The Pro Football Hall of Fame will welcome its Class of 2017 on Aug. 5. This week, Shutdown Corner is highlighting the greatest moment for each member of the seven-man class, leading up to Saturday’s induction ceremony.
Kurt Warner wasn’t supposed to be in the NFL.
He didn’t have the athleticism, arm strength or the physical fortitude. That’s what the scouts said about the Burlington, Iowa native when he went undrafted in 1994. Warner, in this respect, embodies the American dream. He wasn’t a top draft choice, he didn’t go to a marquee school and did he have the blue-chip pedigree of his peers. His NFL dream was miles away when he was famously stocking shelves at a grocery store and working as an assistant for his alma mater, Northern Iowa.
Yet, he had a season that gives every sports underdog hope. If Warner could lead the 1999 St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl championship, anything seems possible.
When Warner was still hoping to make the NFL he still kept a strenuous workout schedule and made sure his body and arm stayed fresh. If an opportunity came calling, he was going to be ready. In 1998, after stints playing in the Arena Football League and with NFL Europe, Warner finally got his chance when the Rams came calling.
Warner earned the backup job with the Rams, though he barely played that 1998 season. When starting quarterback Trent Green suffered a season-ending knee injury during the 1999 preseason, Warner got the nod to replace him. Nobody expected the miracle that followed.
Despite accumulating just 16 NFL snaps before the 1999 season began, Warner was remarkable from Week 1 on. He had 18 touchdowns and three interceptions during the Rams’ 6-0 start. Warner and St. Louis surprised everyone by going 13-3 and winning the NFC title. Warner was named NFL MVP.
Then Warner provided the signature moment of his brilliant career in Super Bowl XXXIV against the Tennessee Titans.
Warner, who was a virtual unknown five months before that Super Bowl, threw for 414 yards, setting a Super Bowl record that stood until Tom Brady eclipsed it last season. His entire season was a fantasy, and he finished it with the type of play kids dream about in the backyard. After Tennessee rallied to tie the game with 2:12 left, Warner threw a 73-yard yard touchdown to Isaac Bruce with 1:54 remaining. Bruce’s touchdown ultimately proved to be the game-winner.
It was a vintage play from the offense that will always be remembered as “The Greatest Show on Turf.” Warner took a deep drop, with no extra protection as all of St. Louis’ eligible receivers ran routes. With pressure starting to come from his right side, Warner threw deep to Bruce. Bruce made the catch and then made a great run to get to the end zone.
Warner was one of those kids who dreamed about that moment growing up.
“To be able to step on the football field as I had dreamed about in my front yard a million times, and throw a touchdown pass as time is running down with two minutes to go in the Super Bowl to kind of seal the victory, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Warner said. “That’s what every kid, especially every kid that wants to be a quarterback, dreams about their entire life growing up. You watch all the great ones, you remember the great ones that did it on the biggest stage, and you say, ‘I hope one day I can have the opportunity to play in the biggest game, have the ball in my hands and have a chance to lead my team to a touchdown to win the Super Bowl.’
“That’s what the dream is.”
There was more to come in Warner’s Hall-of-Fame career. He led the Rams to an NFL record three straight 500-point seasons. He won two MVP awards. After some injury-filled seasons with the Rams and a forgettable year with the New York Giants, he had a rebirth with the Arizona Cardinals. In 2008, he earned a Pro Bowl selection while navigating Arizona to its first and only Super Bowl appearance, a 27-23 loss to the Steelers. That year, Warner won the league’s prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his charitable work off the field.
It’s hard to understand how it took the league so long to recognize Warner’s robust skill set: He had a devastatingly quick release, was a natural leader and proved to be a deftly accurate passer. Had he played earlier in his career (he was 28 years old during that 1999 season), Warner surely would have topped the 200-touchdown mark. He finished with 181. As it stands, he strung together a brilliant career that landed him in the Hall of Fame.
Warner’s story is one of the best among all the Hall of Famers, though he always had confidence in himself. He just needed a shot.
“They think, ‘Oh my gosh, he went from stocking shelves to winning the Super Bowl. How in the world did that happen?’” Warner said, according to the Canton Repository. “But here’s the thing: Every time I got a chance, I was highly successful. And when I got my opportunity with the Rams, I didn’t expect anything different.”
Previous “Greatest Moments” from the 2017 Hall of Fame class
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