ST. LOUIS — The story is cinematic all the way down to its core.

Trent Green was brought in to take the St. Louis Rams, who had only been in St. Louis for four years, to the promised land. A quarterback with the arm and legs to get it done. When a preseason game pass rush ended badly, Green’s leg was no more, and Kurt Warner entered the history books.

The guy had thrown more cans of tomato soup onto grocery store shelves than he had passes to receivers in an NFL game. But he stepped in, picked up Mike Martz’s complex offense and ran with it. He formed an instant alliance with Marshall Faulk behind center and Orlando Pace on the line. Warner looked out and saw easy targets in Issac Bruce and Torry Holt, but Ricky Proehl was also a valuable receiver who caught a certain pass to win a game.

1999 started with high hopes, quickly dissolved into miserable badlands, and then became a historical season. Warner and the Rams won the franchise’s only Super Bowl trophy, defeating Jeff “We are not going 7-9” Fisher’s Tennessee Titans in the big game by a single yard. Oh yeah, Mike Jones shoutout!

It all started with Warner. With no offense to the brilliant Faulk, who could take a screen pass and turn it into a 50-yard touchdown, it was the Iowa native who acted as the glue holding the team fabric together. You needed a quarterback who could take Martz’s playbook and turn water into wine on the field, which, in turn, led to lots of winning.

Before taking over for Green, Warner had attempted 11 passes and completed just four of them. He completed 325 passes in that 1999 season, including 41 touchdowns and 4,354 yards. He didn’t throw a perfect spiral, but could get rid of the ball quickly, making sharp reads and picking up the rush better than most. He could check down or gear up for the long ball. It wasn’t perfect, but no NFL season truly is.

Truth be told, Warner’s time in St. Louis was shorter than most think. He only started more than ten games in a season for the Rams three times before a disastrous thumb injury and other issues forced him out and eventually to New York. After Eli Manning settled in, Warner moved on to Arizona, where he was within one amazing Santonio Holmes catch of another Super Bowl.

All in all, Warner played 12 years in the NFL, completing 2,666 passes, throwing for 208 touchdowns and 32,344 yards. He averaged 261 yards-per-game during his career, with a tiny interception percentage of 3.1. Not bad for a former grocery store clerk whose dreams of making the NFL nearly died while working as a practice squad quarterback watching Brett Favre complete passes.

Warner’s magic eventually did wear off, but he remained effective until the end. He led the Cardinals to a 10-5-0 record, throwing for 26 touchdowns in the 2009 season while starting 15 games. He had to work for the wins and couldn’t throw like he used to, but the efficiency never disappeared. He won a playoff game with Arizona in his final postseason before being knocked out (literally) by the New Orleans Saints.

People don’t understand how dynamic Warner was in the postseason. He threw 31 career touchdowns and just 14 interceptions in the playoffs, achieving a quarterback rating of 102.8. In fact, it was only that final playoff game against New Orleans that Warner failed to throw a touchdown pass. He was, as Trent would say, so money and more than a few don’t even realize it.

Most can’t see past that luminous 1999 season that just got started 20 years ago today. It was beautiful. St. Louis football fans reeling from the loss of their Cardinal football team decades before and unsatisfied with the Rich Brooks era when the Rams came to town were suddenly given a royal feast of action. Warner was at the heart of it all, showing you what improbable looks like. More so, he showed you what it can grow into.

Warner never forgot about St. Louis, frequently saying he considers it his true NFL home. He puts poor people in coats every winter, performing charity for a town that gave his life the purpose it needed. Warner was 28 years old when 1999 happened; he waited a long time for his moment. That’s what makes it so cinematic, the slow-moving ascent from nobody to the only body.

As Los Angeles welcomes back an NFC champion and the XFL comes to St. Louis next year, one could say things went downhill and never turned up. I beg to differ. The Rams won the Super Bowl in St. Louis. That triumph has St. Louis stains all over its clothes. It happened here, and Kurt Warner was a big reason.

Never forget those good times. In the world of sports, the good times never die.

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