- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

NEW ORLEANS St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner used to bag soup in a grocery. Now he pitches soup in commercials.

Two years after becoming the poster boy for perseverance, prayer and passing, Warner is no longer the "Gee, shucks" long shot who once played both abroad and indoors. Beating the New England Patriots in Sunday's Super Bowl XXXVI would make Warner the only active quarterback with two championship rings. That's one more than Green Bay's Brett Favre, whom Warner outperformed in the playoffs. It would equal former Denver quarterback John Elway and be one less than Dallas' Troy Aikman. Those three passers are sure Hall of Famers.

However, two years since taking Super Bowl XXXIV as its most valuable player, Warner is little changed. He's still the devoted father of four children whose only regret is not being able to watch youth games in peace. Warner still talks religion regularly, unafraid of skeptics who hear some players praise God only to commit immoral acts. Perhaps Warner's only vanity was admitting his middle name (Eugene) doesn't appear in the Rams media guide by request.

"My normal life is different than a few years ago," Warner said yesterday. "Even little things require greater effort. I go to the kids' events and try to focus on the kids and people are trying to focus on me."

It's easy to focus on the two-time NFL MVP who played one career game before the 1999 championship season. Warner passed for 10,000 career yards in a record 36 games, two games sooner than Dan Marino.

But Warner still seeks perfection. In his personal life. On the playing field. In his faith. It all blends. No matter Warner's 4,830 yards this year were the second most in NFL history while nine 300-yard games tied the single-season mark. Warner tied or surpassed 11 team records while the Rams' offense was the NFL's best. Warner retains his Arena League persona of wanting to score every time.

It's not enough to win titles and set records. It may never be enough. When you've played three years indoors and one overseas and money was so scarce the NFL dream nearly ended, success doesn't equal security.

"As hard as [perfection] is to live up to, that's what I try to do," he said.

Not that Warner is filled with fears of failure. Faith keeps him from worrying about little things even when 800 million in 166 countries will watch his every move on Sunday.

"It's going to be fun," Warner said. "All those [playoff] games are hard because they're just leading up to the Super Bowl. Now it's all about just having fun, enjoying the moment."

Yet, Warner is careful to remain humble. After all, the Rams offense has one of the NFL's top backs in Marshall Faulk, standout receivers in Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt and several defensive leaders. It has become an All-Star team.

"I think we're very humble, but we're confident as well," Warner said. "I don't think this team is arrogant. I don't think we have guys who are out there for 'me' or to accomplish anything other than winning championships. That's what makes us special. We have so many guys who could be 'the guy' on another team who are happy just to play their role on this team so we can be successful. To me, that's about as humbling as you can get."

Said Rams coach Mike Martz: "Kurt is not a promoter and is fairly reserved about himself. I think the thing that really helped him in Arena ball was it forced him to get the ball out quickly. We put a big premium on getting the ball out [to receivers] quickly."

Warner took his offensive linemen to dinner Monday and participated in a soup giveaway to the needy yesterday. It is part of the demands of Super Bowl week. Maybe that's the biggest edge Warner gained from his 1999 experience.

"You can't let all the distractions bother you," he said. "You have to enjoy it. you have to smile. You don't get mad and say 'Why do I have to talk to this guy?' and let that take away from your focus."

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