With Arizona Cardinal quarterback Kurt Warner preparing for next Sunday's Super Bowl and with the entire nation taking measure of his phenomenal back-to-back seasons in the desert, football fans must wonder, "How could the Rams have parted ways with a quarterback who possesses such special talents?"
Five years after his release from the Rams, this topic is still as controversial and white-hot as ever...And until the story is addressed honestly, it won't be going away anytime soon.
At the center of the storm are two questionable characters—former Rams head coach Mike Martz and St. Louis sportswriter Bernie Miklasz. In the early 2000s, Martz and Miklasz forged a mutually-beneficial relationship.
Martz routinely gave Miklasz exclusive access to his inner thoughts, and in return Miklasz delivered favorable Monday-morning analysis. The coach/reporter relationship became so incestuous, that Miklasz was even widely referred to as Martz's "Lapdog."
And when Mike Martz set out to run Kurt Warner out of St. Louis, he enlisted the aid of his friend Bernie Miklasz. A head coach cannot push a two-time MVP QB with a Super Bowl ring to the curb without some media cover. His friend Bernie was more than happy to deliver.
Under the guise of "objective reporting", Miklasz regurgitated a series of Martz's paranoid rants against Kurt Warner across the sports page, giving Martz all the cover he needed to get rid of Kurt and replace him with Marc Bulger. Today, replacing Warner with Bulger sounds like a ridiculous concept, but yes—it actually happened.
As a general rule, NFL coaches and management speak no ill of their players abilities or health—a wise business approach to maintaining their trade value. Yet Martz, through Miklasz, saw to it that Warner was portrayed as washed up and possessing a "crippled claw" throwing hand.
Not only was it bad business, it turned out to be a petty and vindictive attempt to end Warner's career.
And the results were indeed damaging. Warner was exiled to New York where fans were calling for No. 1 draft pick and "quarterback of the future" Eli Manning before Warner ever took the field.
And despite leading a terrible 2004 Giant team to a 5-4 record and despite becoming the Giant QB with the highest completion percentage in franchise history (that record still holds today), Warner was still benched. With Eli Manning at QB, the Giants finished the season 1-6, wholly validating Warner's accomplishments with a team in rebuilding mode.
Then, with a still-tarnished reputation, courtesy of the Martz/Miklasz fabrications, Warner could only find work at the least successful franchise in the history of the NFL—the Arizona Cardinals.
And in true Bidwillian fashion, his talents were again dismissed...This time in favor of Matt Leinart—another "quarterback of the future" with no talent and perhaps no NFL future.
And yet Warner pressed forward and kept himself ready...until 2007...In which Matt Leinart engineered the worst passing offense in the NFL in the season's first five weeks and was subsequently injured, allowing Warner to take over and help build the top passing attack in the league.
In the process, as Kurt amply demonstrated, he never lost his ability...Only his reputation.
And now for the past year and a half, Warner has averaged almost 300 passing yards and over two touchdowns per game. This season, Warner was named to his fourth Pro Bowl, and led his team into the postseason.
And in his three playoff games, he led his team to three upset victories, throwing eight touchdowns and only two interceptions. And in the past month, sportswriters across the country are discussing Warner's bid for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But not in St. Louis.
There, Bernie Miklasz is busy building a defense against a tidal wave of criticism. At this time and under these circumstances, one would expect an objective St. Louis sportswriter to be asking a few tough questions right about now of former Rams head coach Mike Martz and Rams president John Shaw: "How could you have let that one get away?"
However, this is the question that Miklasz would not dare to ask, because he shares as much culpability as they do. Instead, this week, he penned a self-serving spin piece in which he tried to re-write history in his favor, all the while ignoring the obvious facts that shred his flimsy case. Several readers took Miklasz to task, pointing out his most glaring omissions:
First, Miklasz tossed out a cherry-picked win-loss record for Warner in his last two injury-plagued seasons with the Rams, but he failed to mention that most of Warner's losses were on the road against stronger opponents than Marc Bulger faced.
And of course he failed to mention that neither the Rams nor Marc Bulger have had a winning season since Warner was released.
And he neglected to mention the absurdity and shamefulness in throwing a two-time league MVP, Super Bowl MVP and pillar of the community to the curb because he was injured.
He did manage to produce a second-hand quote from Mike Martz, the guy who supposedly made the right call in firing Warner, but neglected to mention that Martz has since been fired thrice himself and will be watching this year's Super Bowl from the NFL unemployment line.
And Miklasz once again failed to mention (or name) the Rams coach who mocked Warner's religious beliefs in practice in front of his teammates.
And of course there was no mention of the fact that the vindictive Mike Martz, with Miklasz as his accomplice, tried to sell Warner as damaged goods to the rest of the NFL after they fired him...As opposed to how Tom Coughlin helped Kurt get another starting job after he left the Giants.
The slander of Kurt Warner in 2003 by Martz and his most ardent media apologist and lapdog is a sleazy story that will (hopefully) someday be analyzed by an outside, credible writer.
But meanwhile, Kurt Warner has overcome that smear campaign to elevate the Arizona Cardinals to their first-ever Super Bowl. Unlike those who set out to destroy him and his career, he is a true winner and champion.