Two of the big NFL news stories on Friday were about Kurt Warner's retirement, and Rey Maualuga's arrest.
One of the reasons Warner will be sorely missed is intensified by the incident with Maualuga. It's the difference between earned and entitlement.
Warner's rise to Super Bowl MVP is well documented.
At the University of Northern Iowa, Warner worked and waited his way to the opportunity to start his senior year, achieving Offensive Player of the Year for the conference.
Undrafted, and following a failed tryout with the Packers, Warner returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach, stocking grocery shelves on the side. For three years Warner made the best of his time in the Arena League by taking his team to the championship twice. His accomplishments got him a contract with the Rams, who sent him off to the Amsterdam Admirals for some playing time, where he subsequently led NFL Europe in both TD and passing yardage.
Warner was prepared to back up Trent Green upon his return to the Rams when Green's preseason ACL injury opened the door for Warner to finally QB an NFL team.
What followed was "the greatest show on turf"—a Super Bowl-winning air assault led by Warner. Even after record-setting years with the Rams, Warner was left to prove himself worthy, bouncing from the Giants to the Cardinals. He met the challenge with tenacity.
In 2008 at 37, Warner won the starting job over the much younger and highly touted Matt Leinart in Arizona, leading his team of underdogs to a competitive Super Bowl against the Steelers. While the Cardinals lost the game, America was captivated by the humble leader and his performance.
Rey Maualuga has been rewarded and acknowledged for his football abilities since he began playing in the sixth grade. His high school career was peppered with various awards and honors, a trend that followed him through his career at USC. Maualuga's intensity, competitive nature, and flamboyant appearance made him a fan and highlights favorite.
While at a Halloween party early on in his freshman year, Maualuga was arrested for misdemeanor battery. It was his sole brush with the law during those years. He quickly got back on track, contributing to USC's final four of their seven consecutive conference titles and three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances—the last two of which they won.
Maualuga was generally projected to be a first round draft choice in 2009, but went in the second round, 38th overall to the Bengals. While many draft experts attributed this to teams drafting for specific needs rather than the best player available, there is also some thought that Maualuga's attitude was a red flag for teams. As one scouting report described his draft potential, "teams have become increasingly wary of players with character issues. This could see a few teams drop his draft stock or even red flag him altogether."
A broken ankle ended Maualaga's rookie season after 15 starts. Yet the foundation of a promising NFL career had already been set.
Friday afternoon, a man whose success and resilience were continually tested, consistently questioned, and ultimately proven, graciously walked away from the game. Kurt Warner will be remembered for his humility and grace just as readily as his postseason accolades and records. Any frustration that he might have felt along the way was held within, never showing us anything but gratitude for his opportunities. He was admired and respected by his teammates and coaches.
Hours earlier, Rey Maualuga was arrested for a DUI after plowing the vehicle belonging to an 18-year-old girl into a parking meter and a few parked cars. His blood alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit. He's potentially facing a 30-day sentence, fines, and a suspended license. His decisions and actions are devoid of gratitude, devoid of an awareness about the multiple losses experienced by the Bengals franchise this season.
Maualuga will be cradled by the league's substance abuse policy, and he'll make good on whatever consequence is bestowed upon him by the courts. He'll recover from his ankle injury and will continue to play well on the field for the Bengals. What he won't do, however, is fill the void left as men like Kurt Warner retire. He won't demonstrate exemplary sportsmanship or make us proud to watch him succeed.
Entitlement, like gratitude, has a distinct flavor to it. While we may enjoy watching Maualuga develop as an NFL player, it will never feel as good as it was watching Warner. And that's just a shame.
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