Kurt Warner: Beyond the Field
By Jesse Carey
CBN.com - Every year sportswriters, fans and armchair coaches spend the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl breaking down the big game and analyzing the match-ups of football’s biggest night. But along with statistics and offensive schemes, the sub-text surrounding the big game often steals headlines. Whether it’s talk about off-the-field rivalries, high-profile commercial campaigns or controversial half-time shows, it’s frequently the smaller stories that make the Super Bowl such a spectacle. And this year, one of those storylines is the underdog rise of Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner—and the faith that he attributes his success too.
Athletes have long been known for proclamations of gratitude to a higher power after big wins, and this year, Christian quarterbacks have taken center stage as two outspoken believers have risen to football’s two biggest games—the Super Bowl and the BCS Championship.
One of the sportswriters who has commented on the phenomenon of Christian athletes is biographer and columnist Mark Kriegel. Kriegel (whose the author of two acclaimed sports biographies Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich and Namath, both of which are on my bookshelf), has posted a column on FoxSports.com that looks at the outspoken faith of two of America’s top quarterbacks: Super Bowl-bound Kurt Warner and BCS champ Tim Teebow.
Though the column was written before the recent victory by the Cardinals, which sealed their spot in Super Bowl XLIII, Kriegel writes that win or lose, Warner’s story—and his faith—make for an inspiring tale of gridiron success. And, with Warner once again overcoming the odds to beat the Eagles in the NFC championship, Kriegel’s observation about the quarterback’s faith seem even more poignant.
NFL fans know Kurt Warner for his rags to riches story, going from grocery store employee to Super Bowl Champ with the St. Louis Rams in 1999. But his return to the big game this year—after 15 years of pro football—seems almost as improbable as his first appearance. Before this year, the aging QB was a third-string back-up, floating around the league in what appeared to be the twilight of his career. After being named the starter this year, Warner’s gone on to lead his latest team to an NFC championship.
Though his penchant for career comebacks is impressive, Kurt Warner’s best known for his Christian faith, which he says his success is a result of.
Then there’s Tim Teebow, the starting quarterback for the Florida Gators who just led his team to their second National Championship. But this Heisman winner is no ordinary superstar. Along with his practice of painting Bible verses on his face before games, Teebow walks the walk of the faith he so proudly professes. During the summer, he serves alongside his parents who are medical missionaries in the developing countries.
In his column, Kriegel (who doesn’t make any claims to faith in the article) notes that athletes who profess faith have an advantage over other competitors. He contends that because they have a belief in a higher power—and not just in their own earthly abilities—that they possess a confidence that is greater than what the odds-makers can understand.
Though Kriegel goes on to cite other notable Christian athletes like baseball’s Josh Hamilton, golf champion Zach Johnson and boxer Evander Holyfield, he contends that any kind of passionate faith—not just faith in Christ—is what really boosts athletes’ confidence in their game.
Here’s what Kriegel says: “Actually, the issue isn't really religion. It's faith … A system of belief—any system, really—that stills the mind and quells doubt is of obvious benefit, particularly if you're an athlete.”
To this is end, I kind of agree … at least when it comes to confidence. I don’t personally think God is constantly intervening to affect the outcome of sports games to favor the team with the most Christians on them. (God can do whatever He wants, but to me, this just doesn’t seem likely.) Plus, as Kriegel points out, there are athletes of other religions who have been wildly successful after discovering faith; perhaps most memorably was the rise to dominance Cassius Clay saw when he converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
Maybe it was just Muhammad Ali’s natural ability and work ethic that made him great, and maybe his notorious self-confidence (which Kriegel says stemmed from his religious beliefs) gave him an edge in the ring. But there are still plenty of successful athletes who never make public proclamations of faith and still win big games and go on to success on the field and in the ring.
What Kriegel fails to address is the issue that transcends statistics. And no matter who wins on Sunday, fans, critics and commentators still know that there is one area Kurt Warner is still successful in—and that’s character.
Ask any sportswriter, coach or teammate, and they’d all probably say the same thing about Teebow and Warner: They’re men of character. And character isn’t something that can be measured by wins and loses. Reputations aren't tracked by stats, but they're still remembered long after careers have ended. Beyond their success on the field, it’s Warner's and Teebow's character and integrity that they’d say was the greatest testament to their faith in Christ.
And that is what’s so great about believing in the stuff that Christ talked about--loving our neighbors, living selflessly and staying humble. Sure, being a Christian helps give a sense of purpose and calling (which I’m sure carries over to the athletic field), but it also teaches us that success, wealth and fame are fleeting—who we are is what really matters. That’s why I don’t think God is overly concerned with the outcome of games: He doesn’t look at circumstance; He looks at our heart.
One day, even Kurt Warner will retire (though it still might not be anytime soon), but once football and the fame that goes with it are just memories on ESPN Classic, his character—and his faith—are what will endure.
Not every Christian would make a great quarterback. Most probably won’t ever achieve worldwide recognition, fame and fortune—some may not even ever obtain our idea of monetary success. But, ask Kurt Warner or Tim Teebow, and they’d probably tell you, at the end of the day, none of that is really important. What really matters never ends up being recorded in the stat books. They care about something deeper, something bigger than wins and losses. Maybe that’s what makes it such an intriguing storyline.
Send Jesse your comments on this article.
CBN IS HERE FOR YOU!
Are you seeking answers in life? Are you hurting?
Are you facing a difficult situation?
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.