In the spring, former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner appears on USA Network as host of “The Moment,” a reality series in which people who had to let go of a cherished ambition get a second chance at achieving their dreams.
Second chances are something Warner knows about. After remaining undrafted in 1994, he got to try out for the Green Bay Packers’ training camp that same year, but was released before the beginning of the regular season. Told he wasn’t ready to throw the ball in the NFL, Warner moved in with his in-laws and got a night job stocking shelves at a grocery store in Cedar Falls, Iowa, for $5.50 an hour.
He later went to work for his alma mater, the University of Northern Iowa, as an assistant coach. When no NFL team wanted him, Warner then found success in the Arena Football League, which lead to a failed tryout invitation from the Chicago Bears.
When the NFL still didn’t come courting, Warner signed on with NFL Europe. Impressing observers there, he returned to the U.S. as a third-string QB for the St. Louis Rams. Finally, in 1999, he broke out of the pack and wound up the NFL MVP at the end of the season, ultimately leading the Rams to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV on Jan. 30, 2000.
He retired in January, 2010, after 12 seasons.
So, when Warner looks at the ups and downs of other athletes, he brings the perspective of someone who persevered for years to become an overnight success. But he says he really didn’t have someone guiding him along the way.
“When I was going through my struggles,” Warner tells Zap2it, “working in a grocery store and bouncing around, I didn’t really have anybody that mentored me or encouraged me. … From a football standpoint, I was mostly just self-motivated, where I believed that was what I was supposed to do.”
Of late, a trio of athletes seems to have hit stumbling blocks.
Asked what he’d say to Notre Dame football standout Manti Te’o, who’s wound up at the middle of a perplexing saga involving an apparently nonexistent Internet girlfriend and claims of an elaborate hoax, Warner replies, “it’s one of the weirdest situations that I’ve ever heard about. I don’t really know what to believe and what way’s up.
“The one thing that we know about Manti — at least what we think we know — is that he’s a sincere, honest, trusting person. My advice to him would be, ‘Just continue to be who you are. If the facts are what you say they are, then continue to be the guy that you are, because that’s what’s resonated with a whole bunch of people. Don’t become calloused and change your character because of this ugly, terrible hoax that was played on you.’
“To me, that’s what’s endeared so many people to him, is his character and humility.”
Yesterday and today (Thursday and Friday, Jan. 17 and 18), Oprah Winfrey’s OWN cable channel has been airing her two-part interview with cyclist Lance Armstrong, whose lies about blood-doping and using performance-enhancing drugs — and his efforts to silence those who spoke up about it — have now eclipsed his accomplishments as a professional cyclist and his efforts, as a cancer survivor, to raise money for research into the disease.
“We want to have something to aspire to and believe,” he says, “that it can be done. That’s where it gets so rough on people with Lance Armstrong. I don’t want to say just athletes — because of course, it’s every profession, pastors, corporate leaders — but we want to believe that there is something for us to aspire to, that there’s something better that we can be, that you can achieve it.”
Warner has his own role model, saying, “I use my faith, and I know that Jesus isn’t going to let me down.”
Speaking of faith, it wasn’t the easiest football season for openly Christian NFL QB Tim Tebow, who left the Denver Broncos — which he led to a playoff berth last year — for the New York Jets, which barely allowed him a chance to play at all. Warner can relate to Tebow’s troubles.
“Even when I got to the NFL,” he says, “I had my highs and lows. I believe that, if you stay true to your character and if you represent the right things, that the cream always rises to the top. That doesn’t always mean he’s going to get opportunities to win a bunch of football games and win Super Bowls, but I believe that character shines through at these moments, as much as anything.
“I remember when I won a Super Bowl and did all of that, and then I got benched a couple of years later. I’m sitting on the bench, and I remember numerous media people coming to me and saying, ‘You know what, I’ve been watching you for three years, and your life and what you stand for has ministered to me more now that you’re sitting on the bench. You haven’t changed one bit from the guy who was standing on the Super Bowl platform.’
“My advice to anybody, the lasting legacy of our lives is not going to be how many passes we throw, because somebody will throw more, or how many Super Bowls we win, because somebody will win more. Or, they’ll forget about it and move on.
“The lasting legacy is, what kind of impact do you have on people with your character? That’s what I would tell Tim Tebow, and that’s the unfortunate thing about Lance Armstrong.
“He tried to make his impact with his successes — with the seven Tours he won and all of those things. Ultimately, his legacy will be defined by the character that he showed or didn’t show, in what he’s done over the last 15 years.”
Warner also worries about whether the Lance Armstrongs of the world have lived on borrowed glory, taken from athletes who played by the rules and might have been stars if not for those who didn’t.
“They might have dominated,” Warner says, “if everybody did it the right way, and you never hear their names, and they never succeed. They never get what’s really coming to them, because you cheated or everybody cheated.
“I just wonder if they ever consider those people that did it the right way, and how their whole career was squashed or turned upside-down because other cheated. I always wonder what their thoughts are with that.”