Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reality Better than Fiction with Kurt Warner

I love sports. I enjoy playing, watching and reading about sports. I like sports based movies. As we anticipate Super Bowl 43 to be played on February 1 there’s one story that needs to be told with the best that Hollywood has to offer. The story has so much drama and inspiration it needs no “creative license” that some movies use in the attempt to enhance.

The true life story is about the man Kurt Warner, quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals.

Not a football fan? It doesn’t matter. Stay with me for 5 minutes.

Kurt was barely good enough to play college football. He played collegiately at the University of Northern Iowa but his first three years were as the 3rd string quarterback. Not until his senior year did he get a chance to play and though successful UNI was not a hotbed for future NFL talent. Upon graduation he tried to make the team with the Green Bay Packers. Not deemed NFL talent he played in the Arena Football League and later the European version of the NFL. Kurt’s dream was going nowhere fast. When not playing football he worked in a grocery store making $5.50 an hour.

During these years Kurt met Brenda, a divorcee with two small children, the oldest paraplegic and brain damaged. He fell in love with her and her children. In 1996 Brenda’s parents who lived in Arkansas, were killed in a tornado when their home was destroyed. This loss contributed to Kurt’s pursuit of God and he became a committed follower of Jesus. Kurt and Brenda married in 1997. Kurt adopted Brenda’s children and then they had 2 more of their own.

In 1999 Kurt made the team of the St. Louis Rams as their backup quarterback. In a preseason game, Trent Green, the starting quarterback got hurt and Kurt began playing and earned the starting position. Kurt ended up having one of the greatest seasons of record for any quarterback by throwing for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns and was recognized with the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. To cap off the year Warner led the Rams into winning the Super Bowl where he was also recognized as the game’s MVP.

By 2004 Warner’s performance had begun to decline and he was traded to the NY Giants. After a disappointing season Warner was traded in 2005 to the Arizona Cardinals. At the end of the 2005 season most NFL analysts concluded that Warner’s days as a starting quarterback were over. For the 2006 season the Cardinals acquired Matt Leinart, a Heisman Trophy winner and college star, to be their new quarterback. Leinart and Warner battled back and forth and Warner once again won the starting job for the 2008 season.

Fast forward to January 2009, Kurt Warner, considered finished as a starting quarterback and too old to be in the league much longer, posted 4,583 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and has led the Cardinals into their first Super Bowl in franchise history!

But this is way more than a “rags to riches” success story. This is about a man like you and me who found identity and hope in Christ during the grocery stocking days. This is about a man who has faced temptations with fame and fortune and kept his head screwed on, his ego in check, his marriage together and his relationship with God solid. This is about a man who has leveraged the “platform” that God has given him to bless special needs children through his First Things First Foundation. (see this ESPN video for some of the story) And for the skeptic out there that moans during interviews of athletes who credit God, Warner doesn’t pray for success and victories. He’s not given to the notion that God cares about who wins and who loses football games. Rather Warner is more likely to pray prayers of gratitude or forgiveness or for the needs of other people.

In short, Warner refuses to be defined by his poor upbringing, his wandering days as a football nomad, nor by his NFL success and money. Warner declares,

“If you ever really want to do a story about who I am, God’s got to be at the center of it. Every time I hear a piece or read a story that doesn’t have that, they’re missing the whole lesson of who I am.”
I’m looking forward to this Super Bowl. Whether Warner wins or loses the game, his true life story as a Christ follower is better than any fiction.

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