Warner, Rams Rise
In August 1999, St. Louis starting quarterback Trent Green tore his left medial collateral ligament in an exhibition game against the San Diego Chargers, and was out for the season. Things looked dark for the Rams, who had lost twelve of sixteen games the year before. But Coach Dick Vermeil immediately embraced Warner, a 28-year-old second year player. "We will rally around Kurt Warner and we will play good football," Vermeil said.
"I always felt that I had the talent," Warner told the Des Moines Register. "I just felt that I had to get in the right situation and organization to utilize my talent. That is what has happened here with the Rams." Warner started the team's final exhibition that summer and never looked back. The Rams opened the regular season with six straight victories and finished atop the NFC West with a 13-3 record. Warner, en route to winning the league's Most Valuable Player, led the NFL in touchdown passes and completion percentage, and was second in the league in passing yards. He threw more touchdown passes in his first four starts (14) than any NFL player.
In the NFC playoffs, Warner completed twenty-seven of thirty-three passes for 391 yards and five touchdowns in a 49-37 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, then threw the winning 30-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ricky Proehl with 4:44 remaining to give Rams 11-6 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship game.
In Super Bowl XXIV in Atlanta, against the American Football Conference champion Tennessee Titans, Warner passed for a record 414 yards and threw the winning 73-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Isaac Bruce with 1:54 remaining. The Rams stopped Tennessee on the 1-yard line on the game's final play and St. Louis emerged a 23-16 winner. It was the first championship since 1951 for the franchise, which began in Cleveland in 1937, moved to Los Angeles in 1946 and then to St. Louis in 1995.
"It is not a fairy tale, it is real life," Vermeil said of Warner, who wears number 13 largely to show his disdain for superstition. "He is a great example of persistence and believing in himself and a deep faith. He is a movie; he is a book, this guy."
After the season, the Rams signed Warner to a seven-year, $46.5 million deal that included a $11.5 million signing bonus. "We just laughed," Brenda Warner said. "Our first two kids were born in poverty and our next two years are born with, you know, riches. It's kind of a different world." The Warners established charities with some of their money. Hy-Vee stores throughout Iowa, meanwhile, began stocking shelves with Warner's new frosted flake cereal, Warner's Crunch Time.