Starring role doesn't throw Rams' Warner

Unheralded QB happy to get opportunity to bask in limelight

Super Bowl XXXIV

January 26, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The podium at the Georgia Dome yesterday was surrounded on three sides by minicams and sportswriters from as far away as Germany.

It's the kind of reception the quarterback on a Super Bowl team gets on media day as the hype machine geared up for Sunday's climax to the 1999 NFL season.

It's old hat for players like John Elway and Brett Favre.

But Kurt Warner?

Steve Sabol, head of NFL Films, said the St. Louis Rams quarterback is the greatest story in NFL history.

Warner, who played one year in college, was cut by the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent, went to the Arena League and NFL Europe and stocked shelves at a supermarket, is now the starting quarterback in the Super Bowl.

"You could take this story to Hollywood and they'd laugh you right out of the room," Sabol said.

For Warner, truth is stranger than fiction.

The amazing thing is that success shows no signs of spoiling Kurt Warner. He was as unassuming in the glare of the media spotlight yesterday as he was last year when he was the Rams' third-string quarterback and they played Steve Bono in front of him after Tony Banks got hurt.

He just seems to enjoy all the silliness that comes with the Super Bowl.

When a man from the Cartoon Network asked him which cartoon character he'd vote for for president, he studied the list as if he were taking it seriously.

He finally selected Bugs Bunny -- because he was from Warner Brothers.

Then there was the man from MTV, who said, "I'm going to tell you, my man, I wish you win, because I have a lot of respect for you."

After the man from MTV left the area, the rest of the reporters couldn't resist asking him if he watches MTV.

"It's not one of my stations on remote control," he said.

So you don't know who those people were?

"I don't have any idea. Don't tell them that," he said.

It's not surprising that Warner, who seems to have stepped out of the 1950s, isn't an MTV guy.

He's just taking being in the spotlight in stride.

"I guess this is the Super Bowl. I just keep answering the same questions I've been answering for 20 weeks now. I think you have to enjoy it," he said.

He hopes he can remain on an even keel in the glare of the spotlight.

"I hope the people that I surround me with me really hold me accountable and keep me focused on what's important. It's not any of the material things. It's not any of the money, fame and fortune. I like to think that stuff is not going to affect me," he said.

Warner is making the $250,000 minimum for a second-year player, although the Rams gave him a $500,000 bonus at the end of the year when they had that much left under the cap. But don't look for him to be holding out in the future.

"Obviously, I'd love to be able to take care of my family for the rest of our lives, just like anybody would. That's not my focus in life and that's not what is most important to me. I don't foresee myself myself holding out," he said.

Warner just seems to be enjoying himself.

"It's just been a fun atmosphere. It's been exciting. I couldn't ever have told you all this stuff would happen."

He's also grounded in his religious faith.

"You can't get caught up in anything in this world. Obviously, I've seen where I was about three years ago and having nothing, and now I have everything, and three years from now I might have nothing again. I've always got my faith in the Lord. He helped to ground me a long time ago when he had me in those other situations," he said.

Warner isn't in a mood to complain about being overlooked in the past.

"I try not to listen to all of that. If you get caught up in what everybody else is saying, it's going to bring you down. I've always believed in myself and I've always believed that I had the talent to get to this level," he said.

He has to wonder if this isn't all a dream and he's going to wake up and be stocking shelves again.

"Yeah, it has hit me [that he's in the Super Bowl]," he said. "It only took a few hours after the [NFC title] game for me to realize that we finally made it here. Hopefully, that will wear off in a couple of days and we'll get back to concentrating on football."

Warner doesn't view himself as a celebritym but he doesn't lack self-confidence, either.

"I just went out and did what I expected myself to do from day one. It just happens that some people who hadn't seen me to it got to see me do it this year," he said.

Super Bowl XXXIV

St. Louis Rams (15-3)

vs. Tennessee Titans (16-3)

When: Sunday, 6:25 p.m.

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

TV: Chs. 2, 7

Line: Rams by 7

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