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The Kurt Warner story - it gets better

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When the Cleveland Browns were looking for a quarterback in the expansion draft earlier this year, nobody was surprised that they bypassed Kurt Warner for former Maryland quarterback Scott Milanovich.

After all, Warner had been bypassed all of his life.

He didn't play at Northern Iowa until his senior year. He wasn't drafted and the Green Bay Packers signed him, but he admitted he wasn't ready for the NFL and was cut.

It took three years in the Arena League and a season in NFL Europe for Warner to make the St. Louis Rams as a third-teamer a year ago, barely beating out Will Furrer.

Even when Trent Green was injured and he beat the Ravens in the opener, he seemed to be another Steve Stenstrom or Craig Whelihan, one of the many no-name quarterbacks who have beaten the Ravens.

Five weeks later, the Rams are 4-0, Warner has thrown 14 touchdown passes and he's a name. He's been discovered.

The great American celebrity machine is rolling into high gear. He had to turn down David Letterman last week because he had too many commitments. He did HBO, ESPN, Fox, appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and spoke at the Billy Graham crusade. The NFL is rushing to get his No. 13 jerseys into stores.

His story off the field is even better than his story on the field. It could be a movie of the week.

He was 21 when his college roommate dragged him to a country music line dance. He met a 25-year-old woman, and something clicked. At the end of the evening, she told him she was the mother of two and she'd understand if he didn't call.

He called on her the next day with a rose. He stuck around even after learning one of her children was brain damaged and blind.

Her ex-husband accidentally dropped the boy in a bathtub at four months, and the baby fell on his head. The husband couldn't deal with the trauma and the marriage dissolved. She was eight months pregnant with her second child when she moved in with her parents.

After a five-year courtship, Warner and Brenda were married in 1997. Her parents weren't there. They were killed a year earlier when a tornado demolished their house.

Warner adopted her two children, Zachary, now 10, and Jessie, 7, and they now have a third. Warner marvels at how Jessie helps Zachary.

"I've just been blessed with those kids," he said.

She said: "Being a divorced mother of two with a special needs child, I had to wait for somebody special. I had dated some men who wouldn't have taken it on. The Lord provided me with his gift."

She laughs when she reads that he makes "only" the second-year minimum of $250,000 plus a $4,000 workout bonus.

"Seven years ago, I was on food stamps. We didn't have enough money to go get Happy Meals. So we're fine," she said.

Whatever happens in football, the Warners seem to be winners in life.

Their only task now may be to remain down to earth as they deal with the public spotlight. Considering how they've handled everything else, it may be no problem.

Explanation

Bill Walsh, the San Francisco 49ers general manager, had some explaining to do last week after he walked into Dick Vermeil's news conference, hugged him and told him the Rams were going all the way.

That raised a few eyebrows in San Francisco, because he seemed to be conceding the season.

Walsh first said: "I didn't even know I was [in public]. I didn't stop to think about who was there and who wasn't."

Maybe Walsh thought all those reporters were potted plants, but 49ers coach Steve Mariucci brushed it off as a "friendly gesture."

Walsh then said it was in the back of his mind that, "You think we're going to kick their butts the next time we play."

Of course, it's silly to talk about going all the way at 4-0. But the schedule couldn't be easier for the Rams. They play only four outdoor games the rest of the way -- at Tennessee, San Francisco, Carolina and Philadelphia.

They play three road dome games -- at Atlanta today, Detroit and New Orleans and have home games with Cleveland, Carolina, New Orleans, the New York Giants and Chicago.

That's not exactly a tough schedule, although the rematch in Atlanta today could be a trap.

If they get the home-field advantage in the playoffs, they could win the Super Bowl without going outdoors because it'll be played in Atlanta.

The irony is that when team president John Shaw first plotted his move from Los Angeles, he wasn't thinking about playing in a dome in St. Louis. He was thinking about playing outdoors in Baltimore.

"We thought first of Baltimore," Shaw said. "Carroll [Rosenbloom] had the Colts and Georgia [Frontiere, Rosenbloom's widow] had a great experience there, and we knew there was a tremendous enthusiasm for football there."

The problem was the league wasn't eager to see him move to Baltimore.

"They did give us every indication it would be much easier to move to St. Louis," he said.

As it turned out, the league first rejected the move to St. Louis and approved it only after the city of St. Louis threatened to sue. It wound up costing the Rams more than $80 million in payments to the league and lost expansion fees.

Shaw has no second thoughts.

"I feel of all the moves, ours has probably been the most successful. This is a really good marketplace and the fans have been spectacular," Shaw said.

Quick facts

The Detroit Lions have sold only 50,000 tickets for their Christmas Day matchup with Denver. The Lions, who always play on Thanksgiving, weren't happy about the holiday matchup in the first place, and now the top two attractions -- Barry Sanders and Terrell Davis -- are not playing.

Not much action is expected when the trading deadline passes Tuesday. Trades during the season, especially major ones, are unusual. It was a decade ago this week that Minnesota made the Herschel Walker trade with Dallas that helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowls.

Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said the league told him that "several" of the 15 penalties called on the Titans against the Ravens were incorrect calls, including a call on Anthony Dorsett for running out of bounds when he was pushed out.

Quotable

"That's a pretty dumb question. What do you think? We've lost three games in a row. How can I be pleased with the level of play? That's not a very smart question."

-- Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher, when asked if he was sending a message he was pleased with the Steelers' play because he wasn't making any changes.

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