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OVERNIGHT SENSATION <br> RAMS QB KURT WARNER JUMPED FROM LATE SHIFT IN SUPERMARKET TO SUPER BOWL STARDOM

We begin Kurt Warner's real-life fairy tale five years ago.

As San Francisco was preparing to meet San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX, Warner was busy working on his game . . . in the aisles of a supermarket in Cedar Farms, Iowa, where he worked overnight as a stock boy.

"We had some candy we'd throw at each other over the aisles," the St. Louis Rams quarterback said. "Maybe that helped with my accuracy.

"We'd get the Nerf footballs out from the back stock room and we'd run down the aisles and play a little football when times were slow," Warner said. "We did some fun things that the store manager didn't know we were doing."

Warner became the most famous former stock boy in America on Tuesday.

He sat at a podium in the Georgia Dome on Super Bowl Media Day amid a throng of 300 reporters and about 50 television cameras.

"I'm soaking it all in," he said. "This is a dream come true."

Dream is an understatement. Warner's story is straight out of James Thurber, Walt Disney or Steven Spielberg.

No other quarterback ever has gone from as far into oblivion as Warner to starting in the Super Bowl.

At the start of this season, the 28-year-old Warner was a nobody who had played in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe and had completed just four passes in his NFL career.

He proceeded to lead the most potent passing attack in the NFL, throw for a league-high 41 TD passes and post a passer rating of 109.2, the fifth best in NFL history.

Sunday he will lead the Rams against the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.

How did he fall through the cracks?

"The bottom line is nobody ever saw me play," Warner said.

Warner spent five years at Division I-AA power Northern Iowa, but sat behind a winning quarterback and only got to play his senior season.

That's why he wasn't drafted. He was invited to Green Bay's training camp in 1994, but only as an extra arm, since the Packers were loaded at quarterback with Brett Favre, Ty Detmer and Mark Brunell.

Favre spent much of that camp tormenting Warner because he was such a greenhorn. Favre called him Potsy Weber, after the gullible "Happy Days" character, and Pop Warner. He also had Warner carry his helmet around.

Warner never got into a preseason game and was released.

That's when he went back to his home in Iowa and took a $5.50-an-hour job at Hy Vee grocery store, where he worked six months. He wanted to take a night job so he could work out during the day. He remembers getting sideways glances from his stock boy friends when he told them he planned to be an NFL quarterback.

"Inside they were probably thinking, there's no way," Warner said. "This guy's working in a supermarket -- how's he ever gonna play in the NFL?"

"After getting cut by Green Bay, I felt from a physical standpoint I could play," Warner said. "From a mental standpoint, I felt I had a ways to go. After only playing one year in college, I knew it was going to take me a while to learn to play within an offensive system."

Warner couldn't get another tryout in the NFL so he signed up with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena League. In three indoor seasons, he passed for 10,164 yards and led Iowa to two straight Arena Bowl championship games.

Right after Warner's third season, Al Luginbill, the coach of the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe, called his friend Charley Armey, the personnel director of the Rams. Amsterdam needed a quarterback. He wanted Armey to check out Warner.

Armey liked what he saw. Warner was shipped to Amsterdam and led the league in passing yards.

"Everywhere I've ever been I've been successful," Warner said.

He came back to St. Louis for training camp in 1998 and almost got cut. Tony Banks and Steve Bono were the top two QBs. Offensive coordinator Jerry Rhome wanted to keep Will Furrer as No. 3, and got into a heated argument with Armey over it. Armey won.

The Rams almost lost Warner again last offseason. They left him unprotected in the expansion draft, but Cleveland passed over Warner and took Scott Milanovich.

When Rams starter Trent Green went down with a season-ending knee injury in preseason, Warner was handed the job.

The rest is history.

The 6-foot-2 Warner does not have exceptional size or speed, but he has an excellent arm and great touch on his passes. He has benefited from the Rams' exceptional offensive talent and completed a league-best 65.1 percent of his passes.

"Here's what makes Kurt so unique," Rams offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "When his back is against the wall and there's pressure, that's when he plays his very best. There's just so much to him. Poise."

"He is not a one-year wonder," said coach Dick Vermeil, who is given to overstatement when it comes to his quarterback.

"I was standing next to John Madden last week in pregame warm-ups and he told me he thought Kurt throws like Joe Montana. Someday people might say Joe Montana threw like Kurt Warner."

Warner is a devout Christian who has kept both feet planted firmly on the ground during this dizzying season. He would be the last person to mention himself in the same breath as Montana.

"The biggest thing I've learned is the Lord has a plan for me," Warner said. "I've learned a lot along the way about being humble and being able to enjoy what you get. . . . Three years ago, I had nothing. Now I have everything. Three years from now, I might have nothing. But I'll always have my faith in the Lord."

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