Our coarsening culture got a rare dose of grace and perspective last weekend, when one of the heroes of American escapism — professional football — set himself apart and gave thanks to a peer who chose friendship over victimhood.
That would be Kurt Warner, who was welcomed into the NFL Hall of Fame following a rags-to-riches career that included three Super Bowl appearances. The man he thanked is Trent Green, who is the answer to the trivia question, “Whose injury gave NFL quarterback Kurt Warner his chance at improbable football stardom?”
Warner even brought Green with him as his guest to the Hall of Fame festivities, because he wanted to make this fundamental point crystal clear in his speech: You owe life. Life doesn’t owe you.
For all his God-given talent, Warner knew how lucky he was to get even a single start in the NFL, let alone achieve a decade’s worth of excellence there. He started at Division I-AA Northern Iowa for just one season and wasn’t even drafted before landing in a version of the Arena Football League that doesn’t even exist any more.
Then in 1999, when Trent Green was being hailed during the pre-season as a likely breakout star with the upstart St. Louis Rams, Green suffered a season-ending ACL injury. This meant that a deep and talented receiving corps would have to rely on the sort of guy who is usually the backup to the backups — Kurt Warner.
What happened next was arguably the greatest harnessing of opportunity in the history of American team sports. Warner became the only quarterback in history to throw three touchdown passes in each of his first three NFL starts. With a total of 41 touchdown passes, he was named NFL MVP for a 13-3 season nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf.” And then he was named Super Bowl MVP in a close win over the Tennessee Titans.
Warner has always given glory to God for those achievements, but during his Hall of Fame speech, he showed that he understand’s God’s commandment to love his neighbor as he loves himself.
Here is part of Warner’s speech thanking Green:
In the ultimate team game, I’m not much for singling guys out because of how all of you played a special role in my being here. But I would like to recognize one teammate who had a more profound impact on me than any other — Trent Green. Our paths crossed in the most incredible of ways, and I acknowledge you could easily be the one standing up here tonight, but the class that you showed while dealing with the toughest of situations is etched in my mind. Your willingness to share your football secrets so I could succeed was incredibly valuable, but the character you displayed and the way you modeled the definition of teammate was priceless. Those lessons followed me the rest of my career. Thanks for sharpening my character with your own.
We live in a time when being a proud victim is the highest of virtues. Cries of fake oppression are everywhere, and “I have a grievance, therefore I am” may as well be the existential bumper sticker of the age. Google’s politically correct jihad is just the latest example of this. But Trent Green chose a different path.
He could have held a pity party for himself that sabotaged not only his replacement quarterback, but ultimately the entire team he was still a part of. Instead, he chose the narrow road. Selflessness. Empathy. Fortitude.
In other words, in age of baby daddies, random hookups, boys who can shave, and males with skinnier jeans and more hair product than the undetermined genders they call friends with benefits, Green chose to be a real man.
It is often said that character is who you are when no one else is looking. And when all eyes were on Kurt Warner and Trent Green was left for career-dead, that’s exactly when Warner’s own eyes may have been the only ones sharply focused on Green’s straight-arrow behavior.
There must have been many regret-filled days during that time for Green, but all Warner saw was resolve. There must also have been a strong pull for Green to drift into apathy, but instead Warner was blessed to share in what he claims was the most important alliance of his career.
When it comes right down to it, life is always a choice — during the good times and the bad. There is no circumstance that can ever permanently define us unless we let it. In the darkest time of his admittedly boyish profession, Green lit a candle that not only never went out, but appears to grow ever brighter to this very day.
It shined for all the world to see during the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, when Warner, the man who first noticed it 18 years ago, could easily have looked right past it and claimed all the glory for himself. Sometimes, though, iron sharpens iron. And instead of the political clown car that we spend most of our days talking about, we were treated to a simple yet profound excellence.
So profound that while being the parents of an NFL Hall of Famer must make for a pretty proud day, the more grateful hearts may very well belong to parents like those of Trent Green. Whereas Warner took advantage of an opportunity, Green found advantage when all opportunity appeared to be lost.
No matter how harshly we try to kill it, integrity doesn’t appear to be dead yet. May we have ears to hear before it is too late.