posted on January 27, 2009 05:26
The improbable tale of the guy who went from a bagger in a grocery store to Super Bowl MVP, disappeared from view and reemerged in the Super Bowl again, has its roots in the confidence of former Rams coach Dick Vermeil, who overruled his offensive coordinator to keep Warner on the roster in 1998.
It is one of the rarely told stories of how Warner even earned a job in Vermeil's second season as the Rams' coach.
Vermeil was hired by the Rams in 1997, and brought Jerry Rhome with him as offensive coordinator. As most coaches do, they have players they like to bring with them to new stops on the coaching trail. So it was that Rhome suggested the Rams sign lefthanded quarterback Will Furrer to compete for the No. 3 job on the roster.
Furrer played well in a pre-season game against Dallas, and beat out Jamie Martin for the job. It's interesting to note that Martin was still in the league in 2008, while Furrer has been long gone.
The following year is where this story grows intriguing. Rhome wasn't even present for a December tryout in 1997 for Warner, who had been excelling for the Arena Football League's Iowa Barnstormers.
Al Lugenbill, head coach of the Amsterdam Admirals in the NFL's Europe league, wanted Warner for his team. But he needed an NFL team to sign him and allocate him. Other teams had varying degrees of interest, but it was the Rams that signed him a few days after Christmas because personnel director Charley Armey liked what he had seen.
Warner went overseas and won the job in a close competition with Jake Delhomme, then with the New Orleans Saints. When he arrived for Rams training camp in July, he was competing with ... drum roll, please, ... Will Furrer. Warner showed some moxie and Vermeil recalled liking what he had seen. But there was the Rhome factor to overcome.
As camp ended, Rhome pushed for Furrer to get the job again. But Vermeil wasn't convinced this time. He had the backing of other assistants, including Mike White, and the choice was made to cut Furrer and keep Warner.
Where would Warner would be today had that decision not been made? No one can really say. But it seems obvious Warner wouldn't be where is today.
The Rams were a bad football team in 1998. They were 4-12, and there were those that believed the game had passed Vermeil by. Because of injuries to Tony Banks and Steve Bono, Warner played in the season finale against San Francisco and was a non-descript 4-for-11 for 39 yards.
Immediately after the season ended, Rhome was fired and Mike Martz was hired as offensive coordinator. So little did Martz know of Warner that when the quarterback went to Martz's office to introduce himself, Martz first thought Warner was a tight end. The Rams signed Trent Green as a free agent, and Warner was actually left unprotected in the 1999 veteran allocation draft for the expansion Cleveland Browns. The Browns would draft Tim Couch that year, and in the expansion draft, they selected Scott Milanovich. Both, of course, are out of football.
The rest of the story is well-chronicled.
How Green tore up his knee in the Rams' third pre-season game after looking like the accurate quarterback the Rams needed. Wide receiver Isaac Bruce pounded the turf in frustration as Green went down. The following day, Vermeil uttered the words he became almost famous far: "We will play good football with Kurt Warner."
Vermeil, of course, admits to this day he had no idea how prophetic those words would be.
Warner played in the final exhibition game against Detroit, and managed the game well. A home win over Baltimore started the season off well, and quickly, "The Greatest Show on Turf" was born.
Fueled by Warner and Bruce and rookie receiver Torry Holt and, of course, running back Marshall Faulk, Martz's offense mostly overwhelmed the opposition. There was a Super Bowl win that year, a Super Bowl loss in 2001, but then everything soured. Warner had suffered a broken finger in 2000 and then broke his hand early in the 2002 season. Later that year, Warner's wife Brenda called KFNS to contradict what Martz had said about sending Warner for an X-ray.
Warner had serious ball security issues, and when he fumbled six times in the 2003 season opener against the Giants, Marc Bulger replaced him the following week. Behind Bulger, the Rams defeated San Francisco and remained the starter, leading the team to a 12-4 record before losing to Carolina, who, of course, was quarterbacked by Delhomme, Warner's former competitor in Europe.
Still, because of the playoff loss, there remained the thought of bringing Warner back, even though his wife had irritated Martz again with another comment on the radio. The final straw came during Super Bowl week in 2004, when Warner was in Houston for a religious address. During that talk, in answering a question, Warner said there were coaches in St. Louis that thought he was reading the Bible too much and not paying attention to football.
It was clear then he wouldn't play another down in St. Louis. To ease the cap hit, he wasn't released until June, at which point he signed with the Giants, who had acquired Eli Manning on draft day. The Giants were 5-4 with Warner as the starter, but fumbling problems persisted, and Manning was installed as the starter, mostly to get Manning experience, but also knowing cold weather was coming. Until this season and at that point in 2004, last summer.
It was on to Arizona, where Matt Leinart was selected in the frist round. Warner's sudden resurgence, ironically, was borne in a decision by coach Ken Whisenhunt to use start Leinard in 2007, but use Warner as the two-minute offense quarterback. Warner became the full-time starter early that season when Leinart suffered a broken collarbone on Oct. 7 ... in St. Louis.
Yet, Whisenhunt insists it was an open competition on East-coast trips during the season (they lost them all), and that winning the other games was even more important. The Cardinals got off to that fast start, defeating San Francisco and Miami, before losing at Washington and the Jets.
But they were good enough in a bad division to clinch the NFC West against St. Louis on Dec. 7 and limp home with a 9-7 record.
And Warner has been the catalyst, wearing gloves on both hands and while still fumbling at times, it hasn't been as bad as in the past.
Said Whisenhunt, "I give Kurt a lot of credit. We worked with him on ball security and moving around in the pocket. Kurt has never been afraid to work, and I admire him to see him back and playing at that level again."
So, here Warner is, on the grandest stage there is -- again -- trying to become the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams. He is a two-time MVP and is 8-2 in the playoffs. There have been two home games this year in the fine Arizona weather, and there were good conditions for a Saturday night win in Carolina.
Sunday, the weather should be good again as Warner tries to beat the odds and the Steelers. No one should be surprised if he pulls it off.