Next Sunday is Super Bowl XLIII, the most watched football event of the year. And I’m bummed. I’ll be in Australia on business. Due to the time zone differences, I’ll probably miss the Pittsburgh Steelers going head-to-head with the Arizona Cardinals for the NFL World Championship. For a number of reasons I think it’ll be quite the game. Clearly the underdog, Arizona is hungry for the win–this isthe first time the Cardinals have made it to the big game.
Talk about pressure.
Their secret weapon is veteran quarterback Kurt Warner. Some say he’s the best QB in the game, although at age 37, he’s considered “ancient” as far as QB’s are concerned. He’s won two NFL MVP awards and, while playing for the Rams, Kurt snapped up the Super Bowl MVP award during Super Bowl XXXIV. But there’s a part of Kurt’s story that’s especially interesting to me.
I’ll get to that in a moment.
The Steelers have the advantage. They’ve made six previous trips to the Super Bowl and claimed five of those titles. That’s some record. With cornerback Troy Polamalu’s playmaking skill and the unstoppable Steeler blitz, they look hard to beat. But don’t count the Cardinals out. In true storybook fashion, Arizona rose from the bottom, battling their way through three decisive playoff games to reach the top. Much of that can be attributed to Kurt–a man who doesn’t give up when faced with tough odds.
While playing quarterback at Northern Iowa, Kurt dreamed of making it to the NFL. All he wanted was a chance to prove himself, but nobody in the league was interested. In 1992, Kurt met Brenda Carney Meoni, a former marine and single mother of two children. During that first encounter, she told Kurt the story of her oldest son, Zachary. Born healthy, when Zachary was just four months old, his bio-dad accidentally dropped him causing severe brain damage.
Working to save his life, the doctors were unsure whether or not Zachary would ever see, having ruptured both of his retinas. Beyond that, the physicians had doubts that Zachary could learn to walk, or talk–let alone live. Adding to Brenda’s personal heartache was the inability for her first husband to deal with the injuries he had caused. When Brenda was eight months pregnant, she found herself deserted; left alone with the task of raising an infant and a critically handicapped, brain-damaged toddler.
Captivated by her irrepressible spirit, Kurt bought Brenda flowers and asked to meet her boys. For five years, Kurt and Brenda dated. Along the way, in 1994, Kurt watched his NFL dreams evaporate when he was signed–and was then cut–by the Green Bay Packers after training camp. To make ends meet, he took a job stocking groceries at a Hy-Vee supermarket for less than $6 an hour.
But he never gave up on his dream.
From 1995 to 1997, Kurt played arena football, signing with the Iowa Barnstormers–a far cry from the NFL. Tragically, in 1996, Brenda’s parents were both killed in a tornado. That family crisis, along with career and financial setbacks, proved to be the driving force sending Kurt to his knees. Realizing he needed the Lord, he gave his life to Jesus.
In 1997, things started looking up when Kurt and Brenda decided to marry. On the heels of his honeymoon, Kurt was scheduled to tryout for the Chicago Bears. Bitter disappointment struck again when a nasty spider bite on his throwing arm prevented him from auditioning. That same year the Rams signed him as a third-string quarterback.
But his big break was to come in 1999 when the starting quarterback, Trent Green, was injured during the preseason. With remarkable skill, Kurt led the Rams–who had the worst record of any team in that decade–to a trip to the Super Bowl. Stunned by his “overnight” success, moving from supermarket clerk to a Super Bowl hero, Sports Illustrated placed Kurt on their cover (10/18/99) and asked, “Who IS this guy?” Incidentally, he’s been on the Sports Illustrated cover several times and is back (1/20/09) with the lead story, “Why Arizona Will Win the Super Bowl.” So, who is this guy?
Here’s what grabbed my attention.
In the book All Things Possible Kurt says, “I believe that the Lord has a plan for each of us that’s better than anything we can imagine–even if that plan isn’t obvious to us at every stage. He prepared me for this over a long period of time–in lower-profile locker rooms and the grocery store and in Europe, through all the personal tragedies and in spite of the people who doubted me along the way.”
Kurt went on to discuss his motivation: “Whether I’m a Super Bowl Champion or a regular guy stocking groceries at the Hy-Vee, sharing my faith and glorifying Jesus is the central focus of my time on this earth. And the fact that I now have a podium, I believe, is no coincidence. I want to be a role model for Christ in everything that I do. Living my life for Him and showing people the beauty of that reality is my mission in life.”
Which is why in 2001, Kurt and Brenda, who now have seven children, pooled their resources to create First Things First. The goal of their non-profit ministry is to promote faith-based resources for children and families. Whether or not the Cardinals ultimately upset the Steelers, I’d say Kurt has already won where it matters most in life–with his faith and his family.
Now, if only I can find a way to watch the game while I’m in Australia!