Life Made Kurt Warner an Underdog — Faith Made Him a Champion

The NFL Star’s Inspiring Story Comes to the Big Screen in ‘American Underdog’

Zachary Levi portrays Kurt Warner in ‘American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story.’
Zachary Levi portrays Kurt Warner in ‘American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story.’ (photo: Michael Kubeisy / Lionsgate)

It didn’t seem that Kurt Warner would amount to much. His parents divorced when he was young, and he struggled to make ends meet. He met and married his wife Brenda while still in college and adopted her two children from a former marriage, including one who was blind and brain-damaged as the result of an accident. With no resources to purchase a home of their own, the couple lived in the basement of Brenda’s parents’ home. To support his family, Kurt worked long hours as a night stock clerk at the local Hy-Vee grocery store. At times, the family relied on food stamps to feed their family.

In sports, too, Warner seemed unlikely to break free from mediocrity. Warner loved football, and had played at both high school and college level. He hoped to compete in the NFL, but he was overlooked by professional teams — he went unsigned for four years. When he finally was picked up by the Green Bay Packers, he was released before ever playing in a game.

But what Kurt lacked in financial resources and athletic acclaim, he made up for in determination and faith. In 1998 he finally landed a spot on the St. Louis Rams’ starting line-up, and led the team to their first Super Bowl title in Super Bowl XXXIV. That year, and again in 2001, Warner was named the team’s Most Valuable Player. In all, he played in three Super Bowls, and in 2017, he was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Warner’s inspiring story comes to the big screen on Christmas Day, with the release of American Underdog. Produced by Kingdom Story Company and distributed by Lionsgate, the film stars Zachary Levi as Kurt Warner, Anna Pacquin as his wife Brenda, and Dennis Quaid as Rams’ head coach Dick Vermeil. American Underdog is a faithful recounting of Warner’s life, full of football action and certain to capture the attention of his fans. But it’s not just a film for football enthusiasts. Important to the story is Kurt Warner’s devotion to his wife Brenda, and his deep faith in God.

The Register spoke with Kevin Downes, founder of Kingdom Story Company and the film’s producer, about the importance of American Underdog to today’s moviegoers. “American Underdog is about relationships, first and foremost,” Downes said.

Obviously, our faith is about our relationship with God, with our Savior. And American Underdog is about relationships, about a few people who came together and determined not to quit, never to give up. We see how Brenda’s faith is challenged in a moment of incredible difficulty, and Kurt witnesses that. Her faith changes him, and Kurt says, ‘I want what you have.’

As Christians, Downes added, we should always be the example for our community, for our neighbors, so that when they’re down — when things are hard for them — they can see us as believers and say, like Kurt, “I want what you have.”

Downes revealed that when Kurt and Brenda were approached about telling their story in a movie, it was not the football story that interested them. They wanted to make a film about their relationship and their faith. He explained:

They actually weren’t interested if we planned to make a movie about football. There’s no substance to that! You go to a movie theater to be changed by the story. It’s entertainment, obviously; but if you come out of the theater having been significantly impacted by the story, then for me, as a moviegoer, that feels like a ‘win.’ So in telling stories as a filmmaker, that’s what I want to do: I want to allow audiences to go to a theater and be impacted and changed by the stories we tell.

Downes reminded me that there have been football movies in the past that have no faith element to them. “And so where do you go from there?” he asked.

The overcoming [of challenges] or the positive things, or the attributes of Christ that are portrayed in this movie — what is the followup from that? With American Underdog, you see real hope played out. There are these breadcrumbs that are thrown into the story, and people are going to say, ‘Hey, that was encouraging, that was inspiring!’

For Kevin Downes, the past 18 months have been hard. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 in June 2020. “I lost my job,” he admitted, “and my health is suffering.” The message of American Underdog — that Kurt Warner’s story would be impossible without faith — is one that resonates with Downes, and he believes it will resonate with moviegoers as well. “I believe it’s a story that a lot of Americans can relate to right now. We’re coming out of a period in which we were confined to our houses for six months.”

At Kevin’s church, as at many churches, in-person services were prohibited. “It’s one thing to have church online,” he said, “and you continue to get fed, to pray together in your home as a family. But at least in our church, we longed to all be together, to worship together as a church community.”

Coming out of the pandemic, Downes and his partners decided to make a movie that is upbeat, positive, inspiring. American Underdog is that movie, and Downes hopes that people from all walks of life will agree and will come out to experience that positivity for themselves.

American Underdog opens in theaters nationwide on Dec. 25. There are early showings on Dec. 17 and 18 in some locations.