Glory Be

"My goals go way beyond football," Warner said. "I know my purpose is to affect and impact lives in a positive way. And in my case, that also means sharing my belief in Jesus."

Giants fans view Kurt Warner's arrival with excitement simply because of his two MVP awards and matching Super Bowls during six seasons with the Rams.

It's a natural reaction. Few quarterbacks emerged so dramatically from humble surroundings as Warner from 1999 to 2001, an era that transformed his team and redefined how offense could be played.

But triumph on the field does not completely define him. For Warner, fame serves a more noble purpose than creating vast wealth and notoriety. It has given him the forum to serve what he believes is the true purpose of his life.

"Who am I? I am a devout Christian man," Warner told a crowd of 40,000 at a 1999 Billy Graham evangelical event in St. Louis. "I am not a football player. That is what I do. When I throw a touchdown pass now, my thoughts are on how I can use this success on the field as a platform to glorify and praise my Lord Jesus Christ. People often ask the secret of my success as a football player. It has nothing to do with how I work out in the offseason or my diet. The secret of my success is simply Jesus Christ."

At the same time, his tendency to acquiesce to God's will in rationalizing the twists and turns of his career has given rise to cynics who doubt his commitment in the last two seasons, when injuries sapped his skill and ultimately forced the Rams to release him.

Some in the Rams organization believed he didn't fight or care enough to rebound quickly from lingering hand injuries and two concussions, giving coach Mike Martz little choice but to replace him with Marc Bulger.

Warner denies this. But what's certain is Warner also doesn't approach life as a conventional NFL player.

"Nothing is above this guy," a former Rams official said recently. "Remember, he once stocked grocery shelves. He's genuine in every way. If there's an American dream, he's living it. People try to find flaws figuring no one could be this good. But it's not the case. That's him. He'll always do what's best for the team. No matter what type of day you're having, you talk to him and he's always filled with so much optimism. You can't help but feel better."

Should Warner play only one season for the Giants, as many suspect, before he hands the ball to Eli Manning, Warner insists he will spend it rebuilding a career many say is over.

"I never allowed myself to believe that it was over," Warner said during minicamp. "I always kept the mindset that I would get another shot and do again what I've always done. My faith and my priorities helped me with that. I knew I'd been blessed to be in the position I was to that point. I figured if we weren't going to be able to continue things in St. Louis, we'd do it somewhere else."

What's also clear is that the community outside Giants Stadium is in store for a revival equally as dynamic.

"The time Kurt spent here was not only a time of great winning, it was about the style with which it is done," Rams president of football operations Jay Zygmunt said after Warner's release June 1. "Kurt embodied everything that is great about America. He's a role model's role model. He touched everyone personally and professionally. He's a very special person and you can't help but root for him."

Faith Foundation

Much of Warner's benevolence is channeled through his foundation – First Things First – founded with his wife, Brenda, in 2001.

"I will bring everything that I can along with me," Warner said. "People from my foundation are coming to New York to find a place where we can set up shop. We're also going to remain in St. Louis and continue to do the things we did there. We look at this as an opportunity to expand the ministry we've started. We've always got new ideas and it's our intent to try and implement them."

The Warners, along with their corporate and private partners, help send ill children to Disney World, establish scholarships and construct recreation centers in children's hospitals. They are working on a video series, "The Good Sports Gang," that teaches children about sportsmanship.

Last December, a winter coat collection before a home game in St. Louis accumulated 9,000 garments for shelters and raised almost $7,000. "Warner's Corner," a recreation center for teen patients, was dedicated at a local hospital.

After the Giants' final minicamp ended, Warner returned to St. Louis to conduct a flag football tournament that serves as a major corporate fundraiser for his foundation.

"My goals go way beyond football," Warner said. "I know my purpose is to affect and impact lives in a positive way. And in my case, that also means sharing my belief in Jesus."

This consuming spirituality can be traced to incalculable tragedies that struck his wife during the time they were dating.

Warner met Brenda at a country and western dance when he was playing at Northern Iowa in 1992. A divorced mother of two, she was living with her parents, trying to put her life back together while dealing with the health concerns of her son, Zachary, who was rendered legally blind and brain damaged after he slipped from his father's hands and hit his head in the bathtub when he was 4 months old.

Brenda's parents were killed in 1996 when a tornado destroyed their home in Arkansas hours after they canceled plans to attend church and be baptized. Brenda's mother had wanted to stay home because of a headache.

The Warners were married in 1998 and Kurt soon adopted the children. By the time Warner's career with the Rams bloomed in 1999, his theological views had also crystallized.

"We've been through a lot of things," Warner said. "We realize what is important."

Giants coach Tom Coughlin, his impatience with distraction well documented, does not anticipate a problem.

"He has his beliefs that are solid," Coughlin said. "He doesn't wear it on his sleeve. I've been to dinner with him and enjoyed it. I have respect for his beliefs and it's not going to affect his job."

Yet Coughlin must know how flustered the Rams ultimately grew with Warner, whom they believed grew increasingly passive about football because of his devotion. He angered the Rams by making comments at a Baptist gathering on Super Bowl Sunday in Houston that intimated the Rams asked him to concentrate a little more on football and a little less on the Bible.

"That's so far off the wall it's incomprehensible," Rams coach Mike Martz responded. "I can't imagine Kurt saying that. Nothing could be further from the truth. If he said it, it's a bald-faced lie. I'm just tired of dealing with this type of behavior."

Although Warner says those comments were misconstrued, it was the kind of incident that has moved those who don't understand him to characterize him as eccentric, perhaps even a little weird.

"My faith will always be first and foremost, no matter what I do. I will defend that until the day I leave the earth," Warner said. "So I don't really worry about being asked to defend it. I am going to do what I was called to do and follow what I know my priorities are, no matter what anyone else says, no matter what happens in my life."

No Interruptions

Warner is anxious to share his faith with his new teammates but promises not to intrude.

"The first thing you need to do in any situation is to earn people's respect for what you are, what you stand for, what you are all about," Warner said. "You have to earn the role of a leader on the field for people to feel comfortable leaning on you for help off the field. My faith is central to the way I live and it lends itself to interaction with those who may be wavering or not sure about what they want. I've already had a couple of people approach me in the first few days [he's been with the Giants] with questions about my faith.

"I will live the way I think I should. My faith is my focal point. I am open to anyone looking for camaraderie or fellowship, whether it's bible study, going to church or just prayer. What the group or dynamic will ultimately resemble is hard to say right now."

Veteran linebacker Mike Barrow, who now plays for the Redskins, was an energetic proselytizer during four seasons (2000-03) with the Giants. He was famous for employing religious analogies in postgame interviews. While some of his teammates appreciated it, others viewed it with skepticism.

"Mike Barrow was very outward about it. You either listened to him or you tuned him out. But it wasn't a divisive thing, either way," Tiki Barber said. "It's important that Kurt develops individual relationships in the locker room and approaches players [about sharing his faith] from there. It's a very personal situation with players. I don't think Kurt's the kind of guy that will force it. He understands how different people have different views. If you feel comfortable with him, it'll be the right situation and you can associate [with him]. That's how it works. Some guys don't want to have religion thrown at them in the workplace. They don't want to be associated with it. It's just a matter of building relationships and that's what he's doing right now."

Not surprisingly, Warner feels last season – he appeared in only one game after fumbling six times and sustaining a concussion in the opener against the Giants – was the best of his career because of the spiritual growth he experienced while injured.

It's the kind of logic many in the NFL consider lopsided. But to Warner's friends and family, it's that very logic that endears him to them.

"His circumstances [in 2003] weren't dictating his values as a man and his attitude on life," said former Rams tight end Ernie Conwell, one of Warner's best friends. "If you look at his history, every time he's been challenged he has thrived. I have no doubt that he'll come back and possibly have his best year ever."

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