Dick Vermeil reacts to Dennis Quaid’s portrayal

December 26, 2021
Zachary Levi (left) and Dennis Quaid portray the winning pairing of Kurt Warner and Dick Vermeil in "American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story."
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Legendary football coach Dick Vermeil wasn’t ready for his Hollywood close-up, but it’s came anyway in ‘American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story.” 

Vermeil, portrayed by Dennis Quaid, played a central role in Warner’s incredible real-life story, as the St. Louis Rams coach who gave Warner (Zachary Levi) a chance – first signing him as an undrafted free agent, then starting the unknown player as quarterback. 

While “American Underdog” (in theaters now) shows Warner amazingly taking the team to victory in the 2000 Super Bowl, where he was named MVP, watching the miracle movie was a bumpy ride for Vermeil.

“It’s different when you see somebody playing you – you don’t quite know how to react. It sort of makes me nervous,” says Vermeil, 85. “But I think Dennis Quaid did a very good job, probably a better job of being me than I do. My wife even said that he did a better job than I do.”

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While Vermeil insisted he has a “minor part’ in the movie and Warner’s story, he’s hosted three screenings of the film. He’s especially pleased that some of his actual words were used in “Underdog”: “There’s something special about you, son, and I can’t wait to find out what it is,” he tells Warner.

And there was something special about Warner, who was signed as a practice squad quarterback in 1998.

“It came down to me and my staff evaluating what we saw every day in the practice field, with (Warner) running the opponents’ offense in practice against our defense,” says Vermeil. “I would say, ‘Either this kid can really play, or our defense is lousy.’ You would rationalize it and say, ‘He probably can’t do what he’s doing in a game with 80,000 people.’ “

Warner was thrust into in the spotlight when starter Trent Green was injured and thrived in the high-powered offense. Against all odds, Warner led the team to a 2000 Super Bowl victory. Even Vermeil wouldn’t have been optimistic enough to hope for that outcome.

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“Never, ever did we expect him to be what he ended up being,” Vermeil says. “I sincerely believed the team would play well with him and we would be a good team. But I couldn’t predict we’d even be a Super Bowl team.”

Hollywood has come calling before. Vermeil was also featured as the Philadelphia Eagles head coach in 2006’s “Invincible.” In the true story of Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg), who played for the Eagles from 1976 to 1978 under Vermeil’s guidance, the younger coach was portrayed by Greg Kinnear. 

Vermeil declines to name the best Dick Vermeil actor. Warner, an executive producer on “American Underdog,” says Kinnear was briefly considered to play the role in the new film before Quaid stepped in.

“I’m really glad they went with Dennis. He pulls off the likeness really well,” says Warner. “And I think Dick Vermeil was a completely different guy when he was with me than he was when he was with Vince Papale. I like that there are two different actors playing him, and I believe both of them pulled off who Dick Vermeil was at that specific time.”

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