December 25 is a day to celebrate the hope found in Jesus. This year families across the nation can celebrate another kind of hope by watching the new movie release, “American Underdog.”
It is the story of Kurt Warner and his rise from stocking shelves to becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League. Starting as an undrafted player, Warner later became a two-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP, and was inducted into both the Pro Football and Arena Football Halls of Fame.
‘First things first’
However, Warner’s focus in life is not football — it is his faith. He attributes his achievements to God working in his life and says, “First things first — faith and family — is my formula for success.”
Though American Underdog is being promoted as the story of Warner’s rise to stardom, it’s not just about football — it’s about struggles in everyday life.
Before he met and married Brenda, her son became disabled at a young age. She was told he would never walk or talk. Two years later and eight months pregnant with her second child, Brenda found out her husband was cheating on her. She left him and became a single mother with a newborn and a child with a disability.
“The person sitting in that chair watching this movie is going to relate to those times in my life,” she said. “I am not special in that way. I don’t have superpowers. I am just a person doing the best I can. [This movie] is going to show … that I’m a flawed person.”
Warner added, “You hear the term all the time — ‘Oh, a single mom. Do you really want to take on all that baggage?’”
After Warner became a father to Brenda’s children, he said he learned a valuable lesson. While growing up, he had been that baggage, being raised by a single mother.
“[My mom] didn’t get to live the life that I know she wanted because of some of those stereotypes and things that went with it,” he realized. “That’s not what they are. That’s not what I was early on. I do think that is a powerful, powerful message that this movie can share.”
‘A champion off the field’
Jon Erwin, director of American Underdog, said, “I love the idea that Kurt Warner first became a champion off the field before he became a champion on the field. It was him discovering his faith, a relationship with Jesus Christ. It was him embracing his role as a husband, as a father, and realizing that life was bigger than he was.
“So many of us think, ‘Well, I’ve made some mistakes in my life. God can’t use me because of the mess I made,’” Erwin said. “Brenda felt that way. She had been told when she was very young by someone in church, ‘Hey, God’s gonna do something great with you.’ She thought that ship had sailed because of the choices she’d made and the things she’d messed up.”
Erwin said he put himself in the same category, but noted that if Warner “can accomplish His dream and endure and they can stay together as a couple, maybe we can too. Maybe my crazy dreams are not as impossible as I once thought.”
Saying he is living proof of fulfilling a “crazy dream,” Erwin is from Birmingham, a city not known for filmmaking, and he didn’t even go to college. Now he’s directing major motion pictures.
“So many people give up too early. You never know when that breakthrough moment that God has for you is right around the corner,” Erwin encouraged. “If you give up too soon, you’ll never experience it.”
“If God calls you to something, even when everyone in your life says it’s crazy, maybe the great lesson is just to never ever ever quit — to keep going and keep dreaming and remembering that success is long obedience in the same direction.”
The team making American Underdog had to persevere to get the movie completed. COVID-19 erupted just as production was supposed to start, then a major blizzard hit the Midwest during filming. Erwin called it a “blizdemic.”
During the blizzard travel was hazardous. Though Warner was determined to attend as much of the filming as possible, Erwin urged him not to come.
One morning Erwin got a call from the hotel clerk who said, “There’s a guy out shoveling snow in the parking lot and getting cars out. We’ve investigated and it’s NFL legend Kurt Warner.”
“[Warner] said, ‘I’m from Ohio; I can do this!’ There was that level of commitment,” Erwin said, to which Warner responded, “We had a movie to make!”
Andy Erwin, Jon’s brother, partner and co-director of American Underdog, noted, “I’ve never been as satisfied by a film and that’s not because of something Jon and I did. Really good filmmakers can try their hardest to make the film you want, and it just doesn’t work out.
“But when you get the right people in the room, with the right story, you need to just sit back and watch magic happen,” Andy Erwin said. “I’ve never been so proud of a story, so, in my mind, that is a success. I can’t wait for people to see it Christmas Day.”