HOUSTON (BP)–Just like old times on this Super Bowl Sunday, one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the championship game’s history, Kurt Warner, was pacing the Astroturf in this super-sized Texas city.
But instead of being in the game, the two-time league MVP and Super Bowl XXXIV MVP was walking on a local Houston church’s artificial turf setting 45 minutes south of Reliant Stadium, talking about the highest of highs along with the more recent crushing setbacks of this most unlikely of football heroes.
“I wish I could tell you what it feels like,” said Warner, backed by large yellow goal posts and two oversized Super Bowl logos with his picture projected on jumbo video screens overhead, “because you would all want to feel it. But this year, my toughest-ever playing football, has impacted more people than I ever thought.”
Warner, speaking just hours before the kickoff between the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers, led the St. Louis Rams to a resounding Super Bowl win at the conclusion of the 1999 season, becoming the only quarterback in Super Bowl history to throw for more than 400 yards in the title game. His team fell just short of beating the Patriots and winning another title after the 2001 campaign.
But the former Arena League star from a tiny Iowa town said the 2003 season — in which he was benched after the first game, never regained his job and watched the Rams fall short in the NFL playoffs — taught him more about his faith in Jesus Christ than any of his Super Bowl highs.
“You want to say, ‘God, how could You allow this to happen?'” he said. “I thought I was over the fact of being a backup. It was such a shock, but God has allowed me to use this greater platform for Him.
“If you can stand up for your faith when you’re on top, you can stand up for it now that you’re at the bottom,” Warner said.
Before departing for the Super Bowl as a spectator, Warner said he is uncertain about his 2004 future with the Rams but is determined to honor God in all that he does.
“You have to keep your eyes on the prize,” he said. “You have to finish strong. That’s what I want to do and that’s what [most of us] do in life as on the football field.”
Warner said the pain of the 2003 season, in which he was benched after a blizzard of opening-game interceptions and fumbles and later only appeared for brief mop-up duties, was magnified by what others on the team said about him and his faith.
“I actually had [Rams] coaches say I was reading the Bible too much and it was taking away from my play,” he said. “It was OK when we were winning, but now I was [messing] this thing up? People were saying I had lost my job because of my faith.”
Warner said only his faith in God, which he credits his wife for introducing him to soon after they met in the mid-1990s, allowed him to see what New England’s Tom Brady and Carolina’s Jake Delhomme were going through.
“I love Super Bowl Sunday. I remember it very vividly because there was no more practice, no more media, and you just focus on playing the perfect game,” Warner said.
According to much of the sporting world, Warner played that perfect game in the 2000 Super Bowl, throwing for 414 yards, winning the MVP trophy and leading his team to their first-ever Super Bowl title.
“We were talking in our [team] Bible study about how we were going to honor God if we got to that final game. When I was on that stage after the game and I was asked first about a touchdown pass, I just said first things first, ‘Thank you Jesus.'”
Warner and his wife, Brenda, were in Houston all weekend to take part in the overwhelming number of Super Bowl-related activities. He said he’s convinced his story of going to the top and back to the bottom and now facing an uncertain future can help others in their daily walk on and off the football field.
“It’s so easy to get caught up in the world’s distractions, just like many of the distractions that are here this weekend,” Warner said. “But we have to keep our eyes on the prize, which is Jesus.
“The real Super Bowl title is committing our life to Jesus, and then we have to defend the title. That’s what I want to do in my football career, but more importantly with my life as a Christian.”
Brenda Warner said the key for Christians is then to go tell others the Good News they have learned.
“I told Kurt and then he told 110 million people on TV. You can never tell the impact you’re going to have when you tell somebody else,” she said.
Art Stricklin, an award-winning Christian sportswriter and contributor to Baptist Press, reported from Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, providing exclusive coverage from a spiritual perspective. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: STILL A CHAMPION and TOP AND BOTTOM.