Warner’s jour­ney took him from stock­ing shelves to Su­per Bowls

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Gary Klein

Af­ter years of wait­ing for an NFL op­por­tu­nity, Kurt Warner’s fi­nally ar­rived.

He had been cut by the Green Bay Pack­ers, stocked shelves in an Iowa gro­cery story, starred in the Arena Foot­ball League, and played in NFL Europe.

When St. Louis Rams quar­ter­back Trent Green suf­fered a knee in­jury late in the 1999 pre­sea­son, the then 28-year-old Warner was tabbed to start. He was con­fi­dent but also ner­vous.

“I knew, un­like other guys, I wasn’t get­ting an­other chance,” Warner said Thurs­day. “This was it. This was my one chance.”

Warner made the most of it.

He set NFL pass­ing records and was voted the league’s most valu­able player while lead­ing the Rams to a Su­per Bowl ti­tle. As the trig­ger­man for the Rams’ “Great­est Show on Turf ” of­fense, he won the MVP award again two years later with an­other run to the Su­per Bowl game.

Warner also led the Ari­zona Car­di­nals to the Su­per Bowl in the 2008 sea­son.

When his 12-year ca­reer ended, Warner had amassed more than 32,000 yards pass­ing — eclips­ing 300 yards in 52 games — and 208 touch­downs.

On Saturday, he will be in­ducted into the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame in Can­ton, Ohio.

“I was go­ing through all

th­ese dif­fer­ent routes and th­ese dif­fer­ent set­backs and I was just think­ing to my­self, ‘Why couldn’t I be the one to take that straight path? Why couldn’t it have worked out like that for me?’ ” Warner said dur­ing a tele­con­fer­ence. “And it is funny now that you find your­self here and you look back and I can’t say thank you enough for the route that I ended up tak­ing.

“I wouldn’t want to change any­thing now be­cause it is a route that will never look like any­one else’s, it will al­ways be dif­fer­ent.”

New Rams coach Sean McVay, 31, grew up in At­lanta and at­tended the Rams’ Su­per Bowl XXXIV vic­tory over the Ten­nessee Ti­tans at the Ge­or­gia Dome. He mar­vels at Warner’s re­siliency.

“It’s a great story of just over­com­ing the odds and you never know when your time is go­ing to come, but when it does let’s be ready to de­liver,” McVay said. “We talk about those things all the time and he’s the epit­ome of it.”

Warner said passion for the game and supreme con­fi­dence in his abil­ity kept him mo­ti­vated through­out set­backs.

“Ev­ery time I picked up a foot­ball and got a chance to play, I felt alive, I felt like it was what I was sup­posed to do,” he said. “I felt like that is what I was born to do.”

Warner, 46, started only one sea­son in col­lege at North­ern Iowa be­fore he be­gan his NFL odyssey.

He went to train­ing camp with the Pack­ers as an un­drafted free agent, but was re­leased from a team that in­cluded quar­ter­backs Brett Favre, Mark Brunell and Ty Det­mer.

Warner per­se­vered in the Arena league, lead­ing the Iowa Barn­storm­ers to two cham­pi­onship game ap­pear­ances. In 1997 he signed with the Rams, who sent him to play for the Amsterdam Ad­mi­rals in NFL Europe.

Warner played in only one game for the Rams in 1998 be­fore his un­ex­pected break­out in 1999.

Green’s pre­sea­son in­jury opened the door, and Rams coach Dick Ver­meil turned to Warner.

On a team that in­cluded Hall of Fame run­ning back Mar­shall Faulk, re­ceivers Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Az-Zahir Hakim and Hall of Fame tackle Orlando Pace, Warner passed for 309 yards and three touch­downs in a sea­son-open­ing vic­tory over the Bal­ti­more Ravens. He fin­ished the sea­son by pass­ing for 414 yards and two touch­downs in a Su­per Bowl vic­tory over the Ti­tans.

“I’m never go­ing to tell you I ex­pected it to play out like it did the first year,” he said.

The Rams re­leased Warner af­ter the 2003 sea­son. He played with the New York Giants in 2004 be­fore sign­ing with the Car­di­nals.

Four years later, as he did with the Rams, Warner led the Car­di­nals to the Su­per Bowl.

“To have the op­por­tu­nity to be a part of help­ing change the cul­ture of two or­ga­ni­za­tions is by far the crown jewel of my en­tire ca­reer,” he said.

Warner re­tired af­ter the 2009 sea­son. He now works as a broad­caster.

The Rams re­turned to Los Angeles last sea­son af­ter more than two decades in St. Louis, but Warner’s legacy is se­cure. He led the fran­chise to its only Su­per Bowl vic­tory.

Asked if he had any ad­vice for Rams quar­ter­back Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, Warner said Goff should be him­self.

“Try to get away from the noise and try to get away from all of th­ese expectations that are go­ing to be placed on you, be­cause they’re go­ing to be there — you’re the No. 1 draft pick and you get put in that place,” Warner said. “Those expectations come with it, but don’t let that be what drives you and pushes you and what you chase af­ter.

“Chase af­ter who you are and the player that you are, al­low­ing the game to come to you and al­low­ing that tal­ent that you have to take over.” That’s what Warner did. And he knows his story might in­spire others to not be de­terred from achiev­ing their goals, re­gard­less of set­backs.

“I wanted that straight path for so long and now I’ve got this re­ally wind­ing, curvy path and I look back and say, ‘Man, I am so glad that it went that route,’ ” he said. “I am so glad that I had those ex­pe­ri­ences to be able to, hope­fully, help en­cour­age and in­spire other peo­ple too.”

Doug Mills As­so­ci­ated Press

KURT WARNER IS BEST known for his stats with the St. Louis Rams, but he also led the Ari­zona Car­di­nals to their only Su­per Bowl ap­pear­ance in 2009.

Rick Havner As­so­ci­ated Press

KURT WARNER PER­SE­VERED af­ter play­ing for the Iowa Barn­storm­ers and Amsterdam Ad­mi­rals.

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