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“The story of Kurt Warner, who announced his retirement after a 12-year NFL career on Jan. 29, always starts with the chapter in that grocery store in Iowa.”
Sean Gregory
Time Magazine

This week’s Sports Illustrated (January 25, 2010) contains an article titled, Iowa’s Got a Secret. SI writer Albert Chen says of the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) basketball team that it, “remains the best kept secret in college basketball.” (The men’s NCAA basketball team is 17-2 and currently ranked #25 in ESPN/USA Today poll right after the much larger & established programs such as Ohio St., Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech.)

UNI happens to also be where quarterback Kurt Warner played college football before going on to have a career worthy of landing him in the NFL Hall of Fame when eligible. Warner retired yesterday from the NFL after a 12 year career which included playing in three Super Bowls (winning the MVP in one of them) as well as being the most accurate quarterback in NFL history.

I’ve written about Warner before and I really think his story symbolizes everything that I’ve been writting about for the past two years. That you can come from a small place and really accomplish some good things—sometimes even great things at the highest level. But, as with Warner’s case, persistance is equally as important as talent.

After Warner’s high school career in Cedar Rapids, Iowa he was disappointed to not win a scholarship to a Division 1 school. Then he changed his perspective by accepting a scholarship  to Division I-AA UNI back in the 90s.. He would play only an hour away from home so friends and family could see him play, and being a smaller school he figured he could maybe start playing as a freshman. He figured wrong and ended up not winning the starting QB position until his senior year. He got hurt in his second game that year but stuck it out and ended up earning the Gateway Conference player of the year.

He figured he played well enough to be drafted into the NFL. He figured wrong once again, but was given a chance as a free agent to make the Green Bay Packers. But they had a young quarterback named Bert Favre so thing didn’t work out too well in Green Bay. The story is well-known in sports circles and will make a fine movie some day. He worked at Hy-Vee Grocery Store for a little over five dollars and hour, worked as an assistant football coach at UNI, became a QB in Des Moines in the arena football league, moved up to playing pro ball in Europe, before becoming the ringleader in “The Greatest Show on Turf” as quarterback for the St. Louis Rams earning the NFL MVP award twice (1999, 2001). He not only holds the record for top passing yards in a Super Bowl game—he hold the #2 and #3 spots as well.

Not bad for a kid from Cedar Rapids who didn’t even earn a Division 1 scholarship and sat the bench for his first three years of college here in Cedar Falls. Time and time when asked what’s kept him going through the dark times, his answer always involves faith. Faith in his talent, and faith in God.

You don’t have to be a football fan (or even a sports fan)  to appreciate the Kurt Warner story. And it’s a nice bonus that his work on the field is matched by his charity work off the field. Kurt Warner is simply one of the good guys.

“Since those days chucking candy in the grocery store in Cedar Falls, Kurt Warner has been an inspiration.”
Sean Gregory
Time magazine

Kurt Warner is retiring, but don’t expect him to disappear. You’ll see more of him, just not in a football uniform. He’ll probably be leading the way in something like building homes in Haiti for Habitat for Humanity, just like he did last year after the floods destroyed over 5,000 homes in his hometown of Cedar Rapids.

Scott W. Smith

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How about that Kurt Warner? If you don’t follow pro football you may not know that his underdog story is one of the greatest in sports history. And now, with a win in yesterday’s playoff game, the 37-year-old adds another chapter to his hall-of-fame career by leading the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl. If you like comeback stories Kurt Warner is your guy. And, yes, he does have a connection to little ole’ Cedar Falls, Iowa.

When Warner graduated from Regis High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1990 his dream was to play down the road for the University of Iowa. But he didn’t get a scholarship from them or any Division 1 major college. But he did get an offer from a Division II school, the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, where he thought he’d at least get a lot of playing time at a smaller school. But he ended up sitting the bench for three years. 

But in his senior year he was the starting quarterback and at the end of the season he was named Gateway Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year and hoped he’d get drafted in the NFL. He didn’t and was cut when he tried out for the Green Bay Packers. He returned to Cedar Falls where he was an assistant coach at Northern Iowa and a stock boy at the local Hy-Vee grocery store. With no NFL teams interested he went on to play arena football for the Iowa Barnstormers in ’96 & ’97 where he was named to the AFL’s all arena team both years. From there he played in Europe where he played for the Amsterdam Admirals and led the league in passing, then he was finally welcomed in the NFL.

He started the 1999 season as a back-up quarterback for the St. Louis Rams and ended up the MVP of the league and after winning the Super Bowl was named the Super Bowl MVP. The press enjoyed telling and retelling the quick rise of the former stock boy to Super Bowl MVP. Then he was injured in a loss at the 2001 Super Bowl and considered a has been by some. He should just retire they said. But he kept doing his thing and now he’s leading a franchise that’s never been to the big game to Super Bowl XLIII.

You can read more about him at KurtWarner.org where he has a foundation called First Things First that among other things provides trips to Disney for children with life threatening conditions, and has helped with flood relief efforts.  

It seems he does just about everything except write screenplays, but maybe he’ll try his hand at that after his football career is over. Some day his story will make an excellant film as it is one full of conflict, struggle, disappointments, loss and faith. Perhaps you can identify with what Warner told Sports Spectrum’s Chuck Swirsky about his unorthodox journey:

“This isn’t how I had it planned. I didn’t want to work in a grocery store then go to Amsterdam and play in the Arena League. But as I look back over my life, I realize that I had a lot of maturing to do. I had a lot of growing in my faith.”

Warner kept his hand on the plow and did his best in whatever arena he was allowed to play. He believed in his dream and his talent even when he wasn’t sure how he was going to pay his bills. Most people won’t find the wild success that Warner has found, but at least his story gives some hope and purpose to taking the bumpy roads of life. And that is fertile ground for writers in life and in the stories they write.

Related posts: Speaking of bumpy roads & faith check out the post Screenwriting & Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Scott W. Smith


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