As the last of the inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame to speak Saturday night in Canton, Ohio, Kurt Warner of former St. Louis Rams fame, told a story of never giving up, despite many setbacks in his rocky road to reach the National Football League (NFL). His life is of best-seller storybook caliber and would be a winner on the screen, like Warner was on the field.
The example he set for young football players is itself as wholesome as any interior of a church. Deeply religious, in the end he says his success is due to taking advantage of the moments to excel he was offered by God.
We are not aware of any NFL story of a player who held to his dream of playing pro football and became so successful as the Kurt Warner saga. He had so many setbacks along the way. Warner overcame all of them to become one of the greatest quarterbacks in American football history.
In college at Northern Iowa University, Cedar Falls, he never made first-string as a quarterback until he was a senior. He sat on the bench for three years, waiting for an opportunity to move up. Most players would be so discouraged by all that bench time.
Not Warner. He played wherever he could, with whomever would have him. He never took his eyes off his goal of playing in the NFL. In between, he took a job stocking shelves at the Hy-Vee store at night for $5.50 an hour in Cedar Falls. He has made that store famous. He was not drafted. He went to the Green Bay Packers camp but was cut. That was in 1994. He lived for a time in his wife Brenda’s parents’ basement. She was on food stamps. He watched their children during the day, worked out and then reported to the night shift at the store.
Kurt played in the Arena League and then played for a team in Amsterdam (NFL Europe), before making the St. Louis Rams team as a third-string backup quarterback. In a preseason game, starting quarterback Trent Green tore his knee; Coach Dick Vermeil gave Warner the opportunity. He made the most of it.
Warner said a regret he has is that he was 28 years old when he reached the NFL.
The Associated Press called Warner’s story a “rags to riches” tale, going from a grocery store worker to winning two NFL Most Valuable Player awards, one league title and “reinvigorating two moribund franchises along the way.” After six years with the Rams, he spent a year with the New York Giants and then finished his career with five years with the Arizona Cardinals. He was with the Rams from 1998 to 2003, with the Giants one year and the Cardinals from 2005 to 2009.
He won the NFL MVP awards in 1999 and 2003. He won the MVP award when the Rams beat Tennessee in Super Bowl XXXIV. He led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in 2008. He holds a number of NFL records. Under Warner and several excellent receivers, the Rams became known as “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
Watching him play in most home games, we were impressed with his accuracy on long passes. He really could connect with his receivers.
Warner has a foundation that helps the needy and he often expresses his religious faith. The foundation still is active in the St. Louis metro area.
Warner gave an excellent talk at the Hall of Fame program, which ran five hours.
Of note is that most Hall of Fame speakers tell of the “life lessons” they learned while playing football. All football players would benefit from viewing and hearing the speeches by Warner and the other inductees.