Warner shows he's big-leaguer after all; 316-yard first start reduces Vermeil to tears for Ram from Arena, World leagues; Rams 27, Ravens 10


ST. LOUIS -- Dick Vermeil is an emotional guy, so it wasn't surprising that his voice cracked and he was choking back tears yesterday when he talked about his quarterback, Kurt Warner.

In the wake of the St. Louis Rams' 27-10 victory over the Ravens, the coach said, "I'm very proud of him. Great kid. Just a great ," as he fought to keep his composure.

"It's so exciting to see a guy just come up from nowhere. You talk about coming from nowhere. Stick with it. Stay with it. The persistence through the Arena League, the World League, probably the lowest-paid quarterback in the NFL.

"All these different things. Nothing going for him except good character and Mike Martz [offensive coordinator] coaching him along with John Ramsdell [quarterbacks coach]. They've done a nice job. Like he told the squad, 'Guys, all I'll promise you is that I'll get better,' and he's sincere. He'll get better."

Warner passed for 316 yards and three touchdowns -- a pace that would enable him to tie Dan Marino's season record of 48 if he did it every game. He also threw two interceptions, but one was tipped and Vermeil gave Ray Lewis the credit for making a fine play on the other one.

Meanwhile, Vermeil was just getting warmed up as he raved about Warner.

"He was very, very poised. He was like I thought he would be because you see it every day," he said as he pounded the table.

"Nothing surprises you when you see it every day. In my eyes today, there were no negatives in Kurt Warner," he said.

Of course, Vermeil's praise should come with an asterisk because he tends to fall in love with his players. He said yesterday that he still thinks Tony Banks is going to be an outstanding quarterback even though Banks is now the Ravens' third stringer.

But Warner's play was a vindication of sorts for Vermeil, who declined to bring in a veteran backup behind Trent Green and promoted Warner to the backup role in the off-season even though he had thrown just 11 NFL passes.

When Green was lost for the season with a knee injury, the conventional wisdom was that the season was lost and Vermeil would be fired at the end of it.

It's still too early to say he won't be. Even Vermeil noted it's a 16-round fight and said, "We have won round one."

Warner, though, gives the Rams some hope, especially since they have so many weapons around him. "We [coaches] all believe in the guy," Vermeil said.

It helps that he has Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proel at wide receiver. They combined for 18 receptions and running back Marshall Faulk, held to 54 yards rushing, added seven catches.

Warner, 28, didn't seem surprised at his good showing.

"I always believed I could be here. I'm not doubting myself at all. I just want to continue to get better and better," he said.

He said the Ravens appeared to concentrate on stopping the run and dare Warner to try to beat them with his arm.

"I'm sure their mind-set was to put the pressure on the young guy and see what he can do," he said.

"They weren't expecting that at all [44 passes], possibly because you've got a rookie quarterback, they're going to run the ball, but we didn't. I think we're going to be aggressive all year," he said.

When he was in the Arena League for three years, he always thought he could make it in the NFL if given a chance.

"I know this is the NFL and a lot of people like to make it a big deal," he said. "But I've played football for a long time. I always felt I had the ability [to play in the NFL]. I would have liked to have been here a long time ago, but I've learned a lot and I've taken a lot from all the situations I've been in. Now I want to take a lot from this situation."

Pub Date: 9/13/99

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