He got signed by the St. Louis Rams in 1998 — at the time, the team was one of the worst in the league — and, following a stint with an Amsterdam team of the NFL Europe league, eventually made the team. He was paid the NFL’s minimum salary. When the team’s starting quarterback got hurt prior to the 1999 regular season, the coach tried Warner, who promptly propelled the Rams to a record of 13-3, was voted the league’s Most Valuable Player, then led the Rams on Jan. 30, 2000, to a 23-16 Super Bowl triumph over the Tennessee Titans, throwing for a Super Bowl–record 414 yards and being voted the game’s MVP.
He took the Rams to another Super Bowl two seasons later, which the New England Patriots won with a field goal after Warner’s touchdown pass tied the score with 90 seconds left. Seven years later, Warner played in a third Super Bowl, where his 64-yard TD pass late in the fourth quarter put his Arizona Cardinals on top before the Pittsburgh Steelers pulled out a 27-23 win.
“It’s the most amazing example of the shortfalls of NFL scouting in recent history,” says Leigh Steinberg, who as an agent represented NFL quarterbacks like Troy Aikman, Steve Young and Warren Moon. “Through sheer dedication and strength of will, Kurt Warner was able to rise from minor-league football to the Super Bowl.”
It’s why, to this day, Warner is unwilling to let others give up without a fight. He was chosen to host the USA Network’s first venture into reality television, The Moment, a nine-episode series premiering this month in which ordinary, everyday people are ambushed by Warner and his crew and offered a chance to fulfill a lifelong career dream — to become a sports photographer, a race-car driver, an orchestra conductor, a chef — whatever their heart desires.
“Some of them might say, ‘Oh, wow, they’re giving me my dream job.’ No, we are not. We’re not giving anybody anything except a second chance to prove themselves,” Warner explains. “Nobody said to me, ‘We’re going to give you a Super Bowl.’ They said, ‘We’re giving you an opportunity — what are you going to do with it?’ ”