“American Underdog” is an overwhelmingly inspirational story of Kurt Warner, who is still widely considered as the greatest undrafted player to have played American Football in the NFL. Directed by the Erwin brothers, it is based on a biography on the player’s life. The film’s aim is to put emphasis on the personal life of Warner, the struggles he faced in a series of setbacks, and his effort to push himself every time. And it does so quite well, with an emotionally charged storytelling and a polished grand-scale mixture of fact and fiction, with real match footage often used.
‘American Underdog’ Plot Summary
The film begins with young Kurt Warner watching the 1984 season Super Bowl and getting mesmerized by Joe Montana’s plays, which seals his life’s dream of becoming a quarterback in the NFL someday and playing in the Super Bowl. Some years later, in 1992, he is now playing college football, where he has not had smooth sailing despite showing good potential. One evening, while out for a drink, he meets Brenda, a nursing student, and the two gradually grow interested in each other. Brenda quickly lets it known that she is a single mother with two children. That along with her religion, define her as a person, and she is quite apprehensive about any romantic relationship.
However, Kurt’s continued interest in her, and also the care and companionship that he provides to her children, Zack (who is visually impaired) and Jesse, gradually wins her over, and the two start dating. All the while, he’s making a name for himself in his final year of college football and hopes to be drafted by an NFL team. But he goes undrafted and is understandably frustrated when Brenda supports him, and the two grow even closer. Soon he is called for a trial with the Green Bay Packers. But things only get worse as he fails to even perform in the trials and is released by the club in just two days.
Completely drained both financially and mentally, Kurt returns to Iowa and finds support in Brenda and her elderly parents and so he moves in with them. He takes up a meager-paying night shift job at a local grocery store to make ends meet. As he learns to live life without football, he is approached by Jim Foster, the founder of the Arena Football League, to switch to Arena Football (which is a different format of American Football) and play as quarterback for one of the teams there. At first, Kurt outright denies the chance, calling the AFL a sport far from real football. But life gets tougher as Brenda’s parents leave Iowa, selling off their house, and Brenda and Kurt have to relocate and live on their own, along with the two kids. Kurt now starts to realize that the AFL is the only way forward for him to earn money and also to continue as a professional football player.
Kurt Warner: Legendary Quarterback v/s Loving Husband and Father
The film’s focus is definitely on the character of Kurt Warner, the person behind the successful athlete. In the narrative, Kurt mentions his father teaching him to play football was one of the primary reasons for his love for the sport, though he left him and his mother for a different life. It is as if by playing the sport, he reminisces about his childhood and makes up for his father’s absence in his life. It is perhaps to not make others feel the same way that he steps in very readily and easily into the role of the absent father-figure in Zack and Jesse’s lives. When he decides to let go of his professional ego and play in the AFL, a year after he was first offered the contract, he does so to support his family and give them a better life. Initially, he struggles to adapt to the new football format, especially with the much faster pace of the plays. But he pushes himself to perform better when he realizes that his coach paid him a hundred dollars every time the team scored a touchdown with him as the QB, and he soon becomes a sensation in the league, particularly because of his spectacular throws.
But while Kurt excels professionally, his personal life starts to break down as Brenda feels left alone hundreds of miles away, and she asks Kurt to pursue his dreams without her and the kids. Shocked and saddened, Kurt walks away after handing her a jar full of dollar bills from his touchdown bonus, which he had been saving for them. He continued to perform in the AFL and led his team to the first ArenaBowl in 1996. But tragedy strikes some days before the final game when a tornado kills Brenda’s parents in Arkansas, and he once again stands by her without a second thought, and this gets the couple even closer, and they get back together. Soon, he proposes to her for marriage, and the two get married at a small private event. Despite losing in the Arena Bowl, Kurt’s excellent performance throughout the season earned him a call-up for trials by the St. Louis Rams in the NFL. Finally, Kurt manages to grow out of a conflict between becoming a professional athlete and being a caring family man, as he is now able to balance both roles.
‘American Underdog’ Ending: Does Kurt Make It In The NFL?
Despite being selected by the Rams’ head coach, Dick Vermell, for his skills and tenacity in the AFL, Mike Martz, is unconvinced by Kurt’s performance in the trials. But Vermell shows great belief in Kurt and offers him a professional contract. In one of the preseason games in 1999, the St. Louis Rams’ star quarterback, Trent Green, suffered a major injury, and Kurt is now predicted to be the starting QB for the entire season. In a personal showdown, Martz plays down Kurt one last time to judge whether he is ready to start in the NFL or not, and Kurt convinces him that he is more than prepared. He has a good start to the game, but his team suffers a turnover when one of his throws is intercepted. But with encouragement from his offense coach and his teammates, Kurt helps his team to a convincing win in the first game of the season. He runs to his wife in the stands, kisses her, and thanks her for her love and support. Throughout the whole season, Kurt Warner led the Rams to Super Bowl XXXIV and also earned the season’s MVP award. The Rams defeat the Titans in a spectacular manner to win the Super Bowl, as Kurt wins the Finals MVP award and also etches his name in NFL history as one of the greatest (if not the best) underdogs in the sport’s record.
Despite successfully telling the story of one of the greatest underdog achievements in sports, “American Underdog” is focused largely on the characters and virtues of Kurt Warner as a man. In this aspect, a special emphasis is placed on the virtue of being religious. Even before Kurt, Brenda was a devout Christian, and it is she who helps Kurt find peace in religion. When Kurt is released by the Packers early on, he questions God’s purpose in having given him an opportunity to fulfill his dream. But by the time Brenda’s parents pass away, Kurt’s devotion has only grown, and he now asks God to help him live through the suffering. Finally, after winning his first NFL match, and also after winning the Super Bowl, first and foremost he is seen thanking God.
It can be argued that “American Underdog” puts way more stress on the importance of a virtuous life than it does on the sheer effort required to make it to the professional gridiron. It does leave out facts from Kurt’s life that actually record his perseverance and struggle to make it into the sport, and instead focuses (quite superficially) on the Christian values of keeping one’s morals straight, loving one’s family, and believing in one’s self and faith. Nonetheless, the gloss and grandness with which the director-duo decide to present their perspective on the legend of Kurt Warner make “American Underdog” an enjoyable watch for those, especially into sports drama films.
“American Underdog” is a 2021 Sports Biopic film directed by Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin.