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NFL great Kurt Warner talks perseverance, the 'American Underdog' and his 'supermarket moment'

Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner and Zachary Levi. |

When NFL legend Kurt Warner shares his story, he firmly believes in telling it honestly and in its entirety, from his humble beginnings stocking shelves at a grocery store to becoming a Super Bowl-winning MVP. 

“People need to see real life. They need to understand that this is a real story. All of these things really did happen,” Warner told The Christian Post. “Your circumstances don’t have to be what defines you, your circumstances don’t have to be what shapes the final narrative of your life.”

It was the willingness of Warner and his wife, Brenda, to share their highs and lows — and God’s faithfulness over it all — that made filmmaking brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin eager to bring their story to the big screen. 

“We love true stories because that allows us to explore the real-life experiences and struggle that that person went through,” Andrew Erwin told CP.

“Kurt and Brenda sat down with us, and they said, ‘We don’t want a Pollyanna version of our life out there. We want to show what we went through, and the hardships, the failures … the missteps along the way that give context for the victories at the end.’ And so they were very, very candid and honest and allowed us to … even pick up some of the mishaps that Kurt had along the way.”

“I think,” Erwin added, “that gives context for the things that for us, as Christians, are so important. It gives power to the message; it gives power to these moments that are life-changing, that don’t feel like propaganda or trying to sell something. It’s just inviting somebody to understand somebody’s real-life story.”

The Erwin brothers bring the Warners’ story to life in the forthcoming film “American Underdog,” hitting theaters on Christmas Day. The film is based on Warner’s memoir, All Things Possible: My Story of Faith, Football and the First Miracle Season and stars Zachary Levi (“Shazam”) as Kurt Warner and Anna Paquin (True Blood) as Brenda Warner. The film also stars Dennis Quaid as famed St. Louis Rams football coach Dick Vermeil.

“American Underdog” follows Warner’s unusual journey to becoming an NFL legend. The Iowa native played football at the University of Northern Iowa with his sights set on the NFL — but went unselected in the 1994 NFL draft. He was later was cut from the Green Bay Packers’ training camp before the start of the season.

After returning home, Warner took a job stocking shelves at a grocery store, making just $5.50 an hour. He finally got his chance to play in the NFL in 1998 after a stint in the Arena Football League.

Warner went on to play 12 seasons NFL — splitting time between the St. Louis Rams, New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals. He was twice named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player and in 2000 led the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl victory. He was subsequently named the Super Bowl MVP. Warner also led the Cardinals to a Super Bowl appearance in the 2008 season and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017. 

“Most people have their supermarket moment,” Warner reflected. “Most people have that time where they’re like, ‘Alright, how did I get here? And how do I get out of here? I can’t even see the path forward to what I really want to be in life.’ And so they resonate with them, those moments.”

On a more personal level, “American Underdog” gives a behind-the-scenes look at Brenda and Kurt Warner’s relationship and how her faith transformed his life. A former Marine, Brenda was a single mother when she met her future husband, parenting a young daughter and a special needs son, Zach. 

Brenda Warner told CP that she hopes single mothers who watch “American Underdog” are encouraged by watching her story on the big screen. 

“When you’re a single parent and you’re worrying every single moment about your kids, you feel so alone, it’s not easy,” she said. “I hope that a single mom would look at this movie and think, ‘You know what, she’s showing me that she’s flawed, that she is just like me, not a superhero at all. She’s just a normal person. She endured and was able to just keep loving her kids the way they deserve to be loved.’”

“I hope that most single moms … just get a little bit of encouragement to just keep going, do the best you can,” she added.

In one scene, she states, “I’m a work in progress” — a statement Jon Erwin said will resonate with viewers. 

“So many of us feel that way,” he contended. “Maybe we feel that our flaws are somehow prohibitive to God using us. And that’s why I love this story — it’s an honest, authentic story about a journey that people went on and what they became … God can progressively make you into what He wants you to be, and that’s a process.”

The filmmaker noted that throughout the Psalms, David shares his flaws with “brutal honesty,” adding: “We wanted to tell a story that people could see themselves in and people could see that, you don’t have to be perfect for God to use you. Those flaws are part of it, and that’s who God chooses to use.”

“American Underdog” is the first faith-based film to get a Christmas Day release — an accomplishment not lost on the Erwins. 

“How cool is that?” Jon Erwin said of the release date. “Families can see it together, that’s a tradition in our household, so it’s amazing to see the film released on Christmas Day.”

A story of hope, faith and perseverance, “American Underdog” also comes at the end of what proved to be a challenging year for many. Kurt Warner told CP that the film is releasing at the “perfect time.” 

“There’s a lot of people that have found themselves in situations they never thought they would find themselves in, that ‘underdog role’ now when they never thought they would be there,” the athlete said. “And that, to me, is why this movie is important. It will connect with all of those people in different ways. And I believe it can help challenge them and push them forward.”

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: leah.klett@christianpost.com

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