Field Notes 2/12 -

Field Notes 2/12

KURT WARNER CONTINUES TO DO CHARITY WORK IN THE AREA EVEN THOUGH IT'S BEEN THREE YEARS SINCE HE WORE A RAMS UNIFORM. He and Brenda co-chaired the St. Patrick's Center trivia contest at Scottrade. One day when I look back at my career in sportscasting, I'll remember very fondly the days when Warner was directing the Rams offense. It's been a difficult transition for him accepting his role as a back up. He is an extremely competitive guy. With Ken Whisenhunt in charge in Arizona, Matt Leinert will have two things Warner did not have as the starter: pass protection and a running game. While Kurt is not the same downfield passer he once was and struggles with ball security, he could still be one of the NFL's most accurate short and intermediate passers if given protetcion.

I will always remember Kurt Warner as a star on and off the field. For those three years from 1999 through 2001, he was as good as any quarterback I've ever seen. He was big, strong, smart, tough as nails and AMAZINGLY accurate. Mike Martz told me that he'll never have another quarterback that can dissect and execute his complicated offense like Warner could. Martz demanded a lot and wasn't easily impressed but there were times when he was absolutely in awe of Kurt's performance.

The other thing I'll remember about Kurt is that he was the most accomadating superstar athlete I've ever been around. The demands on his time were incredible. I routinely saw Kurt stay 20 or 30 minutes after practice at training camp--in 100 degree heat--and sign autographs. He'd still be signing when teammates would be showered and in the dining hall. On road trips, he was besieged as we got off the bus at the team hotel. He would stand there and sign for 20 to 30 minutes. A lot of times, his teammates would already have gone up to their rooms and changed and headed to dinner by the time Kurt finished signing. You don't forget stuff like that.

He was also gracious with the media. Channel 5 did a smart thing by signing Warner to a deal that gave them access that the rest of us couldn't get. But they never got the real exclusivity they wanted because Kurt really couldn't or wouldn't turn reporters down. Classic example---the season opener at Denver in 2002. The Rams lost a gut wrencher to the Broncos. After the game, Warner did his usual 10 or 15 minutes with the media and then did a five or ten minute one on one with Channel 5. By the time he was headed out the locker room door and to the bus, I had walked in after finishing the radio broadcast. I asked Kurt for a one on one and he didn't hesitate to grant it. It ran that night on our show. I make my living asking athletes and coaches for their time so I never forget when someone like Kurt makes my job easier. And I can't ever remember Kurt Warner declining an interview.

Having said all this, I won't be a hypocrite and say Martz made the wrong decision to replace Kurt in week two of the 2003 season. I thought it was the right decision at the time and I still do. Kurt couldn't hang on to the ball in the opener against the Giants. It was a disaster. We found out after the game that he suffered some sort of concussion or head trauma. Martz wasn't sure how effective Kurt would be the following week. And remember that the 2002 season was destroyed by that ugly five game losing skid at the start of the season. The Rams could not afford a repeat of that disaster. They needed to beat the 49ers in week two. So, Martz started Marc Bulger who played well enough and the Rams won. In fact, they won 12 of the final 15 regular season games with Bulger playing. Martz didn't want to screw with team chemistry after they got on a roll. Bulger played good football that year but did make a lot of mistakes(22 interceptions). But, Martz saw enough to stick with him. After the season, Kurt wanted out and I can't say I blame him. He was only two years removed being league MVP. No way did he want to be a back up in the city in which he starred.

Some people will always point to the phone call that Brenda made to a local radio station during the 2002 season as the beginning of the end of the Martz--Warner relationship. But, they forget that Mike went right back to Kurt after the 2002 season. He was very decisive in naming him his starter for 2003 despite the fact that Bulger guided the Rams to five straight wins in 2002 before breaking a finger. I do think the phone call business changed some things. The call did not help Kurt or the Rams. A deal like that in a team sport can be a killer. But, I can't really hammer a woman because she wants to go to bat for her husband--especially when she thinks people have their facts wrong. The problem was that, to my knowldge, Mike and Kurt never met to discuss it and put it behind them.

I believe that in the end that won't keep Martz and Warner from appreciating how good they were together. They needed one another to help produce the greatest three year run of offensive football in NFL history. And kudos to Kurt for not being bitter(at least publicly) about the unraveling of his career. I credit him for realizing that he enjoyed a three year run that any competitive athlete would kill to have. And he handled his success with uncanny humility.

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