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Warner's mettle proves he belongs with best

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 31, 2000


ATLANTA -- Kurt Warner, the storybook quarterback, came to a captivating Super Bowl chapter and had the happiest of endings.

In the final inning of the NFL's biggest game, the bagboy-to-

riches St. Louis hero hit a Mark McGwire shot, a historic 73-yard home run.

He'd win by The Longest Yard.

It was a low-celebrity Super Bowl XXXIV, with no 49ers or Broncos or Packers, that was supposed to bore TV viewers to an early sleep. Instead, the Rams and Titans created a dynamo. Stunning. Unforgettable. In doubt until the final play, the final second, the final inches.

"Kurt Warner ... it's not a fairy tale," Rams coach Dick Vermeil said. "It's real life. The guy's a book. He's a movie. His script seemed almost unbelievable, but now everybody knows it's fully legit."

A year ago, Warner was a nobody. A backup player at a small-time college, then a big man in some extremely small play-for-pay ponds, Arena Football and then NFL Europe. Along the way, a $5-an-hour bagboy at an Iowa

supermarket.

Warner passed for 414 yards, a Super Bowl record. His performance was capped by a winning touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce

One for the Super Bowl ages.

St. Louis had multiple first-half opportunities for a knockout. Warner was skewering the Titans with passes but getting clamped in the red zone. Settling for field goals.

Tennessee was scratching, hustling and hanging around. The Titans became more potent in the second half and rose to more than challenge the Rams. With just over two minutes to go, the Titans pulled to 16-all.

Your time, wonder boy.

Warner had gone into temporary slumber. On two straight possessions, the Rams went three andout. When it got to 16-16, the onus was on No. 13. Digging in the spurs. Could the kid from Arena Football make the ultimate plays in the ultimate professional arena?

Oh, yeah. Homer!

On the first play after Tennessee got even, Warner dropped deep. Pressure was coming. Bruce was streaking down the right sideline. Titans cornerback Denard Walker covered him.

Tennessee rookie Jevon Kearse was flying at Warner like a moth going for a lightbulb. The Freak almost pushed Rams blocker Fred Miller into the quarterback.

Bruce made an inside move on Walker. Denard's feet got out of sync.. He was in heavy trouble. Bruce broke open by two yards. Warner, just before getting hit by Kearse, let his pass fly. Home run. Bruce caught it and ran into the end zone.

Seventy-three yards of glory.

Tennessee was knocked halfway to Savannah by Warner's bullets in the first half. After two quarters, he passed for 277 yards, completing 18 of 35. It could've been 24-0 or even 35-0, but the Rams led by a measly 9-0.

Just once in Super Bowl history, had a quarterback thrown for comparable numbers in a first half. In 1988, Doug Williams had 306 in 30 minutes for Washington in Super Bowl XXII. By then, the Redskins had a 35-10 romp.

Warner had something major to prove. Could he get the knockout? Putting a haymaker on Tennessee's resilient chin. At one juncture, it got notably emotional.

Titans safety Blaine Bishop, the unquestioned leader of their defense, made a tackle and didn't get up. Warner, the Super Bowl enemy, was quick to show worry. He hurried downfield to Bishop, to deliver a sporting touch of encouragement. Blaine couldn't know. He was out cold. Even so, it again showed the world the heroic makeup of the QB from St. Louis.

"Boy, do I have a lot to thank God for," Warner said. "I've always had NFL fantasies, back to my high school days. Like a million American boys. But, when I dreamed, I would not dared have come up with the script for this season and this Super Bowl.

"This was an amazing competition. There haven't been many Super Bowls like this one. Being settled by a long TD pass. Coming down to a championship defense stopping the other guys just a yard away from making it a party for the Tennessee Titans.

"What a wonder."

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