American Underdog tells the unlikely story of former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, but the movie changes a few things along the way. The film follows Warner starting from his super senior year of college at the University of Northern Iowa through his first NFL game as starting quarterback for the St. Louis Rams. The cast includes Zachary Levi as Warner and Anna Paquin as Warner’s straight-shooting, supportive wife Brenda.
Directed by Jon and Andrew Erwin, who specialize in faith-based films, American Underdog shows how Warner worked toward his dream of playing football at a professional level. Warner took an unusual route to the NFL; he was not chosen by any team in the NFL draft and didn’t get his first real opportunity to play professionally until five years after graduating from college. The movie depicts his time playing in the Arena Football League before getting a tryout with the Rams.
By and large, American Underdog sticks to the most important plot points of Warner’s story. A few things were omitted in service of making the story leaner; the biggest change was made to add some dramatic weight to the film’s climax. This isn’t the first time a sports movie has made adaptations to a true story, as Friday Night Lights made some similar changes. Here’s what the Erwin brothers changed in translating Warner’s journey to the big screen.
Coaching At The University Of Northern Iowa
Although Warner was hopeful about getting drafted into the NFL after booking an agent, no team took him following his final season playing at UNI. After unsuccessfully trying out for the Green Bay Packers, Warner got a job restocking the shelves at the mid-western grocery chain, Hy-Vee, to support Brenda and her kids. In reality, however, Hy-Vee was not the only job Warner had following graduation.
Warner’s re-stocking job was during the night shift. In the day time, he held a position as assistant coach of the University of Northern Iowa football team he had played for as an undergraduate student. American Underdog shows the hard work that Warner put in to remain in the starting line-up under Coach Terry Allen (one of Firefly’s leads, Adam Baldwin) but omits his continued relationship with the school as a graduate. Given that the real-life Warner puts more emphasis on the time he spent stocking grocery store shelves in between college and his NFL career, it makes sense that the movie does the same. note: Damn Asura Movie
Warner’s Time With The Barnstormers
In addition to omitting one of Warner’s pre-NFL income sources, American Underdog is vague about how much time Warner spent in the Arena Football League. Despite working two jobs, money was continually tight for Warner and his family, so he decided to accept an offer to play football for the Iowa Barnstormers. The AFL is less prestigious than the NFL but was fairly popular in the late 90s when Warner was looking for an opportunity to play football.
American Underdog doesn’t give any indication of how long Warner played for the Des Moines team, instead focusing on the hardship the long-distance job caused for his relationship (a tough decision Lara Jean also made in the last To All the Boys film) with Brenda. Warner was the Barnstormers starting quarterback for three years from 1995 through the 1997 season. The movie also omits the fact that Warner received a tryout with the Chicago Bears prior to the 1997 AFL season. Apparently, Warner was bitten by a spider prior to the tryout that kept him from attending.
Again, these are minor changes; including the information about the Bears tryout might have come off as a little repetitive since Warner’s failed tryout for the Packers was included earlier in American Underdog. Likewise, the main point of showing Warner’s time in the AFL with the Barnstormers was to show how Warner responded to the adversity of not being able to break into the NFL soon after college. The directors made a creative decision to shorten the timeline in order to keep the story moving, similar to Denis Villenueve’s decision to cut a major scene from Dune. note: Zhuge Shiro – Hero of Heroes Movie
The Beginning Of Warner’s NFL Career
Another omission to Kurt Warner’s story in American Underdog also serves to keep the story moving, and it revolves around Warner’s entrance into the NFL. The movie shows Warner going for a tryout with the St. Louis Rams, getting onto the team, and eventually being put into the position of starting quarterback. In real life before officially playing for the Rams, Warner was sent to play in the NFL Europe for the Amsterdam Admirals.
Warner returned to play as the third-string quarterback for the Rams in the fall of 1998, after giving a good showing in Europe where he led the league in both passing yards and touchdowns. His first season with the Rams was not as fruitful and led to his being chosen to be an unprotected player eligible for transfer to the Cleveland Browns in the 1999 NFL Expansion Draft. All of this seems fairly dramatic but would have added a considerable amount of time to American Underdog’s nearly two-hour run-time.
Finally, after all his hard work and patience, Kurt Warner got his chance to play in the NFL when Coach Dick Vermeil (Dennis Quaid, who almost played Alan Grant in Jurassic Park) named him the starting quarterback for the 1999 season. For dramatic purposes, American Underdog omits the fact that Warner received a small amount of playing time in 1998. Instead, they frame the Rams’ 1999 opening game against the Ravens as his first game in the NFL. After a rocky start, Warner turns on the heat and leads his team to victory. This game is where the movie ends but football fans will know that this was just the beginning of a great season for the Rams, fondly called “The Greatest Show On Turf”. Warner had an amazing year, taking his team all the way to the Super Bowl, which American Underdog shows in a montage of real clips from the 1999-2000 NFL season. note: We Tend To Imagine The Worst
Warner’s Post-NFL Career
During the clip montage, American Underdog provides some post-scripts about Warner’s life after the 2000 Super Bowl. They mention his following Super Bowl appearances in 2001 and 2009, and his thriving marriage with Brenda that resulted in five more children. His career post-NFL is left unspoken, despite the fact that Warner has still been very active in football broadcasting. After his retirement from the NFL in 2010, Warner went back to his roots by becoming a broadcaster for the Iowa Barnstormers. note: Correcting This Aspect
He also started work as an analyst for the NFL Network and appears regularly as a contributor on NFL Total Access. He has made a few television appearances outside of the football world, including a guest appearance as himself on The Suite Life On Deck (whose stars, Dylan and Cole Sprouse, have moved on to bigger things) and as a contestant on Dancing With the Stars. The movie places focus on the hardest trials in Warner’s life on his way to achieving an unlikely dream. The trials left out are very similar to things already included in the movie, preventing it from becoming repetitive. Framing the climax around the 1999 season opener makes it difficult to include everything that occurred in Warner’s life following. Given the story arc of American Underdog, the omissions and changes made to the story are forgivable. note: Studies Indigenous People