• Kurt Warner on HOF journey

    Kurt Warner on HOF journey

  • Aeneas Williams on Kurt Warner, Hall of Famer

    Aeneas Williams on Kurt Warner, Hall of Famer

  • Kurt Warner on his family's trip to Canton

    Kurt Warner on his family’s trip to Canton

  • Larry Fitzgerald talks about working with Kurt Warner

    Larry Fitzgerald talks about working with Kurt Warner

  • Kurt Warner inducted to Pro Football Hall of Fame

    Kurt Warner inducted to Pro Football Hall of Fame

CANTON, Ohio – At the beginning of Kurt Warner’s football career, it would have been laughable to imagine one day writing a story about him that began with the dateline of Canton, Ohio, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Yet, here we are.

Warner officially becomes a Hall of Famer Saturday night, providing a final exclamation point to a career that was punctuated by them.

He started at quarterback one season at Northern Iowa!

The Packers cut him!

He worked at a grocery story to make ends meet!

He played in the Arena League and NFL Europe before finally making an NFL roster at age 27!

The St. Louis Rams won a Super Bowl in his first year as a starter!

And he resurrected his career in Arizona, helping the Cardinals advance to the Super Bowl for the only time in franchise history!

Warner’s story is as well known as any in the history of sports, a fairy tale played out from the time he made the Rams roster in 1998 until he retired with the Cardinals after the 2009 season.

REACTION:Kurt Warner makes Pro Football Hall of Fame 

Unique path to history 

Warner acknowledges that his story is so incredible that it borders on myth, yet he sees it differently than others.

“I always felt like wherever I was, I’d be successful,” he said. “A lot of people when they see my career, they hear or remember ‘sat on the bench four years in college, got cut by the Packers, worked in a grocery store and then won the Super Bowl.’

“That’s kind of the timeline the people see when they hear ‘Kurt Warner.’ When I look at the timeline, I say, ‘played one year in college, was player of the year in my conference. I played three years in arena football, went to the Arena Bowl twice and was voted the best quarterback in the league all three seasons. Went to Europe for a year and was the top quarterback statistically. So I look at it, and say, every time I played, I was successful.’”

Ironically, the elements that make Warner’s story so incredible also were the biggest impediments to his selection to the Hall of Fame.

Warner didn’t become a starter in the NFL until age 28. After three superlative seasons with the Rams, including two MVP awards and two Super Bowl appearances, Warner’s performance slipped, mostly due to a hand injury.

The Rams eventually released him, and Warner signed with the Giants. Warner lost his starting job midway through the year to rookie Eli Manning and signed with Arizona the following spring.


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It wasn’t huge news to Cardinals fans, who had watched their team sack Warner six times the previous season. Warner signed a one-year deal, an indication the team didn’t see him as the long-term answer at quarterback.

It took until 2008 for Warner to become the unquestioned starter at quarterback in Arizona. He led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl that season and into the playoffs again in 2009, his last season.

He left Hall of Fame selectors with an interesting career to ponder. Warner played 12 seasons, five in Arizona, but had only six great years. In the middle of his career were five seasons filled with injuries and a quest to prove he could still play at a high level.

That’s why Warner didn’t make the Hall of Fame until this year, his third year of eligibility.

What’s most impressive about Warner’s career is not the raw statistics. It’s that he helped two moribund franchises, the Rams and Cardinals, become contenders. Along the way, he taught younger players, such as Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, about work ethic and unselfishness.

A few years ago, NFL Films chronicled Warner’s story in its “A Football Life” series.

In one scene, the Cardinals are trying to close out a game in Seattle in 2009. Fitzgerald is six yards short of 100 yards receiving and is imploring Warner to throw him the ball.

“I’ll try to get you the ball,” Warner replied, “but what about winning this game?”

Then Warner walked away.

VIDEO: Kurt Warner talks about Hall of Fame expectations


Kurt Warner’s family was stuck at a Chicago airport Thursday night until Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill ordered his private plane to Chicago to retrieve them.
Kent Somers/ azcentral sports

At his locker last week, Fitzgerald smiled when he was reminded of that moment.

“He made you think,” Fitzgerald said. “He made you walk away and think, ‘I’m being selfish right now.’”

As much as Warner wanted the ball in his hands, he was never selfish when coaches took it away. Marc Bulger replaced him in St. Louis. Manning did in New York, and the Cardinals tried hard to give Matt Leinart the starting job over Warner in Arizona.

In each instance, Warner supported his replacement.

“Having seven kids, you love being in a position where you know how you act, what you say and how you help someone can ultimately impact their long-term success, or belief or confidence,” Warner said.

To this day, Fitzgerald has never been around a person so unflappable as Warner, and that goes far beyond the football field.

“That is something I try to emulate to this day,” Fitzgerald said. “He doesn’t allow things that are out of his control to bother him.”

It’s how Warner handled not making the Hall of Fame in his first two years of eligibility.

“I’ve known other guys who have waited, and it just consumes them,” Fitzgerald said. “His demeanor never changed. He told me, ‘It’s out of my control. I’ve done what I could to put myself in position to be immortalized. And when my name is called, I’ll be happy. But until then I’ll be happy and be the man I’ve always been.’”

While he always seemed in control on the football field, Warner wasn’t afraid to show emotion. He and former offensive coordinator Todd Haley often exchanged heated words on the sideline, and Warner never hesitated to chastise a teammate who made a mistake.

He left nothing unsaid. If a receiver was supposed run a “dig” route and and finish two yards inside the numbers, he’d better not be a yard off.

“But it was never personal,” Fitzgerald said. “It was never, ‘Fitz you’re an idiot.’ It was, ‘I need you to be better.’

“It’s completely different, and that’s what I loved about it. You could never get mad at his delivery because you knew it was coming from a good place.”

Fitzgerald will be among a sizable Cardinals contingent in attendance at the induction on Saturday night. So will his wife, Brenda, their seven children and numerous other former teammates and coaches.

Warner is due to speak last and has hinted his acceptance speech will go longer than the 14 minutes or so that Hall of Fame officials prefer.

That’s understandable. There’s a lot to talk about.

“No one ever did what he’s done,” former Rams coach Dick Vermeil said, “and no one will ever do it again. Ever.”

MORE: Kurt Warner voted into Pro Football Hall of Fame

BICKLEY: Warner still serving Arizona after all these years

HEAT INDEX: Cardinals have had success with undrafted quarterbacks

Warner in the Hall

When: 4 p.m., Saturday


Details: Kurt Warner joins the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Warner expected to speak somewhere between 7:15-7:45.


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