SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -Although Kurt Warner credits Mike Martz for many of his lofty achievements, the Arizona quarterback knows his former coach's new project might feel about 2 feet tall heading into his first NFL start.
J.T. O'Sullivan, the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback in Sunday's season opener against Warner's Cardinals, was a low-round draft pick out of UC Davis who bounced through nine stints with eight NFL teams over the last seven years, not counting two trips to NFL Europe.
It's much the same path once walked by Warner, who famously played in the Arena Football League and Europe when he wasn't stocking supermarket shelves. Warner's life changed when he caught on with the St. Louis Rams in 1998 as a 27-year-old rookie backup.
But he quickly discovered life isn't great for a newcomer trying to get inside Martz's big brain.
``I was the whipping boy that you hear about,'' Warner said, confirming every story about Martz's rough treatment of newbies.
``All of the coaching was done through me,'' Warner said. ``There were a couple of times that I would get yelled at in every single meeting. There would be days where I'd go home and I would call my wife, and I'd be telling her, 'Man, I'm not any good,' because that's all that I heard in the meetings. I never lacked confidence before, but I remember telling her, 'I'm just not very good.'''
When Warner began his history-making run to the Super Bowl and the MVP award in 1999, many of his teammates - including receiver Isaac Bruce, who will debut Sunday with the 49ers - were just as shocked as the rest of the nation by Warner's incredible play. Even the Rams thought Warner was terrible after everything they heard from Martz.
O'Sullivan and Warner both did the unexpected last month by beating out a high recent first-round draft choice to get the opening-day start. O'Sullivan outplayed Alex Smith, the beleaguered former No. 1 overall pick, while Warner got the nod over Matt Leinart, the underachieving former USC star.
``I definitely don't think of it as a culmination,'' said O'Sullivan, who hasn't flinched under Martz's instruction. ``It's a step in the process of where I want to get, and where this team wants to get.''
The situation is similarly urgent in Arizona, where coach Ken Whisenhunt made the unorthodox choice to delay Leinart's development. The Cardinals have just one winning season in 23 years, but can smell playoff contention in a weak division after going 8-8 last year.
``This organization hasn't won enough games where we can patiently wait on any position,'' Whisenhunt said. ``We want to win games now, and that is what everything is geared towards.''
The teams are meeting in their third straight season opener, including last year's memorable evening game at Candlestick Park. Smith led a late drive in San Francisco's victory, but only after the Cardinals missed a chance to recover a potential game-ending fumble in the end zone.
An end-zone fumble also figured in the rematch in Glendale, with San Francisco's Tully Banta-Cain falling on the loose ball for the decisive overtime touchdown in a defense-free meeting in late November. San Francisco had lost its first four games against Arizona in coach Mike Nolan's tenure before sweeping the series last year from the Cardinals, whose two losses to San Francisco likely kept them out of the postseason.
Just as Warner doesn't have much advice to offer Arizona's defensive coaches about Martz's offense, new San Francisco receiver Bryant Johnson can't think of anything he could tell the 49ers' defensive backs about Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald that they don't already know.
Johnson signed a one-year deal with the 49ers last spring after five seasons with the Cardinals, who drafted him in the first round. Johnson wanted to be more than a No. 3 receiver, so he left despite a close bond with both Boldin and Warner.
Though the Cardinals could be on the verge of a playoff breakthrough after last season's .500 campaign, Johnson was more attracted to the opportunity to be on the receiving end of the passes in Martz's offense. The receiver said Martz was the primary reason he chose to switch sides in what passes for a rivalry in the NFC West.
``I wouldn't say I've been waiting for (Sunday's game),'' Johnson said. ``I'm just looking forward to the opportunity that's given to me. It's a whole lot more than the opportunity I had in Arizona.''

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