American Underdog: Don’t Give Up

John FarrellBy John Farrell7 Minutes

In 2017, Kurt Warner was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame alongside Morten Andersen, Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley, Jerry Jones, Jason Taylor, and LaDainian Tomlinson. After a twelve-year career split between the St. Louis Rams, New York Giants, and Arizona Cardinals, the quarterback out of the University of Northern Iowa more than deserved his spot among the vaunted Class of 2017.

Warner was the starting quarterback in three Super Bowls, including the Rams’ (or more popularly known as “The Greatest Show on Turf”) 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. In the game, he threw for a still-standing record 414 yards to go with two touchdowns. He was named Super Bowl MVP.

Going into that season (1999), Warner wasn’t expected to receive much playing time. However, when the starting quarterback Trent Green suffered a season-ending knee injury during the preseason, the St. Louis Rams had nowhere to turn except to the former Arena Football League and NFL Europe star who had played in only one NFL game with four completions under his belt.

He did better than anyone could have ever expected, being named the NFL Most Valuable Player, the Breakthrough Athlete of the Year, an All-Pro, and a multitude of other honors and awards. And the accolades didn’t end there. He was an All-Pro four times and named to the Pro Bowl four times, as well as being named for a second time NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2001 when he took the Rams back to the Super Bowl.

Judging by his success at football’s highest level, it is easy to assume that the road to the NFL was an easy one for Warner. This, unfortunately, could not be further from the truth.

From Small Town to Big Time

His journey to NFL stardom and eventually the Pro Football Hall of Fame are captured beautifully and touchingly in Kingdom Story Company’s latest masterpiece, American Underdog, opening in theaters nationwide on Christmas Day. The film not only chronicles Warner’s rise to fame, but his relationship with his rock and biggest supporter, his wife Brenda, who was by his side throughout his career.

Zachary Levi (Shazam!) suits up admirably as Warner, while Anna Paquin (X-Men) delivers a strong performance as Brenda. Dennis Quaid (Far from Heaven) as Head Coach Dick Vermeil, Chance Kelly (“Aquarius”) as Coach Mike Martz, and Hayden Zaller as Brenda’s blind son Zack round out the rest of the major players in a stellar cast.

American Underdog focuses on the struggles Warner faced along his journey to sport’s biggest stage and the never-give-up attitude he adopted when the whole world was seemingly against him. Regardless of the many roadblocks in his way, Warner never stopped believing he’d one day achieve his dream of playing in the NFL.

Although he didn’t start for Northern Iowa until his senior year, when he was the Offensive Player of the Year for the Gateway Conference, he thought he would be drafted during the 1994 NFL Draft. When his name wasn’t called, he still expected to make an NFL roster. He was invited to the Green Bay Packers’ training camp but was cut shortly after arriving at camp.

Looking for a way to make some money, he took a low-paying job at a Hy-Vee grocery store stocking shelves after hours. Faced with an uncertain future, Brenda, whom Warner had met during his senior year, told him, “Don’t give up.”

He didn’t.

The following year, Warner signed with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League (AFL), believing it could be the springboard he needed to reach the NFL. The Barnstormers, with Warner under center, went to the ArenaBowl (the AFL’s version of the Super Bowl) in back-to-back years (1996-97), losing both times.

His time and success in the AFL caught the eye of scouts for the St. Louis Rams. He was brought in to compete for a back-up quarterback, but then Green went down before the start of the 1999 regular season. Warner took over, and the rest as they say is history.

The Final Drive

I’ve been a big football fan for a long time. As an extension of my fandom, I also love good football movies … and this is one of the best football movies I’ve seen. For me, it ranks right up there with Remember the Titans and 12 Mighty Orphans.

Additionally, I was a fan of the Los Angeles Rams before they moved to St. Louis and the Carolina Panthers started competing in the NFL, both taking place in 1995. Although my hometown team, the Panthers, took over the top spot in my heart, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Rams. Therefore, I was somewhat familiar with Warner’s story of humble beginnings.

But what makes American Underdog such a great movie is its perfect blend of writing, direction, and acting all tied together beautifully with an inspiring story that will have everyone rooting for one of the biggest underdogs in sports history – Kurt Warner – as he follows his dreams.

And as Coach Vermeil says in the movie, “Destiny belongs to the underdogs.”