Total package

The game consumes us. It triggers our anger, our sadness and happiness, our grief. It causes grown men, and women, to act as they would never act. <BR><BR>

It forces us to cheer bad people and boo good people. It keeps us from seeing the heart and soul of those involved.

It brings us to this: Did they win or did they lose? End of story.

The game, in so many ways, doesn't mesh with Giants quarterback Kurt Warner.

Because the game is supposed to consume players the way it consumes fans and coaches and media. Warner won't let the game consume him. Don't get the wrong idea: He's committed. He spends hours preparing for the game. He cares. Ask cancer patients about Warner's competitiveness after he beats them in video games during hospital stops. But the game is just a part of Warner. A piece that tests his faith, in himself, in mankind. He is known as the two-time NFL most valuable player, a Super Bowl MVP and architect of one of the best three-year runs of any quarterback in league history. He is known for following that run with two miserable seasons in which he suffered several injuries and ultimately lost his job with the Rams.

Now comes Warner's debut with the Giants. Here he is back in the Arena League, which means back to proving himself and facing skepticism from gridiron geniuses everywhere.

"I know the feeling is out there,'' Warner says at his locker. "I don't worry about it too much. I don't feel that personally I have to go prove anything to anybody.''

The words drip confidence, not arrogance. Warner had proven himself long before ecstasy turned to agony in St. Louis, long before the Giants called, long before he beat the hotshot rook in a spirited quarterback competition.

There was the day in 1992 when he knocked on the door of a woman he had hung out with the previous night at an Iowa line dancing hall called Wild E. Coyote. She answered the door and Warner handed her a red rose. She had made it clear the previous night: Divorced, two kids and it's OK if you don't want to see me again.

"I'd like to meet your kids,'' Warner said at the door. Pretty soon Warner, a student at Northern Iowa, was joining her and the kids for popcorn and movies at her parents' house. The kids fell for Warner. There was daughter Jesse and son Zachary, legally blind and brain damaged from an early fall.

Sure, Warner proved himself by starring for the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena League after being cut by Green Bay in 1994, after stocking shelves at a Hy-Vee grocery store at night. Sure he proved himself by playing NFL Europe and signing with the Rams as their third-string quarterback in '98. Sure he proved himself by taking advantage of an opportunity – Trent Green's season-ending injury – in '99 and leading St. Louis to the Super Bowl championship.

But he really started proving himself three years earlier when he became a born-again Christian. Two months earlier, his girlfriend's parents had been killed in a tornado. She couldn't understand why God would do such a thing.

"I just felt that God put me there to be a shoulder for her to cry on, to be a rock, and I tried to play my role,'' Warner says in his autobiography, 'All Things Possible.' They finally married in October 1998. In April 2001 Brenda and Kurt Warner started a foundation called First Things First. They now have five children and spend most of their free time helping kids.

"Kurt and Brenda are both very large-hearted people,'' says Rusty Maple, who met the Warners through the church." Just an air of giving is their real defining trait.''

Warner will call and shape most of the conversation around Maple. "Kurt, this is a huge week for you," Maple said five days before the season opener.

"I feel great, I'm pumped,'' Warner replied. "So what's with you? Is there anything I can pray for with you?"

Maple was nervous about speaking at his grandfather's funeral on Sept. 11. Warner promised to call on Friday, two days before his Giants debut, and help Maple through it. Warner would rather provide special attention than receive it. Marci Pritts was the Rams director of community relations when approached by Warner's agent with the idea of helping Kurt start the foundation. Pritts was ready to try something new and respected Warner tremendously. She took the job.

Warner studied foundations of other players. Which ones succeeded? Which failed? Why? He finally sent Pritts a three-page handwritten fax outlining his plan. She was floored at the blueprint's attention to detail. It's the kind of focus Warner showed before signing with the Giants, when he memorized 300 plays in three days by studying flip cards with Maple. "I stink,'' Warner would say after memorizing 95 percent of the stack. "Let's do it again.''

Warner spent much of training camp getting comfortable with the offense. There were times when it appeared Eli Manning would win the job. But coach Tom Coughlin finally named Warner starter Aug. 29. Teammates see Warner quickly earning leadership points.

"I think (he's a leader) because he's done so much in this league,'' Amani Toomer says." He's done stuff that only great players have done. I just think he's a consistent person. He is the way he is, the way he appears in everything. He's always positive. That rubs off in practice.'' "He's done anything and everything that you can think of from the quarterback position,'' Ike Hilliard says. "Just having him in the huddle and on the team, along with the little things that he can bring to the table, means a lot.''

Warner, and Brenda, for that matter, had controversial moments his final two seasons in St. Louis. Warner was quoted saying his religious beliefs factored into his benching. Days later Warner released a statement saying, "It was my intention to give an inspirational message about keeping the faith and fighting through adversity. I simply wanted to encourage people to stay true to themselves in good times and bad.''

During a game against the Bears, Warner was asked by Rams coach Mike Martz to relieve a struggling Marc Bulger. Warner knew it was something he wouldn't want done to him. He talked Martz into sticking with Bulger. Some in the media were skeptical.

"That he was hurt, that he had a grudge against coach or Marc," Pritts says, listing the theories thrown around. "Why can't it be what it was?" Brenda Warner rarely has shied from sharing her views. In 2002 she said it was her, not Martz, who suggested to the team Kurt get his injured hand X-rayed. Last year she reportedly told a radio station the Warners would welcome a trade if Kurt remained on the bench. Brenda took heat from fans and the media. To many in a football world overflowing with machismo, Brenda is a needless distraction. These days she isn't doing interviews, Pritts says.

"It bothers some men that I am not quiet and submissive,'' Brenda once told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It bothers them a lot. I will be in an environment with a lot of men and they will be talking to Kurt and I will speak up and say something and they will look at me like, 'What are you talking about?' ''

"She gets such a raw deal,'' Pritts says. "She will protect her family if it kills her. They are a partnership. Both talk in plural.''

Brenda Warner grew up a tomboy on an Iowa farm managed by her dad. She became deeply religious as a youngster, speaking up when her beliefs were questioned by schoolmates. At 18 she was in the Marines stationed in Okinawa, Japan. At 25 she was a single mother attending nursing school and supporting two kids on food stamps.

"There are so many sides to Brenda that the public doesn't see,'' Pritts says. "First of all, she's extremely funny. Two, she's fiercely loyal to family and friends. Three, she's extremely generous.''

The Warners have one rule when out with the kids: No autographs. This from a guy who used to set up a table to sign each day following training-camp practice with the Rams. But the couple wants to show their kids that family comes first.

"His kids could care less about football,'' Pritts says, adding that they rarely go to games. "Kurt loves that, to them, football is just a job.''

It's much more than a job to Warner. It's way more than a job to people watching him. But the game doesn't define Warner, and it never will.

"I was done being amazed a long time ago,'' he says when asked if he's ever amazed at his career. "Now I'm just trying to enjoy it. I give all the credit to God. I'm just going to try to enjoy the ups and downs, highs and lows.''


The Giants Beat Top Stories