Recently, Kurt Warner, the once-again resurgent star quarterback who may have played the final game of his NFL career Sunday night, offered thanks to God and his U.S. Marine Corps Veteran wife. Kurt Warner's football career has not always been blessed and Brenda Warner has been the sole link to what’s amounted to a career in perpetual comeback mode. Starting his adult life as a supermarket stockboy, Kurt lived on food stamps, and experienced the pain of watching a phone that would not ring. Despite his talent, no football team seemed to want him. Even as recently as 3 years ago, his 1999 Season Super Bowl ring couldn’t win him respect with the New York Giants, which let him go in favor of its new wonderboy, Eli Manning. He found another job with the Cardinals, but again only as a backup quarterback to another young top draft pick out of college.
The writing was once again on the wall for him to hang it up. He chose to keep pushing. But only with the help of his wife. "She’s been one of the few people who’s been with me from the beginning," Warner said after beating the Philadelphia Eagles recently, earning his St. Louis Cardinals its first-ever Super Bowl berth. "We were just telling each other that we loved each other. This is unbelievable and there’s no one I’d rather share it with."
"He is an incredible person on his own," Brenda told the Marine Corps in an interview during a family vacation visit to Parris Island, of all places. "He sets goals very high. I just encourage him to give it all he’s got and never hold anything back. That is what the Marine Corps taught me ... no matter what you do ... give it all you’ve got. Be the best you can be, and don’t do anything halfway."
"I cherish the title of Marine," she said. "Every time I carry myself, I carry myself with the ideals and character the Marine Corps gave me to be better at all I do and show me that the world is bigger than my little world ... that I am a part of a bigger whole, and I want to make it better."
Kurt Warner married Brenda Carney Meoni on October 11, 1997 after a five-year courtship which spanned the rags-to-riches evolution of an NFL quarterback and a woman seeking a new life after a failed marriage. Their relationship started with Brenda exhibiting the boldness of a United States Marine Corps.
"I told him, ‘I just want you to know I am a divorced mother of two, so if I never hear from you again, I will understand.’ That’s the way it usually worked. The next morning, he showed up with a rose and wanted to meet the kids. He fell in love with the kids a lot sooner than he fell in love with me. He looked at us as three blessings instead of just one. I just kept waiting for the man that I deserved, and God blessed me with him."
Much has been said about Kurt Warner's NFL ascendancy, but Brenda too had to battle her own demons. One of the two children Brenda had from her first marriage was a special needs child. Brenda had left the Marine Corps on a hardship discharge in January 1990. Her ex-husband had dropped her son Zack on his head, leaving him handicapped and partially blind. Doctors told the young corporal to say her goodbyes to her son, but instead she turned the drive and determination she learned as a Marine toward helping him survive, and together with her infant daughter Jesse, she took Zack home to live. She had also lost her parents, Larry and Jenny Carney, when their Arkansas home was destroyed by a 1996 tornado.
While in the middle of all this, the Warners continued to date, and Kurt was cut from the Packers’ training camp in 1994. It seemed like rock bottom for him, too, as he got a job working the night shift as a stock boy at a local Hy-Vee grocery store, in addition to his work as an assistant-coach at his alma mater, the University of Northern Iowa. Warner was still hoping to get an NFL tryout, but with that possibility appearing dim and the long hours at the Hy-Vee for minimum wage taking their toll, Warner began his Arena League career in 1995 and signed with the Iowa Barnstormers. Warner was named to the AFL’s All-Arena first team in both 1996 and 1997 as he led the Barnstormers to Arena Bowl appearances in both seasons.
His success in the AFL received recognition among the NFL again and he was signed by the St. Louis Rams and allocated to NFL Europe’s Amsterdam Admirals. Warner led NFL Europe in touchdowns and passing yards, and got reassigned back to the Rams at the start of the 1999 season. But total recognition continued to elude him, as he was still a backup quarterback to Trent Green. But after Green experienced a pre-season injury, Warner finally got the spotlight, rounding out a legendary Super Bowl season. Warner completed one of the top seasons by a quarterback in NFL history by throwing for 4,353 yards with 41 touchdown passes and a completion rate of 65.1%.
In 2005, during Kurt Warner's New York Giants stint, the Warners joined teammate Amani Toomer and his wife aboard the San Diego-based hospital ship to visit with patients and spend time talking to Sailors and volunteers while sailing through Indonesia.
Both players, along with their wives, were working with the World Food Program (WFP) to help feed families in Indonesia and Sri Lanka who have been affected by the tsunami. The WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian aid organization. The organization feeds an average of 90 million people a year worldwide.
"This is a great opportunity for us to actually spend time with the men and women of our Armed Forces who are making a difference across the world and I am proud to be here with you," said Warner. He addressed the entire Mercy crew and pointed out that the efforts of the entire crew were being felt by the people in Banda Aceh. Brenda Sue Warner, the former Marine, drew cheers and Marine Corps-style grunts from the hospital corpsmen.
Kurt Warner's family grew when he officially adopted Brenda’s two children, son Zachary and daughter Jesse, after their marriage. The Warners also have 5 children of their own: sons Elijah and Kade, daughter Jada, and twin girls Sierra Rose and Sienna Rae.
And despite the heart-breaking loss in Super Bowl XLIII, Kurt Warner’s biography is extraordinary. His Marine Corps wife remains his inspiration.
"The spirit of excellence she got from the Marines…It taught her to be more than she ever thought she could be. It taught her to excel ... to push herself beyond the limits she thought she had. It’s those same things that I see in her that I try to instill in my own life and in our marriage and in the lives our children."