FROM TAMPA, FLA. — The fairy tale is that, if he wins Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals quarterback has promised to buy his family a puppy.
The reality show is that the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to whip the dog out of him.
The fairy tale is that, while dining with his family every Friday night before home games, the Arizona Cardinals quarterback picks up a stranger's bill.
The reality show is that the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to cash him out.
The fairy tale is that, for the second time in a bungee-jump of a career, Kurt Warner will finish work Sunday as the sweetest of Super Bowl heroes.
The reality show is that the Pittsburgh Steelers will make him melt in their mouthpieces.
Amid the grandeur of Big Ben, the edge of Edge and the brass of The Boss, this is a Super Bowl of two inexorably connected stories.
One is Warner, a deeply religious and righteous man who is trying to complete a career comeback out of a Kevin Costner movie.
The other is the Steelers' defense, a deeply nasty and noxious group that wants to hit him with a load of Eastwood.
Two stories, one ending, and, take it from me, it's not going to be pretty.
Last year, before the game, in this space, I gave you the New York Giants as your Cinderella Super Bowl champs.
This year, the win goes to the wicked.
The Steelers not only win, they win big, fracturing the fairy tale with countless forearms, knocking destiny on its duff.
Leading the conference in passer rating and leading the league in praise quotes, Warner is the Super Bowl's annual heartwarming star.
Leading the league in defense, the Steelers are the Super Bowl's annual unruly mob.
Once the game begins, feel-good won't have a chance against hit-hard.
It hasn't for, oh, XLII years.
"You know," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said with an odd grin. "we've been kind of thinking that ourselves."
Kurt Warner is Oprah.
He stepped off the plane from Arizona here wearing a perfectly pressed suit. He will step to the postgame interview podium carrying a well-worn Bible.
"It's fun, it's gratifying," he said.
The Steelers are Jerry Springer.
They stepped off the plane in baggy sweats. They have conducted interviews with wrinkled shirts and visors on backward.
"It's not about fun, it's about winning," barked running back Willie Parker.
From the moment he became one of the few 37-year-olds to steal a job from a former first-round draft pick -- Matt Leinart -- Warner has a been a blast.
Nearly a decade after winning a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams - and after being benched four times for three teams in the interim -- the openly devout old guy has become, well, reborn.
He was given two of the league's best receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. He was given former Steelers offensive guru Ken Whisenhunt.
Then, at the start of the playoffs, he was given rested standout running Edgerrin James.
And, oh yeah, through it all, Kurt Warner was also given this huge chip.
"I think the perception around the league about me was that I couldn't play anymore," he said this week.
The nicest of guys couldn't help but mimic his critics: " 'There was no more football left in him, and he's basically just trying to survive' ."
He said the league thought he was another Emmitt Smith, going to Arizona to quietly end his career: " 'The Cardinals won't win, Kurt Warner can't really play, so I guess it's a fine mix.' "
Then the playoffs began, and three upsets later, the story just got better.
"I think they knew something that a lot of people didn't, or took a chance on something that a lot of people wouldn't," Warner said of the Cardinals. "So that's been one of the neat parts of the story; they took a chance, I took a chance, and together, we've made something special happen."
With the Steelers bearing down, Warner's story Sunday will be special only in a red-light sort of way, his value lessening with each hit.
"And when you hit people in a timing offense like Arizona's, it can throw everything off," Clark said.
The Steelers will hit them, first, with numbers.
Warner lead the NFC with a 96.9 passer rating? The Steelers ranked second in the league by giving up only a 63.4 passer rating.
Warner had seven games of at least 300 yards passing? The Steelers gave up zero 300-yard passing games.
Warner always seemed to slip out of trouble, avoiding both sacks and interceptions? The Steelers led the league in combined sacks and picks.
"We think they're going to try to spread it out on us, but that's fine," Clark said. "That means that we'll have our pass rushers going one-on-one against some of their offensive lineman. We like that matchup."
Led by defensive player of the year linebacker James Harrison, the Steelers' defense ranked second in the league with 51 sacks. The Cardinals' offensive line hasn't seen this big, this quick, this many.
If Warner avoids the pain, his receivers won't, the Steelers giving up a league-best five yards per passing attempt, and only four 100-yard receivers all season.
"Playing tough is what we do, it's who we are," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "When you hit people like we hit people, everything changes."
Comebacks change. Fables change. Destiny changes.
To Warner's happy promise that he would buy his family a puppy if he wins this Super Bowl, the hardened Steelers will have but one loud, long, answer.