Kurt Warner knows a thing or two about waiting for one’s moment to come. While his rags-to-riches story is familiar to many, few know that one brief moment following Super Bowl XXXIV influenced his life as much as anything else he has experienced in the ensuing 13 years.
It was Jan. 30, 2000, and the St. Louis Rams had just won their first-ever Super Bowl title, 23-16, after Warner threw a game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Isaac Bruce with two minutes left. Mike Tirico of ABC interviewed Warner, who was named the game’s MVP.
Tirico: “Kurt, first things first, tell me about the final touchdown pass to Isaac.”
Warner: “Well, first things first, I’ve got to thank my Lord and Savior up above. Thank you, Jesus!”
Four years removed from his third and final Super Bowl, Warner, a father of seven children, recently spoke to the Deseret News about the biggest moments of his football career and faith life, as well as his upcoming TV show, "The Moment," which gives individuals a second chance to chase their dreams.
Some people see the fame and money of professional athletes and find it hard to relate. You were a Super Bowl MVP and had an eight-figure contract, but yours is not the typical story.
The thing that I appreciate so much about my career and journey is that I do believe everybody can relate to it. There were highs and lows, obviously, before I got to the NFL. And then I got there and won a championship. But there were lots of moments when people thought, “No way. This guy can’t do it. He’s too old, he’s washed up, he’s not talented enough.” There were those moments so many times throughout my life.
I think you can simplify it to the arc of having a dream and chasing that dream, even when the circumstances said, “It’s not going to happen,” even when people told me that I couldn’t do it. That, I think, is what has always resonated with my story and what I appreciate so much.
There’s so many people out there who find themselves in that position I was in. And yet, there are two choices. You have the choice to say, “I’m going to give up. I’m going to buy into my circumstances, I’m going buy into what everyone says, I’m never going to make it.”
Or, you have the other course of action, which is what I took, where it was, “Hey, everybody can say what they want. My circumstances might be what they are, but somehow, someway, I’m going to keep pushing until I exhaust every avenue and every opportunity, and I believe that I’m going to make one of them work and I’m going to have success.”
And I think that’s something that people can relate to.
How did your faith help you through the lows?
More often than not, things didn’t look right. It didn’t look like it was going to be successful, but I walked by faith, believing that God had a plan and a purpose. That was with me every single day.
I wanted my faith to look the same to everyone else and to be the same for me regardless of what was going on — whether I was on the Super Bowl podium holding the trophy or when I was being benched two years later and people saying that I would never play again.
I wanted it to look the same, and that to me is where faith lives. Faith lives inside of us in every circumstance. I heard more people say, when I was down and out, “Your faith spoke more to me in these moments than it ever did when you were winning MVPs and holding Super Bowl trophies."
This is what it’s all about — our faith needs to be worn on our sleeves and we need to represent what that faith is or who we’re representing — in my case, in regard to Jesus — in every circumstance. That’s how we have power. That’s how we have impact, from a faith perspective.
One thing faith always did for me is it gave me perspective that, yeah, I was to maximize my gift and talents in the area of football, but it was always a means to glorify God and represent God.
Who around you helped you live your faith?
My wife (Brenda) was definitely there. I had teammates and pastors. A big part for me was when I was on that Super Bowl podium (in 2000) and professed my faith in Jesus. That was probably the biggest moment in my faith life because in front of millions of people — hundreds of millions — you let people know what you stand for.
More importantly, you let people know who you’re representing in your life. And that was a continuing moment or nugget that stayed in the back of my mind since and has since 1999, 2000.
I often think about that moment of profession and how everything that I do from that point forward, everything that I’ve done in football, or now, in the limelight, is representative of Jesus. If I mess up, it’s not just my name and it’s not just my family, I’m messing something up for Jesus and I’m misrepresenting Jesus.
That was probably one of the biggest mentoring moments — and it wasn’t a person — for me because my faith took on a whole different realm in regards to saying it in front of so many people. It influenced my life probably as much as anything in the last 15 years or so.
You talk about the arc of having and chasing a dream. Is there a time when it’s no longer practical to chase a dream? How do you ride that line?
I do believe that one of the misconceptions out there with people is that, “Man, if I get to a certain stage, or it doesn’t happen for me by this time, you know, I’m just going to have to give up.” Hopefully that’s one of the things we can help squash in our TV show ("The Moment"). I don’t think there’s a shelf life on talents and gifts.
Maybe if you’re a sports person you can’t play when you’re 40, but maybe you can get into coaching and use those same gifts and talents. For the most part, there isn’t necessarily a time frame in which to chase your dream or accomplish great things.
My situation is a perfect example. By all standards 28 isn’t old, but by NFL standards you’re talking about most guys retiring before they’re 35. To start your career and get your first start at 28, by all means that’s too late, in most people’s book. That’s another example of how my story can resonate with people.
Is there anything else you’d like to get out there?
I think the one thing I always want to address is that a lot of people are going to sit at home and go, “Well, maybe I could make my dream happen too if Kurt Warner knocked on my door and gave me the opportunity.”
Well, my hope with ("The Moment") is that the show in and of itself is a knock on the door of everybody watching. It’s a way to kind of hit them in the face and go, “Okay, what are you doing with your life? Are you just sitting around waiting for somebody to just drop it in your lap, or are you pursuing it?"
That’s one of the things I find out with the show is that everybody still has it in the back of their mind, but they’re not taking any steps toward pursuing it.
Yes, we come in and give them that foot in the door, but I think that 90 percent of dreams happen based on people keeping them alive and continuing to move toward that dream even if it can’t be their primary thing.
For instance, me working in a grocery store and having to do those things to make ends meet, but still making sure everyday that I get my workout in, making sure I’m staying around the football field, and sending out tapes and doing things to continue to pursue my dream even though it can’t be my primary focus because I have other responsibilities.
That’s how I accomplished it. I never had somebody just pull me out at the end of the day and say, “We’re going to give you an opportunity.” It was continually walking step by step towards it, forcing an opportunity or waiting for it to present itself, and then I was ready to jump in with two feet and make it happen.
Note: "The Moment" premieres on USA Network in April
David Ward is a writer living in Salt Lake City. Contact him at [email protected].