CANTON, Ohio — Most football fans are familiar with Kurt Warner’s remarkable path to stardom in the NFL, a journey that took him to enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Let NBC’s Cris Collinsworth hash it one more time.
“It couldn’t happen,” Collinsworth said before repeating those three words with bewilderment. “It couldn’t happen. There’s no way this guy that’s stocking shelves in an Iowa grocery store is going to go play Arena Football and figure out, ‘I’ve got to get this ball out of my hand pretty quickly here and make it out.’ He wasn’t going to play in St. Louis. Trent Green gets hurt, and he goes on to throw the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. Come on.”
Believe it now. Warner’s career path just to get to a starting job in the NFL took him from Favre’s backup to stints in the Arena Football League with the Iowa Barnstormers and the World League of American Football with the Amsterdam Admirals. Maybe it was the perfect time for enshrinement to happen.
Warner is the 26th modern-era quarterback to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and along with Favre, he will serve as a bridge of sorts between arguably the two greatest generations of quarterbacks ever. Warner remembers lessons from Favre that would later influence the assortment of Hall of Fame quarterbacks later, which he shared during media availability at Canton McKinley High School on Friday.
“That mentality that says, ‘I want to be reason we win every game, but I’m also willing to be the reason that we lose,'” Warner said. “That was the thing I admired about Brett more than anything. You have a lot of guys who can throw for a million yards and all of those things, but the guys that are willing to take a team on their back and take the load, and the brunt and the pressure off everyone else are the guys that I really, really admire.”
Warner is split between so many legendary quarterbacks that stretch three decades of the modern era.
There’s the Tecmo Bowl generation, which includes Joe Montana, John Elway, Dan Marino, Steve Young, Jim Kelly and Troy Aikman. Montana made his debut in 1979 but is essentially grandfathered in with those other stars who started their careers in the 1980s.
Then there’s the Madden generation, which Favre and Warner start and open a floodgate of Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks to come in Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers. Manning made his debut in the 1990s along with Favre and Warner.
Warner is the best of all three decades. He was the ringmaster of the “Greatest Show on Turf” and put together a prolific three-year stretch in which Warner was 35-8 as a starter in the regular season and led two runs to the Super Bowl. Warner compiled 12,612 yards and 98 TDs from 1999-01. Collinsworth saw the underlying reason behind Warner’s long-term success.
“I thought Kurt did more to intimidate defenses out of blitzing then most quarterbacks I’ve ever seen,” Collinsworth said. “What I mean by that by playing in that Arena League with three offensive linemen in front of him, you better get that ball out pretty quickly.”
Collinsworth said that style frustrated defenses and set up big plays, and it didn’t take long for that to catch on when Warner was given a chance to start for the Rams.
Warner recalled the moment when he knew he belonged in the NFL, and it’s not what you might think. He was driving with his wife Brenda in Cedar Falls, Iowa, the week after his first start on Sept. 12, 1999, when he threw 309 yards and three TDs against the Baltimore Ravens. A Rams staffer let him know he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
“I remember looking at my wife and telling her, ‘We did it,'” Warner said. “For one moment, I was considered in the best player in the league.”
Now he’s considered one of the best modern-era quarterbacks of all time, a nod solidified with enshrinement in Canton.
He made all those stops just to get to the NFL, then had stops in New York and Arizona as part of a productive career that doesn’t quite follow the same arc as those other legendary quarterbacks.
“You come into this and the first thing you think is, ‘I don’t belong in this room,'” Warner said. “But then to have these guys come up to you and tell you what your career meant to them, guys that you tried to be like, it’s hard to put that into words. I think that’s the awe part of it.”
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It couldn’t happen. But it did, and the consensus now is it’s a remarkable story.
That will be immortalized when he takes the stage Saturday.
“The fortunate thing because of the career that I had I was fortunate to meet a lot of these guys when I played,” Warner said. “But I think the awe moment with all of this is to realize that these guys who you tried to emulate, grew up watching that were your heroes growing up, actually know your story.”