ATLANTA — “Come on, already. Don’t you do
This question, which might be unique in the history of Super Bowls, was actually yelled at Kurt Warner, the St. Louis Rams quarterback, earlier this week.
Taken out of context, “Don’t you do anything wrong?” might sound harsh. But considering the previous 30 minutes with Warner, in which he talked about, in no particular order, God, family, staying healthy, surviving three years in arena football, God, getting cut by the Packers, working in a supermarket to make ends meet, God, faith, moving to Amsterdam to play in the World Football League, courting his wife, adopting her children — including a son who was blind and brain-damaged from being accidentally dropped on his head as an infant — God, making the Rams, getting the starting job in late August when Trent Green got hurt, God, opportunity, success, earning the highest quarterback rating in the NFL this year while making the league’s minimum salary, God, winning the MVP award, doing charity work, being satisfied with who he is, hoping his team wins Sunday, through the grace of, who else, God, whom Warner is really here to serve — well, you can understand the question:
“Don’t you do anything wrong?”
Warner simply smiled and shrugged.
“Sure,” he said. “Lots of things.”
I have the ending for Kurt Warner, the storybook ending to his storybook season. It involves winning the Super Bowl, yes, but that is not the ending. It involves throwing the winning pass and being carried off on his teammates’ shoulders, yes, but that is not the ending, either.
It involves a trophy, a fist in the air, the tears of his wife, the champagne in his hair. All that, too. But that is not the ending.
The ending goes like this: He wins the Big Game — and disappears forever.
An inspirational story
Now, I know this might sound one part Hollywood, but it is nine parts real world. The fact is, over time, fame and spotlight drag down everyone in America, no matter how unusual. And Warner’s story is not just unique, it is so incredible, so inspirational, it deserves to be left alone, frozen in ice, preserved like a fable.
How can any year top it? Come next fall, Warner, 28, will no longer be the unknown. He will no longer be the unproven kid asked to step in when Green gets hurt in an exhibition game, as he did Aug. 28, a knee injury that, at the time, so devastated the Rams, coach Dick Vermeil recalls seeing receiver Isaac Bruce “banging his fist on the ground and saying, ‘Why? Why?’ “
Warner will not stun opposing teams next year, leaving them whispering, “Who is that guy?” — as he did to the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth game of this season, when he threw five touchdown passes and completed 20 of 23 attempts.
Warner will not earn the meager $250,000 he makes now. He will not be able to say he’s the poor man’s MVP winner. He will not be able to walk down the street, the best quarterback of the year, without people knowing his face.
He will no longer jolt us with his story. When he talks about working nights in the supermarket, making $5.50 an hour, throwing rolls of toilet paper to keep his arm limber, when he talks about living in a small apartment in Amsterdam, walking through the red light district of drugs and prostitutes to get to church, when he talks about covering a house in rose petals and making an electric “Will You Marry Me?” sign to propose to his wife — the stories will no longer be new. They will not startle. They will not melt listeners.
Instead, people will wait for him to fail. They will watch next season’s quarterback rating and hold it up to this season’s incredible numbers, which, simply by dint of a tougher schedule, will be difficult to match.
They will watch how much money he earns, note the rise in pay, make mention of whatever purchases he makes, house, car, stereo, as if he’s violating his image.
They will look for the slightest crack in the church-boy armor. And if things don’t go as well for the Rams next year, there might be a moment when he snarls, or loses his temper, or gets tired of the same old questions, and critics will quickly say, “See? He’s different.”
They will add to his tapestry — and thereby diminish it.
And what a shame that will be.
From top, no place to go but down
Wouldn’t it be better for Warner to finish this incredible run, and then say,
“That’s it. I’ve been to the mountaintop. It can’t get any better. Good-bye.”
Wow! Talk about an instant legend! Who could ever touch that bar? To come from the parking lot and win the Super Bowl? To join a 4-12 team as a backup and wind up the most incredible player on the roster — the Rams’ or anyone else’s?
It would stand forever as fabulous folklore. It would take Robert Redford in
“The Natural” and render him an underachiever.
“I have never seen a quarterback mature in one season the way Kurt has,” Vermeil said this week. “I mean, it’s incredible. It’s off the charts.”
And there it should stay.
It won’t, of course. Warner has worked his tail off to get here, and you can’t talk to athletes about story line; they just want to play. He’ll come back next season, win or lose, and he’ll be another great quarterback in a league that has a few of them. And if the balloon deflates a little, it will seem like a lot.
This is how life works. The best you can do Sunday, if you’re a Kurt Warner fan (and really, if you’re not, you probably have to explain yourself), is wish him the best, re-check his resume, which shows one year as a Division I-AA college starter, watch his wife in the stands, see pictures of his adopted children, marvel at how such a big body and accurate arm could escape the NFL for so many years, and listen to him when he says things like this:
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that the Lord has a plan for me. I went through everything I did for a reason. And I’ve become a better player and a better person through the experiences I’ve had.
“I wouldn’t change a thing. This is as good a script as anyone could have written.”
Even before the ending.
MITCH ALBOM can be reached at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch
“Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).