Kurt Warner speaks at a New York Giants press conference on July 3. (Pinkus Photos via www.KurtWarner.org)
Kurt Warner Two-time National Football League MVP
Kurt Warner's improbable rise from undrafted cast-off to Superbowl MVP is the stuff that dreams are made of, and one of the greatest stories in National Football League history. But for Kurt, Jesus is the real MVP. It all comes down to putting first things first.
Like many boys, Iowa-born Kurt Warner dreamed of playing in the National Football League. The stand-out high school athlete didn't start at quarterback until his senior year of college, however, and then went undrafted by the NFL. He signed as a free agent with the Green Bay Packers in 1994, but was released later that same year. He spent the next three years playing for the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League - the lowest rung on the professional football ladder - supplementing his income with other jobs like stocking shelves in his home town of Cedar Rapids.
It was around this time that Kurt gained a new understanding in his personal faith.
"For a good portion of my life I struggled with what it meant to be a Christian," Kurt says, "but one day about seven years ago, all the questions were cleared up for me and it changed my life. Being a Christian didn't have anything to do with who I was, what I knew or how I lived; it had everything to do with Jesus... It is about how Jesus comes into a life and transforms you from the inside-out. When God changed me, He began showing me who I was and what I was capable of being."
What Kurt was capable of being was an inspiration both on and off the field.
In December of 1997, the St. Louis Rams signed Kurt to a contract and allocated him to the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe where he started every game of the season, leading the league in passes, completions, passing yards and touchdown passes, earning himself a spot on the Rams' roster in the process.
In 1999, something really incredible happened. When Trent Green, the Rams' starting quarterback, was injured in a pre-season game, Kurt was thrust into the spotlight. He didn't disappoint, leading the Rams to a 13-3 regular season record and a victory over Tennessee in Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta. His 109.2 passer rating was a league and career high and was the fifth-highest rating in NFL history, and his Superbowl-record 424 yards passing earned him the game's MVP award.
Matthew 6:33 says "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you," Kurt observes. "(This verse) encourages me to set aside everything I ever thought was important and focus on what He is telling me is important. From the day I became a Christian, until the day I see Jesus face to face, my goal in life is to align my thoughts, my actions and my life with the perfect plan of my Heavenly Father. This, to me, is what being a Christian is all about and the reason Matthew 6:33 has changed my life.
"God has shown me time and time again that my greatest joys and successes come, not when I am following my own desires, but when I am following Him," Kurt continues. "I am amazed every time I go through a situation in life and then look back at the experience and see how God was working in it. How God was teaching me, protecting me, preparing me, and sustaining me through my past."
On the field, Kurt's success has been amazing. His career passer rating of 97.2 is the best in NFL history among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 1,500 passes. His 66.41% career completion percentage is also highest in NFL history and his average of 8.56 yards per pass attempt is second behind Otto Graham (8.63). He reached the 10,000 yard plateau faster than any other quarterback in league history, accomplishing the feat in only his 36th game, and he has won the league MVP award twice, in 1999 and 2001, leading his team to the Superbowl in each of those years.
Off the field, Kurt is even more impressive. Along with his wife, Brenda, he is raising five children (sons Zachary, Kade and Elijah and daughters Jesse and Jada) and volunteering time, effort and resources to reach out to the world through his First Things First Foundation.
"I have learned when you put God first no matter where you are, no matter whom you're with and no matter what you are going through, He will never disappoint you," Kurt says. "He may not always give you what you thought you needed, but He always gives you what is best to fulfill His call for your life. Through my experiences I have learned the essence of Matthew 6:33 and what it truly means to be a Christian - 'First Things First'."
Through the First Things First Foundation, Kurt and Brenda share God's love with as many people as they can: delivering baskets and prayers to recently diagnosed cancer patients; building recreational areas at children's hospitals to encourage young men and women who are battling injury, illness and disease; furnishing homes for single parents who have worked hard to become first time homeowners; and many other endeavours.
"Seeking first things first has become my life," Kurt explains. "Everyday I wake up with the scripture Matthew 6:33 in my mind, asking God to lead me, mould me, guide me and use me to accomplish His purpose: to reach the world with the good news of Jesus."
Kurt seeks out opportunities to share the good news with "anyone who will listen", preaching in Christian circles with the hope of encouraging others to "fall in love with Jesus", and speaking at corporate and governmental functions about success, perseverance, and goals, always with the underlying message of the Gospel.
Kurt is also involved in an animated video/DVD series called The Good Sports Gang, designed to instruct 4 to 8 year-old kids on the importance of faith, fair play, teamwork, and sportsmanship, all in a fun-filled and engaging way. Brenda Warner, along with experts in early childhood education, has developed Baby Good Sports, a similar video/DVD series for infants and toddlers.
"I just have to give praise to the Lord up above," Kurt told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1999, "He's using me in a special way. As we've seen before, He takes people that nobody expects to do anything, and He uses them for big things."
Kurt recently signed on with the New York Giants, where he brings experience to a group of young quarterbacks.
"The presence of Kurt's veteran leadership is going to be a great benefit to this team, especially our young quarterbacks," said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. "Our young quarterbacks will benefit from his veteran leadership and his work ethic on the field."
"I kept hearing great things about the Giants organization," says Kurt. "This is a great opportunity for me."