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August 28, 2014

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Super Bowl rekindles fond memories for Faith Lutheran coach

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Larry Cruikshank / Special to the Home News

Faith Lutheran head football coach Jake Kothe shows off a photograph of Kothe’s son Elijah, 10, and Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback Kurt Warner on the computer in his office. Kothe played with Warner at Northern Iowa.

Faith Lutheran's Super Bowl connection

Arizona Cardinals' quarterback Kurt Warner, right, visits with former college teammate Jake Kothe and his son, Elijah, left foreground. Launch slideshow »

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Not many people have experienced catching a pass from a quarterback who has started three Super Bowls.

Faith Lutheran football coach Jake Kothe has.

Kothe played wide receiver with Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner at Northern Iowa in the early '90s, and the two remain in contact.

Kothe will be watching the Feb. 1 Super Bowl with great interest as Warner's Cardinals face the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Kothe said watching Warner, 37, lead the Cardinals to football's greatest game is more compelling than when Kothe saw his friend play in the Super Bowl for the St. Louis Rams in 2000 and 2002. The Cardinals have never reached the Super Bowl.

"It's more interesting because it's later in Kurt's career," Kothe said. "Of course the Cardinals haven't had the best success in previous years, so it's great to see. They have a lot of talent there now, and Kurt is a great leader."

Warner started just one season at Northern Iowa in 1993. That year, Kothe caught more than 40 passes from Warner.

Warner was not drafted out of college and spent time working in a grocery store. He made a name for himself playing for the Arena Football League's Iowa Barnstormers. Warner then played one season in NFL Europe before signing with St. Louis for the 1998 season.

A year later in 1999, Warner was thrust into the starter's role after an injury to starter Trent Green. Warner passed for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns and was the league's MVP as the Rams won the Super Bowl. He won another MVP in 2001 and again led the Rams to the Super Bowl, where they lost to New England.

After 2001, Warner was not a full-time starter in the NFL for the next five seasons until he started 14 games with Arizona in 2007. Entering 2008, quarterback Matt Leinart was expected to be the Cardinals' starter, but Warner won the job in training camp and unexpectedly led Arizona to their best season.

"I saw him bounce back all the time in college, too, whether it was an interception or not starting earlier when he probably could have," Kothe said. "We always knew he was good, but you just never knew how good."

Kothe has kept in better touch with Warner since he signed with Arizona four years ago because of Warner's proximity to Las Vegas. In 2006, Kothe and his wife, Wendy, traveled to Arizona to watch a home game and spoke with Warner afterward.

This past summer, Kothe was on a flight with another former teammate from Northern Iowa, Dedric Ward, who is now a Cardinals assistant coach. Ward invited Kothe's family to the Cardinals' training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz., where Kothe was able to catch up with Warner at greater length.

"Kurt is a great guy," Kothe said. "He's a strong Christian man and we have a connection there, with me working at a Christian school. He got us down on the field, and everyone was yelling his name 'Sign this, sign that.' Of course he does. Kurt was the last guy off the field."

Wendy Kothe was happy to bring her son, 10-year-old Elijah, to an NFL training camp, particularly to meet one of his father's former teammates.

"We watch football all the time, and to make it real for him and see him in that environment was exciting," Wendy Kothe said. "Especially knowing his dad played with some people on the field with Kurt and Dedric, it was neat for him to experience that. Many kids don't get that opportunity."

Christopher Drexel can be reached at 990-8929 or [email protected].

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