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Ram Shackled

Dec. 08, 2003
Dec. 08, 2003

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Dec. 8, 2003

Ram Shackled

Sports stinks. Sports can be crueler than a bald man's winning
free blow-dries for life. Sports will lift you up in front of the
whole assembly, crown you king and then give you a wedgie.

This is an article from the Dec. 8, 2003 issue Original Layout

Take the case of Kurt Warner.

Two years ago nobody in sports sizzled more than the St. Louis
Rams' quarterback. He was Elvis in a chin strap. Handsome,
talented, virtuous and heroic, he was the sports story of the
year. Tell us again, Kurt, how you worked your way up from a
grocery stocker's job to king of the NFL.

He could throw a spiral through a cuff-link hole. He won two
MVPs. He won a Super Bowl, and two years later he nearly won
another. He remains the highest-rated career passer in NFL
history. He hung with Leno and Letterman. He wrote a book. He got
his own segments on two TV shows in St. Louis. Destiny kissed him
at every turn.

And then, for no damn reason, Destiny decided to ralph all over
him.

After two years of hand and shoulder injuries, plus his third
concussion, he appears to have literally lost his grip. In the
season-opening loss to the New York Giants he fumbled six times
and lost his eighth straight start. He hasn't played since. The
spirals that came off his hand like spun gold two years ago
suddenly seemed to come off like frozen hams.

Now he's the backup to Marc Bulger. Now people are wondering if
his career is deader than Menudo's. "I just think he got hit too
much," says one NFL general manager. "He doesn't look comfortable
in the pocket anymore."

He spends his weekdays as the world's only $9-million-a-year
scout teamer. After Rams games he dresses quickly so he can get
out of the way of the gaggle of reporters wanting to talk to
Bulger. He goes home and refuses to watch other teams' games. "If
I do, I sit there and think, I could be playing for them," he
grumbles.

Once the cool couple in the NFL, Kurt and his wife, Brenda, are
getting scratched like instant lottery cards. After Brenda, a
former Marine cryptologist, started phoning in to a talk-radio
show to defend her husband, she was called Yoko Warner.

"For three years," Kurt says, "everybody wanted my wife to come
here, come there, come speak to their groups. Everybody wanted
the inside scoop on the Warners. Now, there's this: 'Well, he's
not playing well, what do we need her for?' Now they talk about
her looks, her hairstyles, what she wore to the Super Bowl--a
blue sweater with feathers on it. I mean, what difference does it
make?"

What curdles his milk is his belief that he can still be the best
quarterback in the league. "I know I can still play this game as
well as anybody ever," he says.

Why, then, did he do what he did three weeks ago during a game in
Chicago? St. Louis coach Mike Martz saw Bulger drowning against
the Bears, so he turned to Warner and asked, "You ready to go
in?" But instead of clamping on his helmet and warming up, Warner
said, "Coach, to be honest, I don't think that would be the
fairest thing to do to Marc. He deserves a chance to fight
through it."

So Martz stayed with Bulger, who came back to win that game.
Martz hasn't looked Warner's way since. Uh, Kurt, were you raised
by chumps?

"I know I wouldn't have wanted to be pulled in that situation,"
he says. "Besides, the Bible says, Do unto others as you'd have
them do unto you. That's the example I'm trying to set."

Did Bulger at least thank you?

"Well, uh, no," says Warner, sheepishly. "That kind of surprised
me, but I'm sure he appreciated it."

All of which means Warner is Super Glued to the Rams' bench. They
don't want to play him, and they'd take a huge salary-cap hit if
they traded him. Ever scrupled, Warner believes they'll do the
right thing.

"If they decide Marc is their future, I'm sure they'd let me go,"
says Warner. "I mean, that would be a travesty to have me sitting
on the bench. I'm still in the prime of my career!"

Even if Warner has lost the mojo as fast as it came, if the salad
days are wilted, let it be said that he never changed--biggie or
bagger, celebrity or calamity. Never changed his values or his
manners.

In fact, for this piece, he returned my call in 20 minutes. "It's
Kurt Warner," he told my answering service.

"Kirk Warren?" the operator said.

"No. Warner. Kurt Warner."

"Hold on, Mr. Warren."

Sports is heartless.

If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to reilly@siletters.com.

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

The spirals that came off Kurt Warner's hand like spun gold two
years ago suddenly seemed to come off like frozen hams.