Kurt Warner’s now Hall of Fame career is ripe for an underdog biographical movie.
After going undrafted, being released by Green Bay out of camp, playing in the Arena Football League for three full seasons, and playing in the NFL Europe for one, Warner finally was able to see his first meaningful NFL action in 1999 for the St. Louis Rams when starter Trent Green went down with a torn MCL and ACL injury in the preseason. Warner, the Rams backup, was thrust into the starting role. While the Rams brass put on a brave face and professed their confidence in Warner, others weren’t convinced that he would play well.
Entering the season, The Kanas City Star ranked all 31 of the NFL’s projected starting quarterbacks. Warner was ranked dead last behind Doug Pederson, Cade McNown, Billy Joe Hobert, and others.
In his NFC West preview in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Mark Schlabach wrote:
“After enduring two seasons of mistake-prone [Tony] Banks, Vermeil made a $16.5 million gamble on Green. Now, Vermeil probably wishes he still had Banks. Former Arena League star Warner and rookie Joe Germaine aren’t NFL-caliber starters, so the Rams might turn to Justin.”
“Warner, the quarterbacking successor to the luckless Trent Green in St. Louis, has appeared mostly in places where footballs are flung about by nets suspended behind the end zones and the fields, such as they are, have fences around them.”
“Still, the thinking here is that Vermeil must reach for a quarterback more renowned than Warner or journeyman Paul Justin, whom the Rams obtained from the Raiders after Green’s season-ending injury. One possibility: Jeff George. He has been a training-camp whiz in Minnesota; he played under Mike White, Vermeil’s ranking offensive assistant, in Oakland; and the Vikings might be willing to surrender him, at the proper price, of course. They have Randall Cunningham to do their passing and behind him Daunte Culpepper, a large rookie with impressive notices.They also wrote the Rams couldn’t win with a Kurt Warner lead-offense.”
“One has to question, finally, how long Vermeil can endure in St. Louis. The Chargers’ Rodney Harrison rolling into the back of Green’s legs on Saturday might have represented a knell for Vermeil. With Green available and with Marshall Faulk to do his running/receiving tricks, Vermeil might have had a chance to perpetuate himself. Not now, one can suspect. One doesn’t win in this league going into a season with a Kurt Warner-Paul Justin-Joe Germaine quarterbacking troika.”
Apparently, Rams fans weren’t very confident about Warner’s ability either. In a letter-to-the-editor piece for the St. Louis Dispatch, fans voiced their concerns. Some examples:
“Not very good at all. I don’t think they’ll ever go anywhere with Vermeil as the coach. They were on shaky ground, but losing the quarterback, Green, that just put the nail in the coffin. I don’t think the whole organization is very professional at all. Just look at their history – Rich Brooks was a college coach with a losing record, Vermeil was out of the league for years, the free agents aren’t top of the line. I don’t think they’re committed to winning. It’s just a paycheck.”
“I think their chances were better before the quarterback got injured. I hope they do well, but I don’t think it looks very good. They don’t have a lot of good talent. I don’t think they’ll do any better than last year. I would have thought so if the quarterback had been healthy. Maybe (Kurt) Warner will do well, but I just don’t know much about him.”
“Their chances aren’t very good. I also think Dick Vermeil needs to quit crying. With Trent Green getting hurt, he was the best chance for a good season.”