He who hesitates is lost, the old adage goes, and a new biopic about football great Kurt Warner proves the truth of it. Yet the details of his legendary rise from grocery store clerk and arena league castoff to NFL stardom offer a postscript — but not necessarily forever.
For the most part “American Underdog” follows the path laid out by beloved sports stories like “Miracle,” “Rudy,” and “Hoosiers.” We see the familiar beats of rising above challenges, refusing to quit, and being underestimated. But brothers Jon and Andy Erwin (best known for the 2018 sleeper hit “I Can Only Imagine”) drill down on another element we rarely witness in such stories — how Warner contributed to his initial struggles and how much time it took for him to recognize and address his weaknesses.
In one of the movie’s most fascinating scenes, he arrives as a free agent for the first day of training camp with the Green Bay Packers. It’s his big break, an opportunity he knocked on countless doors to get. Immediately after suiting up, the coach tries to send him out onto the field. Kurt (Zachary Levi) freezes. He hasn’t had a chance to learn the playbook. He might blow his chance. He isn’t perfectly prepared. He waivers.
The coach, however, suffers from no such hesitation. This kid isn’t ready. He cuts Kurt the next day.
Thus begins Kurt Warner’s time wandering in the wilderness, pining over football, and little by little realizing that another door may never open. In the meantime, he falls in love with a feisty divorced mom of a special needs child who can only have so much pity for a healthy, unencumbered, intelligent young man.
Through his growing relationship with Brenda (Anna Paquin) Kurt discovers that being a man sometimes means setting aside your dreams to take care of the weak and vulnerable. What does that look like in the light of cold reality? A graveyard shift at the Hy-Vee stocking shelves for $5.50 an hour. Later it means accepting a contract with a low-rent, clownish arena league so he can buy his wife and kids a house and keep food on the table.
Real masculinity, virtuous masculinity, is often humbling.
Though it isn’t a heavy-handed preachy story, “American Underdog” (rated PG) does fall in the Christian film genre, and those who share Warner’s faith will see the threads of Proverbs’ wisdom woven throughout his story. After that first tough loss with the Packers, he disciplines himself in the quiet faithfulness of the daily grind. (Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men.) Stocking shelves, performing for the Iowa arena crowds, Kurt learns not to despise the day of small things.
For anyone who has ever felt that the moment for greatness passed them by, Warner’s story offers encouragement that nothing we go through need go to waste.
It’s all the more satisfying then when the movie does finally turn to Kurt’s shocking second chance because he had made his peace with his childhood dreams and was content with his wife, his children, and the ability to earn a living. The money and stardom that came later is ultimately just gravy for greater things. Watching Kurt Warner become a Super Bowl is all the sweeter because his is a story that ends not with a sense of triumph, but of gratitude.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.