NEW ORLEANS – The story line is familiar to St. Louis Head Coach Mike Martz: an unknown quarterback steps in for the starter and leads a most unexpected run to the Super Bowl.
Three years ago, when Martz was the Rams offensive coordinator, he lost projected starter Trent Green for the season during training camp. The ball was handed to Kurt Warner, who had completed just four of his 11 career NFL passes. A journeyman who played three seasons in the Arena League and another in NFL Europe, Warner wasn't exactly a tested backup, let alone a starter.
Martz watched as Warner threw for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns to lead the high-powered Rams to a 13-3 regular season record and a Super Bowl title. Warner's storybook season, which came one season after St. Louis went 4-12, culminated in both league and Super Bowl MVP honors.
While it hasn't been quite as prolific as Warner's first season, Tom Brady has similarly taken full advantage of his opportunities as a starting quarterback. He stepped in for Drew Bledsoe in Week Two and lead the Patriots to a showdown with the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI just one season after New England finished 5-11.
Besides Warner and Brady having similar stories to begin their careers, Martz sees a lot of similarities between the two.
"They are very quick with the ball, very decisive and very accurate," Martz said. "Kurt and Tom are balanced passers who are good on their feet. The key thing both did was show immediately they belonged on the field and get the team behind them."
After St. Louis beat New England 24-17 in Week 10, Brady and the Patriots fell to 5-5. Despite a win in which he threw for 401 yards, Warner said the Rams knew New England was for real.
"We came away with the impression that this was a pretty good football team," Warner said. "At that point, I'm not sure what their record was, but we came away saying we wouldn't be surprised if they went a long way in the playoffs. We could see the chemistry they had and the way they gelled along with the way Tom Brady was playing. It wasn't a 5-4 or 5-5 football team.
"Maybe it is a little bit of a surprise because they kind of came out of nowhere. Once we played them, we knew we had the capabilities of getting pretty far. Whenever you're the underdog it's always a little bit of a surprise, but they have played consistently all year long and through the playoffs."
Even the way the quarterbacks talk about their teammates is quite similar. All season long Brady has trumpeted the hard work and dedication of the Patriots. On Tuesday, Warner gave the same reasons for why the Rams have been so successful over the last three seasons.
"We've got guys who believe in each other and are unselfish," Warner said. "We've got great veteran leadership, some of the best players in the league who work harder than anybody else. When young guys come in, they don't know any better than to work hard because all of the guys are doing it.
"You look at all the offensive guys we have, and they could all be superstars in this league, and they are all happy to play their role to make the team successful. Then you add a defense that is No. 1, 2, or 3, but it doesn't get the recognition it deserves because the offense is so good. They don't complain. They just go on the field and play, and that's what makes this team so special."