By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
Former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner’s gridiron career went from being a footnote to a headline.
Beginning as a simple sentence on the Green Bay Packers’ waiver wire in 1994, the quarterback played for Iowa in the Arena League and Amsterdam in NFL Europe before making his way back to the NFL with the then-St. Louis Rams in 1998. Over the next 12 seasons with the Rams, New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals, Warner became a living success story.
And on the evening before last February’s Super Bowl LI, he learned he would be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“You’re obviously excited and humbled to be a part of that group, but more than anything it’s just kind of a surreal feeling that after everything that I’d gone through to get there,” Warner said. “To think that that was even really a possibility because for so long it was just, hey, I just want to get a chance, I just want to have that opportunity to play at the highest level.
“And then to find yourself at the end of your career in this kind of position, it’s hard to fathom in a lot of ways. Obviously, I’m extremely excited to be able to finish the story this way and hopefully to encourage people through my story to believe that they can accomplish anything.”
The things Warner accomplished in the NFL – being named as the league’s MVP in 1999 and 2001, selected to the Pro Bowl four times, starting at quarterback in three Super Bowls; XXXIV, when he was the game’s MVP, and XXXVI for the Rams and in XLIII for the Cardinals – is equally as remarkable as the inspired perseverance he demonstrated to even be able to play in the league.
“I think a big part of it came from my mom (Sue Miller) growing up. She was a single mom raising two boys and not everything went in her favor,” Warner said. “Not everything played out perfectly. There were a lot of struggles along the way. And just watching her meet challenge after challenge and taking on responsibility after responsibility, job after job, whatever it was to make sure that her greatest passion could play out in front of her. And her greatest passion was her boys.
“She was never going to quit on us and was going to find a way and continue to create opportunities for us. I think that was a big part of it. I saw that every day growing up. I saw her will and determination and hard work and her mindset never changing. She was never going to give up on us and I think that correlated to me in my journey on the football field.
“And although it’s obviously a lot different in significance, I think just that mindset and seeing that things aren’t going to be given to us, that we’ve got to make our own way, that we’ve got to write our own story, she showed that to me and it was something I think I learned very early. It was something that sustained me through the difficult times to allow me to get to where I’m at today.
Warner continued. “One thing that I’m proud of is that my journey was one that I think a lot of people can associate with, even though that it’s professional football and very few get a chance to play a professional sport. I think most people deal with the ups and downs and the struggles and have to have perseverance to be able to accomplish what they want in life. They find themselves in situations where it would be easy to quit or it would be easy to come up with an excuse.
“So, I’m extremely proud of the fact that I’ve got a story that relates to so many other people and can be used to be encouraging and inspiring to people that may find themselves in a less than ideal circumstance.”
The Class of 2017’s induction ceremony will take place on August 5 inside the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. What does becoming a Hall of Famer mean to Warner?
“I think you try to contemplate what it’s like, what it means, what it will feel like, but it has been very hard up to this point,” he said. “The difficult thing about the Hall of Fame process is that you have to be at least five years removed from playing. And I think what we’re so used to in this day and age and, of course on the football field, is that instant gratification. When you win a game or you win a Super Bowl or whatever it is, you feel that right away and it all kind of makes sense.
“I think the hard thing about the Hall of Fame for me is it turned out to be seven years where you’re kind of, OK, my career’s over, this is what I am, and you kind of go about your business. And then one day, with nothing changing, somebody knocks on your door and says, ‘Hey, you’re a Hall of Famer.’ You don’t feel that different because you’ve kind of been going through life the same way that you’re going through life now. It’s just now; they’ve changed your title.
“So, I’m kind of waiting for that moment where it really sinks in, the significance of having that title and kind of being immortalized as far as football goes with those other 309 men (who are in the Hall of Fame). I’m waiting for that moment to really understand the significance. I think for me though, what I know right now, it seems to be like the perfect ending to an incredible story.”
Warner’s wife, Brenda, has been an enormous and significant part of that incredible story. And, as his presenter, she’ll be by his side for the perfect ending.
“I really don’t know what was going on in her mind (when I asked her to be my presenter),” Warner said. “From her indication afterwards, I believe she expected it to be more of a football person. So, I don’t know if she’d given it a lot of thought or considered whether I might choose her or not.
“It was neat to be able to share that moment with her and let her know that as important as a lot of people were, maybe more football orientated or in different ways, that I don’t think there’s anybody that deserves to share that moment with me more than she does.
“Wanting her up on stage, and to be able to have that moment because I feel so much of what we’ve done through this journey and, of course, the football stuff has been the two of us doing it together. From very early on, it was so much about us as a couple and I believe it should finish that way, as well.”