger men who moved ahead of him on the depth chart — all without losing the competitive fire that has kept him in a position to return to a starting role.
Warner's charitable work has been well profiled. In a recent Sports Illustrated article, Peter King gives example after example of Warner's sterling character. King shares a personal anecdote of the time when he asked Warner to send an autographed item to a fan who was serving in Iraq. Warner did more than that. Not only did he send him an autographed mini-helmet, upon hearing that the young man was home on leave, he called him (or at least he attempted to) — five times. Most stars would give up after one call, if they called at all.
This is just one small example of Warner's commitment to help people. Other examples, among many, include funding a recreation center in a children's hospital, spending every Christmas day with foster children who have no family to spend Christmas with, championing Habitat for Humanity and taking "Making a Wish" families to Disney World.
The key to understanding Warner as a person is to look at the source of his strength: Jesus Christ. In 1996, when Warner was dating his future wife, Brenda, a tornado killed her parents. In an interview several years back with CBN, Warner discussed the impact that event had on his life.
"That situation showed me that you don't know what is going to happen tomorrow," Warner said. "You have to live life for today and for this moment. It was at that point that I realized the Lord needed to be at the center of my life. I couldn't wait until tomorrow or next year. It needed to be right now."
As the accolades have been rolling in again this season, Warner has been quick to give the glory to God. After a Monday Night Football win in November, Warner was asked, "With all the ups and downs, when something like that is happening at the end of the game, where does your mind go?"
Warner responded, "My mind goes to how awesome God is. He blesses me over and over again. I just can't say enough about the position He puts me in."
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Maragni is senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel of Jacksonville, Fla.)