The Iowa All-Star: Kurt Warner

By Bryan Dietzler

If you are a fan of football, you have to know that Kurt Warner, the rags to riches quarterback from seasons past, has earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  This is a well-deserved honor for a player that lit up the scoreboards in the NFL for years.  And perhaps you won’t find a nicer and more caring human being than Kurt.

So how did Warner end up as a Hall of Fame quarterback? After all, he came from humble and unassuming beginnings.  He didn’t go to a fancy school and gain a lot of notoriety in college.  The start of his professional football career was rough but he persevered and ended being given the NFL’s greatest honor.

How does a man rise from virtually nothing all the way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame?  Where does Warner come from?  How did he get to the pinnacle of professional football?

Let’s look at the life and career of Kurt Warner.  Who is the newest Pro Football Hall of Famer?

Warner was born on June 22nd, 1971 in Burlington, Iowa.  He and his family made their way north early on in his life and landed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  It was in Cedar Rapids where Warner played his high school football starring for Regis High School.  He graduated from there in 1989.

Kurt took a scholarship offer from the University of Northern Iowa, in Cedar Falls.  He was the third quarterback in line until his senior year at UNI.  His senior season at Norther Iowa was beyond great.  Warner helped to lead the Panthers to an 8-4 record and a Gateway Conference championship.  In fact, he was named the Gateway Conference MVP in his senior season.

Warner is still part of the Norther Iowa Panther record books as he ranks in the top-10 in all-time UNI career passing efficiency as well as average yards per completion and yards per pass.

All 32 NFL teams passed over Warner in the 1994 NFL Draft.  He earned an invitation to tryout for the Green Bay Packers but did not make the cut.  Warner had a lot of competition on the Packers, including Brett Favre and Ty Detmer.  He just couldn’t beat those two out and was released.

Following his release, the quarterback’s coach of the Packers at the time, Steve Mariucci, stated that Warner had a lot of upside but wasn’t quite ready to play in the NFL.

After Warner was let go he returned to Iowa and started working for the Hy-Vee chain of grocery stores.  He earned $5.50 an hour bagging groceries while he waited for another opportunity to play football.  Two other interesting things happened to him during this time.  He converted to Christianity sometime around 1997 and spent time as a graduate assistant with the UNI football team.

His hopes of landing with an NFL team were dashed at the time but he didn’t give up hope.  He kept trying.

After not having any opportunities available in the NFL, Warner turned to another form of football to play the game he loved.  In 1995, he signed on to play with the Iowa Barnstormers.  In the 1996 and 1997 seasons, he was not only named to the Area Football League’s First Team but led his team to the Arena Bowl in both seasons.

Prior to the 1997 Arena football season, Warner had asked the Chicago Bears if he could try out.  An odd circumstance caused him to miss the tryout though.  On his honeymoon, he was bitten by a spider on the elbow of his throwing arm and could not attend the tryout.  What a terrible twist of fate for Warner but it might have been even worse for the Bears.  They missed out on one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game.

Warner was finally able to secure a spot on an NFL team, well kind of.  The St. Louis Rams signed him and sent him to NFL Europe (remember that?).  There, he played quarterback for the Amsterdam Admirals leading that league in passing yards and touchdowns.

The Rams took notice and brought Warner back across the pond to St.  Louis.  He sat behind Steve Bono and Tony Banks during the 1998 season and seeing very little action.

The 1999 NFL season would be “magical” for both Warner and the Rams.  Kurt made it to second string behind the newly acquired starter Trent Green.  Green’s time at starter didn’t last long though as in the preseason, he tore an ACL and Warner was named the starter.

Warner had plenty of talented players around him to help him be the player he was that season.  With guys like wide receiver Isaac Bruce and running back Marshall Faulk, Warner had all the weapons he needed to excel.  His season was, statistically, one of the best in league history.  He racked up 4353 yards passing with 41 touchdowns.  He had a completion percentage of 65.1%.

 

The Rams offense became known as the Greatest Show on Turf that season.  They were a high scoring, high flying potent offense that won a lot of games on the road to the Super Bowl.

Warner lit up the NFL with his ability to toss touchdown passes and score points.  He was the only quarterback in NFL history to throw three touchdown passes in the first three games of his career.  Along the way, he started to earn some recognition including an appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  He also earned the honor of being named the NFL’s MVP in 1999.

One of the crowning achievements of Warner’s career came when he led the Rams over the Tennessee Titans in the Super Bowl.  He set a record for passing yards in a Super Bowl (which has since been broken) with 414 total yards.  He set another record when he had 45 pass attempts in the game without an interception

To cap off his stellar performance, Warner was named Super Bowl MVP.

The start of the 2000 season saw the star quarterback begin on a hot streak.  He threw for over 300 yards passing in his first six games and threw for 19 touchdown passes.  He would suffer an injury (broken hand) and miss a few games which set him back a bit.

One thing that had changed from the 1999 season to the 2000 season was that Warner turned the ball over a lot more than he did in his first NFL season.  That would put the Rams in some tough positions.

The Rams put up some big numbers in 2000 but they didn’t make a return trip to the Super Bowl.  They lost to the New Orleans Saints in the wildcard round.  It was a disappointing end to another prolific season for Warner.

Following an offseason of roster cuts, especially on defense coupled with the trade of backup Trent Green, the Rams were ready to make another run at an NFL championship.  Warner lit the league up again throwing for 36 touchdown passes to go along with his 4830 yards and a passer rating of 101.4.  But, he struggled, again, with turnovers throwing a total of 22 interceptions.

The Warner-led Rams earned a 14-2 record and made an appearance in another Super Bowl.  This time, they would face the vaunted Bill Belichick and his New England Patriots.  He put up decent numbers but made enough mistakes to cost the Rams a victory.  Granted, he helped rally the Rams and tie the game up but they ended up losing 20-17.  It was close as the Patriot’s victory came on a last-second Adam Vinatieri field goal.

One final highlight of the 2001 season for Warner came when he was named the league’s MVP.  It would be the second time in three years that he had received that honor.

The next two seasons were tough for Warner.  He played poorly and in one stretch, a period in which the Rams went 0-3, the threw only one touchdown and seven interceptions.  He ended up breaking a finger on his throwing hand and missed some time.  His stats, his overall performance, and the team suffered because of his erratic play.

Warner’s time as a starter with the Rams came to an end in their game against the Giants.  In that game, Warner fumbled the ball a whopping six times and was eventually replaced.  It was later discovered that he had a broken hand and it hadn’t been totally healed by the time he played that game.  The quarterback that replaced Warner, Marc Bulger, ended up playing well enough to keep Warner on the bench for the rest of his Rams career.

The St. Louis Rams released Warner in June of 2004.  It was the end of a short, but productive era for both the Rams and Warner.

Not too long after he was released by the Rams, Warner found himself with a new team, the New York Giants.  They gave him a two-year deal and made him their starter.  He ended up winning five out of seven games to start the season but New York turned to then-rookie quarterback Eli Manning.  Although Manning didn’t fare that well (he won only one game in seven starts) they decided to stay with him letting Warner go after just one season.

The Arizona Cardinals picked Warner up and gave him a one-year contract worth four million dollars.  He was given the starting job initially.  However, he went back and forth with Josh McCown as the starter for the team that season (2005).  He showed enough, that year, to earn a three-year deal worth $18 million.  If Warner achieved all of the incentives in the deal, he would get $24 million.

The 2006 NFL season started off well for Warner as he was named the NFC Player of the Week right out of the gate.  He put his name in the record books a couple games later as he eclipsed the 20,000 yard passing mark.  Incidentally, he was the second fastest player to 20,000 yards (at quarterback).  He achieved that mark in his 76th game.  (The fastest quarterback to 20,000-yards was Miami Dolphin’s star, Dan Marino).

As the 2006 season moved on, Warner struggled.  The coaching staff replaced him with rookie quarterback Matt Leinart but when Leinart went down with an injury, Warner was back in.  Kurt played solid but not spectacular for the remainder of the year.

He did not start the 2007 season but with Leinart struggling, he was asked to take over in the third game that year.  His performance in that game (bringing the team back from a 23-6 deficit to tie the game but losing by three) was outstanding but it wasn’t enough to give him the starting job.  At least right at that time.

In the Cardinals next game Warner went in again for Leinart who was struggling.  But, in a weird twist, Leinart came back in near the end of the game. It appeared as if the coaching staff couldn’t’ make up their mind who should start at quarterback.  But soon the answer was made for them as Leinart went on injured reserve for the rest of the season.  Warner was back in as a starter.

The 2007 season was nearly a record breaking-year for Warner as he came up just one touchdown shy of breaking the Arizona Cardinals season record for touchdown passes (he had 27).  Would there be bigger things to come in 2008?

Arizona’s coaching staff named Leinart the starter to well before the 2008 season but left the door open for Warner to step in.  But, when late August came, head coach Ken Whisenhunt named Warner the starter.  He had another solid season under center.  With 4583 yards and thirty touchdowns, Warner was the best passer in the NFC.  He even earned Pro Bowl honors.  But what was sweeter was that he was able to lead his team to the playoffs.

The Cardinals beat the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the playoffs.  Warner had a nice game and did just enough to win.  The Cardinals beat the Carolina Panthers in the second round and he did well again leading his team one step closer to the Super Bowl.

An efficient effort against the Philadelphia Eagles earned the Cardinals their first-ever trip to the Super Bowl.  Warner would be making his third appearance in the big game and he hoped to go above the .500 mark in terms of Super Bowl wins.

It was not meant to be.

They faced the Pittsburgh Steelers and lost a close one, 27-23.  He still had a strong game passing for nearly 400 yards while completing 72.1 percent of his passes.  Warner always had big games in Super Bowls.

Despite wanting to return to Arizona, the two sides were not able to come to an agreement. As a result, prior to the 2009 season, Warner became a free agent.  After some wheeling and dealing with the San Francisco 49ers, he went back to Arizona and ended up being their starting quarterback the next season.

In September of 2009, Warner set an NFL record by having a completion percentage of 92.3 percent in one game.  On the flip side, he threw a career-high five interceptions in a game against the Carolina Panthers that season.  You got both the good and the bad with Warner.  But he became the first quarterback to throw for 14,000 or more yards with two teams.  Well, you got more good than bad.

Yet another accolade he earned that season came in November when he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.  This honor came after a performance in which he threw five touchdown passes in a single game (against the Chicago Bears).

Near the end of November that year, Warner was taken out of a game against his old team, the Rams.  He had suffered a concussion.  The effects of that injury lingered for a while and finally, in late November, he was put on the inactive list for a game against the Titans.

Warner came back in early December and played well against the Minnesota Vikings.  He was even named the Fed-Ex Air and Ground NFL Player of the Week for his efforts.

In late December, he became just the second quarterback in history to throw one hundred touchdown passes with two different teams.  Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton was the other player achieve that mark.

To top the 2010 season off, Warner was named as an alternate for the 2010 Pro Bowl.  The Cardinals went back to the postseason again and Warner had a hot start.  He threw five touchdown passes in their game against the Green Bay Packers which ended up as a 51-45 victory.  There were several records set in that game including records for points and completions.  Warner was on fire in that game which was one of his best ever.

Warner’s next game, against the New Orleans Saints, was one of the most memorable events in his life.  As he was trying to tackle a player who had just intercepted one of his passes, he was “laid out” by a defender with an illegal hit.  He came back to play a little longer but had to leave the game.  The Cardinals ended up losing.

Shortly after the game, he announced that he was retiring from the NFL.  He wished to spend more time with his family and felt it was time to hang it up.  So he did.  Warner almost came out of retirement when Cardinal’s quarterbacks Drew Stanton and Carson Palmer were injured but he didn’t put the helmet on again.  He was done for good.

A television career came calling for Warner after he retired.  He broadcasted Iowa Barnstormer games to start then moved on to the NFL network.

He broke many records in his NFL career and received several honors.  Some of the honors he has been given include being inducted into the Arena Football and St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame.  He has had his likeness on a video game cover.  Well, not Madden but the game Kurt Warner’s Arena Football Unleashed.  That’s still worth noting.

Just this winter, Warner was named as an inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  He will be enshrined in the Hall this August.

Warner epitomizes what hard work can do.  He kept going, never giving up and made it from a grocery store bagger to an NFL superstar.  His entry into the Hall of Fame is well deserved.  Warner has been one of the good guys in football and should be honored or what he has accomplished.

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