Story of Kurt Warner to Hit Big Screen

Howard Balzer

The rags to riches story of former grocery store stock boy and Super Bowl-winning quarterback Kurt Warner has been chronicled on numerous occasions over the last two decades, culminating in his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of fame in 2017.

Now, the tale is officially being transformed into a major motion picture, with Kingdom Story Company and Lionsgate announcing Wednesday that actor Zachary Levi will star as Warner in American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story with production expected to begin later this year.

The film will be produced and directed by brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin. The writers are David Aaron Cohen (Friday Night Lights), Jon Gunn and Jon Erwin. Also producing is Mark Ciardi (Invincible, The Rookie).

Perhaps not coincidentally, then-Philadelphia Eagles head coach Dick Vermeil was featured in Invincible, which was the story of walk-on Vince Papale. Vermeil, of course, was the St. Louis Rams head coach in 1998 when Warner made the roster cut against the protestations of offensive coordinator Jerry Rhome.

The previous year, Vermeil’s first as the Rams head coach, Rhome brought quarterback Will Furrer to training camp and he beat out quarterback Jamie Martin for a backup roster spot. Martin played in the NFL until 2007 and returned to the Rams from 2001-2005.

Near the end of the 1997 season, Amsterdam Admirals head coach Al Luginbill — who is now the Director of Player Personnel at Arizona State under former NFL head coach and current Sun Devil headmaster Herm Edwards — asked Rams general manager Charley Armey to give a tryout to Warner and sign him so he could be allocated to NFL Europe. Warner was playing Arena Football at the time for the Iowa Barnstormers, but Luginbill wanted to be able to tell Amsterdam fans that their quarterback was on an NFL roster. Warner was productive for the Admirals, while subsequently missing the Rams’ offseason program.

At the end of training camp that summer, Rhome lobbied to keep Furrer again, but Vermeil had a sense there was something special about Warner. Furrer was cut as a result. Furrer then spent some time with the Jacksonville Jaguars that same year, but his NFL career ended after that season. Coincidentally, he also played for the Admirals (in 1995) and was with the Cardinals in 1993.

Meanwhile, Warner came off the bench in the 1998 season finale to complete 4-of-11 passes for 39 yards and was then left unprotected in the 1999 expansion draft for the Cleveland Browns, who selected quarterback Scott Milanovich.

That summer, Warner became the Rams’ starter after quarterback Trent Green suffered a torn ACL in the third preseason game. The rest, as it is said, is history.

It’s not a stretch to speculate that had Warner been cut in 1998 or selected by the Browns in the expansion draft, his remarkable story may have never have happened.

“Kurt’s story is one of relentless faith — in his own abilities but even more so in a higher power," said Levi, who has fashioned a career in television, movies and on Broadway. "When I read Kurt’s story, I identified with the quiet strength he found to persevere — that’s something I think anybody can recognize in their own lives. This is the kind of underdog story that sports movies are all about. And the fact that it’s true makes it even more special. I’m thrilled to be part of bringing his story to audiences.”

Said Andrew Erwin: "This is about an everyman who never let his dream die. Zachary was born to play this role — and when you add in his uncanny resemblance to Kurt Warner, we’re thrilled to be working with him.”

Added Jon Erwin: “Zachary was our first and only choice. He brings a combination of humble charm and charisma, as well as an intense physicality to the role. For our last several films, we have brought inspiring, real-life stories to the big screen and there is something magnificent and magical to Kurt's rise as a champion."