Kurt Warner

October 18, 2011
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Kurt Warner, future hall of famer and former Super Bowl winner, is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. Had you met him 17 years ago, however, he wouldn’t be wearing an NFL uniform. Instead, he’d be wearing a Hy-Vee Grocery Store uniform. This article recalls his journey, from back in his college days to his first super bowl as a St. Louis Ram.

Kurt Warner’s college career was much better than most analysts may tell you. His senior year, at Northern Iowa, he led his conference in total offense and pass efficiency. These stats don’t get much recognition, since the said conference he played in was a lot smaller than say, the Pac-12 or the SEC where NFL scouts are always looking. Still, Conference Player of the Year, which Warner won, is nothing to sneeze at. He graduated in 1994, and, after not being picked in the NFL draft, was signed by the Packers. See, people know that NFL scouts make mistakes; therefore, after every draft, many of the undrafted players are picked up and can try out for the team through training camp and the preseason. These “undrafted” players don’t have much chance to make the teams, but once in a while they’ll beat out a late-round draft pick. The Packers already had a good, full roster of quarterbacks, and Warner was released. For most people, being released in training camp is the end of their career in the NFL. Not so for Kurt Warner.

Warner may have hoped to be signed by another team, but in the meanwhile he needed work. Since he was such a good quarterback at Northern Iowa, they were happy to give him a job as an assistant coach. In addition, he got a job at Hy-Vee Grocery Store in Cedar Falls. It’s unclear why he made the following decision; perhaps because he hadn’t been yet signed by another NFL team, but in 1995, Warner tried out for the Iowa Barnstormers in the Arena Football League. Clearly, being the future super bowl winner he was, his skills were far too good to be in the AFL. Because of this, he dominated. In just 14 games of play, he threw for 79 touchdown passes. It was evident to everyone that this player belonged in the NFL.

In 1998, he was signed by the failing St. Louis Rams. He didn’t start right away, however. Coach Dick Vermeil had him allocated to the Amsterdam Admirals, a European football team, to see how he would do. In Europe, he was again dominant. In his only year there, he led the league in passing yards, attempts, completions, and touchdowns. He had finally earned his spot on an NFL roster. He returned to the US for the NFL season, but sat on the bench all year as the third-string quarterback. In 1999, however, newly signed Trent Green, the starting quarterback, was injured during the preseason. Kurt Warner stepped in. Just as he had dominated the NCAA, the AFL, and the European Football League, Warner started to dominate the NFL. The Rams started out the first six weeks of the season undefeated with a point margin of 217 – 60. Marshall Faulk, Tory Holt, Isaac Bruce, and Kurt Warner earned the name “The Greatest Show on Turf”. The next week the Rams faced their greatest challenge yet. The Tennessee Titans, who were 5-1, just barely snuck by them and won with a score of 24 – 21. The following week, the Rams would again lose. This time, it was to a much worse team in the Detroit Lions. Despite the two consecutive losses, the Rams remained undefeated at home. They rallied, and wouldn’t lose again until the final game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a close game, but it didn’t really matter as the Rams had already clinched home-field throughout the playoffs. They took full advantage of this, and won their way to the Super Bowl.
Kurt Warner, who had been working at a grocery store just 6 years ago, was now playing in the biggest game of football on earth. And who better for him to face than the same team that handed him his first NFL loss: the Tennessee Titans. St. Louis scored first and took an early 3 – 0 lead. By the half, the Rams were leading by 9 points – courtesy of three short field goals by Jeff Wilkins. In the second half, St. Louis scored their first touchdown of the game – a 9 yard pass from Kurt Warner to Tory Holt. Later in the quarter, the Titans scored their first points of the game off of a goal-line run by Eddie George. Down 16-6, the Titans attempted a 2-point conversion to try and close the gap to 8 points. The St. Louis defense held strong, however, and it remained a two-possession game going into the 4th quarter. Tennessee controlled the 4th quarter and scored 10 unanswered points, tying the game at 16. It was then that Kurt Warner of Northern Iowa, former grocery bagger, assistant coach, arena football player, and European football player, needed to make a play. That he did. A 73-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce would give the Rams the lead. 23 -17. The game wasn’t over yet, though. The clock was ticking. Steve McNair of the Tennessee Titans took his team deep into St. Louis Rams territory. With time running out, he hit receiver Kevin Dyson inside the ten yard line. Dyson ran down the middle to the 3 yard line, made contact with Rams linebacker Mike Jones, stretched out… and came up just inches short of the end zone. The Rams won.
Kurt Warner went on to lead an illustrious football career, returning to the Super Bowl two times – once with the 9-7 Cardinals – but never again would win, even though he would get very, very close. There had been some debate about whether or not he would make the Hall of Fame, since for several years he was plagued by injuries, but those have been all but put to rest. He may be a future Hall of Famer, a former super bowl winner, and a great NFL player, but we’ll truly remember him for; what we’ll all take away from his story, is that even when you’re down, you’re not out.
17 years ago, Kurt Warner was wearing a Hy-Vee Grocery Store uniform. Three years from now, he’ll be wearing a Pro Football Hall of Fame Jacket.

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