"I'm thankful for all the steps in my journey."
Most athletes come and go so fast, and your city isn't allowed the proper amount of time to grow an attachment to them. Sports is a business after all, and players are mere commodities.
Kurt Warner was and still is something else. While he spent parts of six seasons playing for the then St. Louis Rams, people remember him most for the 1999-2001 period when he took the team to two Super Bowls, winning the big prize once. The three-year period where he threw a combined 98 touchdown passes. Injury broke down his time in the Midwest in the end, before he went on to more Super Bowl success in Arizona. Still, St. Louis remains a fond memory for Warner and his family, one that still carries a flame 17 years later.
"It was incredible. I can't say it enough. I can't express the gratitude enough. The way the community supported and embraced us. What you realize when you have success at the National Football League level, it's not just a team that comes along, it's a city," Warner told Alexis Kraft and Jake Ellenbogen on the Downtown Rams Podcast this past week.
Out of all the great memories, Warner referred to one particular moment as something near the top of the greatest hits. "It's overwhelming when you think about the memories and the relationships, and the great ones. From the first season to winning the Super Bowl," Warner said. "To be able to throw the touchdown that wins the Super Bowl is the dream of every young quarterback and every young kid to make that play in the biggest game."
Warner is a humble man, but he knows full well when the time came for him to step up, he was ready. "First and foremost, I was very confident in my skill set and what I could do. Wherever I played, I was successful. One year in college or three years in arena football or over in Europe, I didn't feel like this was over my head," Warner said. "I also hit a perfect storm. I had a coach that called the game very similarly to what my skill set was. I had unbelievable talent surrounding me, the likes of which we've seen very few times in the NFL."
When Kraft and Ellenbogen asked Warner about his chances in today's game, the Hall of Fame quarterback was blunt. "At the end of the day, football is football. I am very fortunate, when I look at the landscape now. What if I was on the same journey in the sports world we are in now?" Warner questioned. "There aren't many opportunities to play outside the NFL. I was so grateful that when I was taking the journey, there were some other options to play football, like the arena league."
It was the arena league where Warner knew he had the talent to play in the NFL. "It helped me physically. The speed of the game in arena football is unlike anything else. When you expand to the bigger field, the game doesn't happen as fast. So this made me a better quarterback," Warner said.
He also thinks the NFL should expand to another league, so out-of-nowhere talents like him can find a job without having to jump over so many hurdles. "I think we need to have another league of some sort. Europe could work," Warner said. "What we saw with the Alliance of American Football and the XFL, it could work over here. A minor league could work. The NFL would get behind it. A lot of guys like myself who fell through the cracks who need more seasoning could be really good NFL players. There is a place for another league."
Warner is a guy who almost never happened in the league, and then he helped turn around two dormant franchises. A career that always seemed cinematic is finally getting the movie treatment, with Lionsgate agreeing to distribute a film based on Warner's life. Zachary Levi has been cast, and Warner dished on the prospects and hopes for the film, expressing genuine excitement. "We're extremely excited. It's been a work in progress for quite a while. We've always taken the approach that if we are going to do this, we want to do it right," Warner said.
You'll find new things out about Warner in this film, as the screenplay will go into more behind the scenes aspects of his life before stardom. "The true story and the essence of what we're about, but also share some of the stuff people don't know about. Behind the scenes. People remember what happened on the field, like the rise from the grocery store to the Super Bowl--but there's also a lot of great stuff relationally and the struggle during that period behind the scenes," Warner added. Production on the film kicks off in September and currently holds a December, 2021 release date according to Warner.
The fairy tale began right here in St. Louis. Warner came to St. Louis as an unknown, but he sits as one of its proudest adopted sons today. Let's just say the feeling is mutual.
"We were fortunate that it all came together at the same time. We saw a baseball town turned into a football town. They (the city and its community) embraced us and our family in a unique way. I will never lose my affinity or my relationship with the city of St. Louis as long as I live," Warner said. "We continue to go back there and have an impact on the community. What St. Louis stood for fit perfectly with who we were as a family. I got nothing but love for the city of St. Louis. All I can say is when I was there, it was a great sports town and a great football town."
Most players don't stick around long enough to make a true impact with a city. They come and go rather quickly, the stitches never sinking into the fabric of the jersey completely. Warner was something else. A newborn prodigal son that will never lose sight of where his life changed for good.
You can listen to the entire podcast with Warner right here, or find it on ITunes at Downtown Rams Podcast.