Kurt Warner (Quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals) & Chip Marshall
A coach remembers Kurt Warner
By Chip Marshall USS Southerland Shipmate SH3 1975-1979Loyal as they are, even my two daughters have tired of hearing the story. "We know, we know, Dad. Enough already," Grace, 7, and Bridget, 4, will say in unison, rolling their eyes in exaggeration as I remind them of my fame. The wife, who's heard it, oh, about a million times, wisely excuses herself to walk the dog whenever I begin to replay my fairy tale. But I never will tire of sharing it with folks, especially in the days leading to the Super Bowl.
You see, I coached Kurt Warner back in Iowa, when he was in elementary school, when the Arizona Cardinals' star quarterback was a teenage athlete in my hometown of Cedar Rapids, long before he had thrown for more than 28,000 yards and 180-plus touchdowns during his distinguished, 11-year career in the NFL.
Oh, how I love to tell this story.
Some 25 years ago, when I worked at The Cedar Rapids Gazette newspaper, a fellow sportswriter friend and I volunteered together as coaches for the All Saints School's eighth-grade boys' basketball team. My buddy and colleague, J.R. Ogden, was head coach. I was his deputy assistant. Kurt Warner was our best player.
Kurt was a post/forward on a pretty good team. He didn't hog the ball or demand it. He simply worked hard and went about his business of scoring and rebounding in workman-like fashion. Once in a while, I would pull him aside and say something like, "Kurt, just take it to the basket. They can't stop you. This is your time, baby!" He'd nod his head, almost politely, and do just that. He led us to either the regular season league title or the post-season tournament championship or both. He was well liked by his teammates and as handsome as he is now.
I also remember coaching my Kids League baseball teams against Warner. He was the best player on the field most games, a pitcher and a shortstop, but modest and unassuming. Kurt was a nice, athletic, well-mannered kid with a genuine respect for his coaches.
Later, as Warner grew up, I covered some of his high school football games when he played at Cedar Rapids Regis. He was good, not great, and always a willing, cooperative and gracious interviewee for me.
Kurt headed off to college at the University of Northern Iowa, and I took a job in Dixon, Ill., before settling in Chicago. I followed his story, from fifth-year senior starter and Gateway Conference Player of the Year with the Panthers, to training camp in Green Bay with the Packers, to his years with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League and back to stocking shelves at a Hy-Vee grocery store in Cedar Falls. I'd heard he was playing ball in NFL Europe, in Amsterdam, and then saw in the sports agate that the St. Louis Rams had signed him as their third quarterback.
I watched in near disbelief as Warner emerged in 1999 as the Rams' starter, going on to win the NFL's Most Valuable Player award, a Super Bowl championship and game MVP and yet another league MVP award — all in three seasons. His success as a professional football player blew my mind, and a lot of other people's.
I met up with Warner several years ago. Kurt and his wife, Brenda, were appearing as guest speakers during the regular weekend of spiritual services at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill. Both Warners spoke of Kurt's rise to NFL stardom, but mostly they talked about their faith. As the Warners were leaving the stage, I caught Kurt's eye from my seat below and re-introduced myself.
Warner broke into a big, friendly grin and called out to me, "Chip! Do you live up here now?"
"Yeah, I married a Chicago girl, Kurt," I replied. "J.R. (Ogden) was in my wedding."
With that, Kurt broke free from a pack of church representatives. He reached over the security barrier and shook my hand.
"Are you still coaching?" Kurt asked.
I told him I'd paid my dues and retired. He laughed, we talked some more and someone watching asked if we wanted our picture taken together. Kurt and I both stood tall and this guy snapped a photo, providing me with both a keepsake and the thrill of a lifetime knowing Kurt had remembered an old coach. He left me with a warm pat on the back.
Warner probably won't ask me to present him at Canton, Ohio, where one day he most certainly will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Still, after watching Kurt lead the underdog Cardinals in back-to-back playoff wins over Carolina and Philadelphia, and strongly encouraging my girls to watch nearly every replay of every pass Kurt completed two weeks in a row, my Grace was impressed.
"Dad, you were a good coach."
Chip Marshall of Glenview, Ill., is a freelance writer and former youth sports coach.