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American Underdog: History vs. Hollywood


Zachary Levi
Born: September 29, 1980
Lake Charles, Louisiana, USA

Kurt Warner
Born: June 22, 1971
Birthplace: Burlington, Iowa, USA

Anna Paquin
Born: July 24, 1982
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Brenda Warner
Born: June 17, 1967
Birthplace: Parkersburg, West Virginia, USA

Hayden Zaller
Born: abt 2009

Zack Warner
Born: 1989
Birthplace: Iowa, USA

Dennis Quaid
Born: April 9, 1954
Houston, Texas, USA

Dick Vermeil
Born: October 30, 1936
Birthplace: Calistoga, California, USA
Bio: Rams Head Coach

Chace Kelly
Born: January 28, 1967
Armonk, New York, USA

Mike Martz
Born: May 13, 1951
Birthplace: Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA
Bio: Rams Offensive Coordinator

Bruce McGill
Born: July 11, 1950
San Antonio, Texas, USA

Jim Foster
Bio: Inventor of Arena Football & Owner of Iowa Barnstormers

Historical Accuracy (Q&A):

How did Kurt Warner and his wife Brenda meet?

The American Underdog true story confirms that Kurt Warner and Brenda Carney Meoni met in 1993 at Wild E. Coyote's bar near the campus of the University of Northern Iowa. Kurt was a fifth-year quarterback at the university and was pursuing a degree in communications. The real Brenda, who is four years older than Kurt, recalled their first encounter much like it unfolds in the movie.

"I remember him walking into the bar and people saying, 'Kurt's here. Kurt's here.' And I didn't want anything to do with this little guy," Brenda told Fox 2 News. "He had feathered back hair and all these girls were around him all the time. And he would line dance and do it the exact opposite of everyone else." During their first encounter, Brenda warned Kurt that she was a divorced mother of two and told him that she would understand if he didn't want to talk to her again. The following morning, Kurt showed up on her doorstep with a rose and asked to meet her children.

Left: Kurt Warner and future wife Brenda Meoni pictured in their early days as a couple. Right: Anna Paquin and Zachary Levi as the couple in the Kurt Warner movie.

"There was something different about her," Kurt told CBN of meeting his future wife, "something that stood out. She wasn't like all of the other women in the bar and women that I had met. So, when she told me she was divorced and had two kids, that was not even part of the equation really."

Is Kurt Warner's wife Brenda a former Marine?

Yes. While comparing the American Underdog fact vs. fiction, we discovered that Brenda Warner is a former United States Marine Corps corporal. She left the military in 1990 in order to better care for her son, who had been injured.

Brenda Warner was a Marine Corps corporal.

Did Kurt Warner's wife Brenda have kids from a previous marriage?

Yes. As indicated above, Brenda had two children, a girl and a boy, from a previous marriage that ended in divorce. The boy, Zack, had been accidentally dropped in the bathtub by her ex-husband when the child was three-and-a-half months old, which left him nearly blind and with brain damage. Brenda told the Los Angeles Times that her ex-husband Neil's inability to deal with his guilt over Zack's injuries is what led to their divorce. She also said that Neil, a former Marine, suffered from a brain tumor, accompanied by seizures, and was unable to work. The injury to Brenda's son Zack led her to make the decision to take a hardship discharge from the Marines in 1990.

Two months after Kurt and Brenda married in 1997, Kurt adopted Zack, along with his sister, Jesse. Kurt and Brenda would go on to have five more children together.

Is the child actor who plays Kurt Warner's adopted son Zack blind in real life?

Yes. Child actor Hayden Zaller, who portrays Brenda Warner's son Zack in the movie, is blind in real life. Hayden was 11 years old at the time of filming.

Left: Kurt Warner with his stepson Zack. Right: Actors Zachary Levi and Hayden Zaller as Kurt and Zack in the movie.

Did Kurt Warner work stocking shelves at a supermarket prior to making it to the NFL?

Yes. Like in the Kurt Warner movie, the American Underdog true story corroborates that after being cut from the Green Bay Packers' 1994 training camp, Warner took a job as a nighttime stock clerk at a local Hy-Vee grocery store and earned $5.50 per hour. He was also working as an assistant coach at the University of Northern Iowa, his alma mater. With little money, he moved into Brenda's parents' basement.

Prior to making it to the NFL, Kurt Warner took a job stocking shelves at a local Hy-Vee grocery store.

Were Brenda Warner's parents killed when their home was hit by a tornado?

Yes. As seen in the American Underdog movie, the true story confirms that Brenda's parents lost their lives in 1996 when their Mountain View, Arkansas home was leveled by a tornado. Kurt and Brenda were still not married at the time.

As depicted in the American Underdog movie, Brenda's parents were killed when a tornado destroyed their Arkansas home.

Did the tornado tragedy help Kurt realize he should marry Brenda?

Yes. While they're not a couple when the tornado strikes in the American Underdog Kurt Warner movie, it seems that they were still dating when the real-life tornado claimed the lives of Brenda's parents. However, they both knew a change needed to happen in their relationship, for better or worse. "We had been dating four years, and he still hadn't decided if I was the one," says Kurt Warner's wife Brenda. "So, when this happened, it just kind of put things in perspective. What's important? What do I want? Are you going to be along for this ride? So it was more a shift in [Kurt]. I knew he was mine. I knew he was gonna be that guy for me, but, ya know, it wasn't evidently easy to date me and know that I was supposed to be his wife. So, it shook things after four years for [Kurt]."

Kurt commented on his hesitancy to commit to Brenda, "Well, especially, when we met, [I was a] college kid that's dreamin' about playin' in the NFL, and we get together, and, ya know, great relationship, but the seriousness of it didn't really take shape until a moment like that." Kurt says it was then that he knew he had to take the next step, because it wasn't just about being in a relationship with Brenda, it was about being there for her kids too. "That was a key moment for me in a lot of different ways to really settle me and go, 'Alright, figure this thing out right now because you got a family here that needs you or needs someone to step in and help them move forward.'" -KSDK News

When did Kurt and Brenda get married?

In researching the American Underdog fact vs. fiction, we learned that Kurt Warner and Brenda Meoni married on October 11, 1997 in Cedar Falls, Iowa, roughly four years after they first met. Meoni was Brenda's last name from her previous marriage. Kurt and Brenda's wedding took place at St. John American Lutheran Church in front of 250 guests. It was the same church where Brenda's parents' memorial service was held the previous year after losing their lives in a tornado.

Kurt and Brenda were married on October 11, 1997 in the same church where the memorial service for Brenda's parents was held the previous year.

Did a bug bite prevent Kurt Warner from trying out with the Chicago Bears?

Yes, Kurt Warner spoke about this in 2021 on the Barstool Sports podcast Pardon My Take. Prior to his 1997 Arena Football League season with the Iowa Barnstormers, Warner requested a tryout with the Chicago Bears. He got the tryout but was unable to attend due to an injury to his throwing elbow that was the result of a bug bite he received during his honeymoon in Jamaica. "To this day, we still don't know what it was that bit me," said Warner, who explained that his elbow swelled to "about the size of a grapefruit." Doctors figured it was likely a spider or a centipede.

"And then about two weeks later is when I got the call from the Rams, and flew in and did the workout and they ended up signing me."

Was Kurt Warner playing arena football when he was given a spot on the Rams' roster?

Yes. An American Underdog fact-check confirms that after being let go by the Green Bay Packers during training camp in 1994, Warner spent three seasons playing in the Arena Football League (AFL) for the Iowa Barnstormers. He was recruited by the Rams following their 1997 season and signed a futures contract with the team. In February 1998, he played for the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe. He returned to the States and got his first spot on an NFL roster in 1998 as the Rams' third-string quarterback.

Learn more about Kurt Warner's rise from obscurity to NFL stardom by reading his bestselling biography All Things Possible.

Was Kurt Warner named starting quarterback for the Rams after Trent Green got hurt?

Yes. The American Underdog true story reveals that the St. Louis Rams had signed Trent Green to be the starter for the 1999 season. However, when Green tore his ACL during a game late in the preseason when he was hit by Rodney Harrison of the Chargers, there was no time to find a proven replacement for Green. Instead, Coach Dick Vermeil named Warner as the starter. Vermeil was unsure of Warner and hadn't seen him perform with the first-string offense. "We will rally around Kurt Warner, and we'll play good football," Vermeil stated during a press conference. Little did Vermeil know then that Warner would construct one of the best seasons ever played by an NFL quarterback, completing 41 touchdown passes and throwing for 4,353 yards. He led the Rams to their first division title since 1985 and their first clinched playoff spot since 1989 (when the team was still in LA).

Trent Green lies on the field after tearing his ACL during a Rams' preseason game. Kurt Warner stepped in as starting QB following Green's injury.

Was Rams offensive coordinator Mike Martz really as tough on Kurt Warner as he is in the movie?

"He was," said Warner. "The whole dynamic between me and Mike in the movie was really, really well done, and it was, it was key in a lot of different ways to my development, and for me to get ready for that role, was Mike having to ride me a little bit. I remember the conversation we had once I became the starter, and he basically just said, 'We had to do everything we could to put as much pressure on you as possible, just to see if you could handle that and for us to feel comfortable putting you in that role.' So, it wasn't fun. I remember a number of conversations, calling from training camp, going, 'Brenda, I don't think I'm making it. I don't think I'm gonna make this team,' because all I could hear in practice was, 'You're awful. You gotta do this better. You gotta do that better.'" -KSDK News

Like in the movie, Rams offensive coordinator Mike Martz was really hard on Kurt in order to prepare him for the pressure of an actual NFL game.

The real Mike Martz admits he was tough on Kurt. "We put a lot of pressure on Kurt in the preseason," said Martz. "I was really hard on him, but he responded obviously very well. When we went to camp I just felt like he had never been in those pressure-type situations. ... We had to find out how he'd respond. I was really, really hard on him, really hard on him, and made life miserable, and just ground him and ground him, and tested him and pushed him. ... I'm sure he was miserable but he didn't crack. He responded so well. In fact, he excelled." -The Justin Ayers Podcast

Did Kurt Warner win the Superbowl his first season as an NFL starting quarterback?

Yes. An American Underdog fact-check confirms that during his first season as a starting QB, Kurt Warner led the St. Louis Rams to their first-ever Superbowl title on January 30, 2000 in Super Bowl XXXIV, beating the Tennessee Titans. Helming an offense nicknamed The Greatest Show on Turf, Warner earned MVP honors for both the game and the league.

Warner led the Rams to another Super Bowl appearance two seasons later, losing to the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots (Warner was named league MVP). A 2002 injury prompted the Rams to release him. He was then picked up by the New York Giants where he spent one season. He signed with the Arizona Cardinals and eventually became their starter, leading them to their first Super Bowl appearance in 2009 against the Steelers, who emerged victorious 27-23. Warner became only the second quarterback in history to start in the Super Bowl with two different NFL teams.

Rams' coach Dick Vermeil and Kurt Warner embrace after winning Super Bowl XXXIV on January 30, 2000.

Is Kurt Warner a devout Christian?

Yes. He first publicly spoke about his faith after the St. Louis Rams' Super Bowl win and his selection as the game's MVP. ABC's Mike Tirico asked him to comment on the final touchdown pass. Warner replied, "Well, first things first, I've got to thank my Lord and Savior up above — thank you, Jesus!"

In order to reach more secular audience members, the Erwin Brothers took a more balanced approach to the inclusion of faith in their Kurt Warner movie. In real life, Kurt told the Los Angeles Times that his wife Brenda's Christianity is what had attracted him to her. In turn, Brenda said that her Christian faith is what helped her through her son Zack's accident and the death of her parents four years later in a tornado.

Were the real Kurt and Brenda Warner involved in the making of American Underdog?

Yes. Warner says that he was "very involved" in the making of the movie, including giving Zachary Levi tips on how to throw a football and how to look like an NFL quarterback. In addition, Zachary Levi spent several days around the Warner family, which gave him a sense of how they interact with each other. Kurt and his wife Brenda were also present on the set for about half of the filming.

Zachary Levi and Kurt Warner on the set of the Erwin Brothers' film American Underdog.

Is Kurt and Brenda Warner's relationship as strong as it's portrayed to be in the movie?

Yes. Kurt has openly talked about his wife and their relationship on multiple occasions. After the Cardinals won the NFC Championship on January 18, 2009, Kurt commented, "None of this feels as good unless you can share it with someone. I get to share it with my best friend and the person I'm in love with, and that happens to be my wife. "We have done this together ... and I wouldn't do it with anyone else."

American Underdog Cast vs. Real Life: Pictured at the top are Brenda and Kurt Warner. At the bottom are actors Anna Paquin and Zachary Levi, who portray Brenda and Kurt's onscreen counterparts.

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