Missing trophy a reminder of Warner's climb

Paola Boivin
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 22, 2005 12:00 AM

It wasn't just any trophy.

It was the one that confirmed Kurt Warner's transformation from grocery store stock boy to NFL superstar.

It was the one that justified the Iowa Barnstormers, the Amsterdam Admirals, the two-a-days and the blind-side hits.

It was the 1999 NFL MVP trophy.

And Warner has yet to see it.

The Cardinals quarterback kept this information to himself at first. He didn't want to seem greedy. He's not preoccupied with material possessions and certainly not excess. Just ask Brenda, his wife. She once sent him to buy Raisin Bran to satisfy her pregnancy cravings, and he came home empty-handed, aghast at the $4 price tag.

As his career progressed, he privately longed for the symbol of a year that has inspired others seeking distant goals.

He quietly asked his agent and an assistant in his foundation to help him seek it out.

"You'd think," said Mark Bartelstein, his agent, "that they'd be eager to find the trophy for a guy who was such a great representative for the NFL."

In terms of off-the-field contributions, there may be none better.

In June, Sporting News named him the NFL's "No. 1 Good Guy" because of his contributions to the community. This is a player who has crawled into hospital beds with sick children and donates much time and money to charities.

Many other stories have never been told, like the one involving Jim Nace, a sales representative from Missouri whose chance encounter with Warner at a barbershop was life-changing.

Two years ago, on the day he was diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer, Nace kept his appointment for a haircut even though he was in a state of shock.

As he sat in the waiting room, Warner walked in. The two had met briefly before and Nace found himself sharing the story of his unimaginable day. After their haircuts, they parted ways. An hour later, the barbershop called Nace and told him that Warner had returned with a gift. It was a book written by a cancer survivor, and on the first two pages, Warner wrote encouraging words about faith and healing.

"That's the kind of guy he is," said Nace, 50, who is two years beyond his four-months-to-live diagnosis.

These stories, more than anything else, punctuate why Warner deserves his trophy.

His assistant's inability to find the trophy had less to do with intent than it did confusion. The season MVP trophy is issued by the Associated Press. The Super Bowl MVP trophy is issued by the NFL. Warner won both in 1999. His associates mistakenly thought the league was responsible and went through the wrong avenues.

Trophies mean different things to different people.

USC tailback Charles White won a Heisman in 1979 but gave it up 21 years later to settle a tax issue. Before Larry Kelley, the 1936 Heisman winner from Yale, committed suicide with a gunshot to the head, the 85-year-old auctioned off his trophy for $328,110 and divided it among 18 nieces and nephews.

Warner doesn't need the money. He does, however, long for the symbol of a year that was one of the most important in his life.

It turns out it wasn't that hard to get the trophy, after all.

When we told Terry Taylor, the sports editor of the Associated Press, of Warner's wish, she asked the Florida company that made the trophy to check its records.

The records didn't go back that far, she was told.

"Then make him another one," she said.

The company promised to have Warner's trophy to him by Sept. 1.

It was just a trophy. But for Warner, a symbol of much, much more.