From stocking grocery store shelves to Super Bowl MVP, Kurt Warner’s career shows what can happen when a person takes advantage of every opportunity given to them. His career in the NFL, and the Rams for that matter, was certainly not the prototypical one of a hall of famer.
Warner was born on June 22, 1971, in Burlington, Iowa. Early on, Warner had aspirations to play wide receiver or tight end in high school. His fortunes changed after his high school coach saw throw the football farther than anyone else in a tryout for the freshman team. The coach put Warner in at quarterback against the wishes of the future Super Bowl MVP. In four years, Warner broke record after record and led Regis High School to the state championship, but there were not many scholarship options for him.
With no Division 1 scholarship offers from either of the Iowa schools (or any for that matter), Warner took a scholarship offer from I-AA University of Northern Iowa where he did not become the starter until his senior year. Despite having a solid campaign in 1993 throwing for 17 touchdowns and passing for 2,747 yards, Warner again faced an uphill battle when he went undrafted in the 1994 NFL Draft.
Warner received a tryout with the Green Bay Packers prior to the start of the 1994 season but was cut in training camp. Facing the prospect of not having any NFL offers, Warner worked the graveyard shift at a local grocery store making $5.50 an hour.
Warner refused to let his dream die and turned to the Arena Football League where he played for the Iowa Barnstormers. It took him a few seasons to adjust to the fast-paced, closed quarters of the AFL, but Warner became a juggernaut in that league by 1997, passing for over 4,000 yards and 79 touchdowns en route to the title game that season.
After having a brief sting in NFL Europe leading the Amsterdam Admirals, Warner finally got his chance with the St. Louis Rams where head coach Dick Vermeil gave him a tryout before the ‘98 season. Warner earned a spot as the team’s third string quarterback.
When Trent Green suffered a season-ending knee injury prior to the start of the 1999 season, Vermeil named Warner the starting quarterback for the Rams. Warner finally got his chance to shine in the NFL and ran with it. He led the Rams to a 13-3 record and Super Bowl victory, and earned the league’s MVP award. Warner passed for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns in what is now one of the best seasons by a quarterback in franchise history. He led the team pegged “The Greatest Show on Turf” to the Super Bowl again in 2001.
Warner left the Rams after the 2003 season. For several seasons Warner looked lost and his career looked to be at an end until he regained his touch with the Arizona Cardinals. In 2008, Warner led Arizona to its only Super Bowl appearance after throwing for over 4,500 yards. Warner retired after the 2009 season and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2017.
Sources: jockbio.com, pro-football-reference.com, cbssports.com, profootballhof.com
Martin Cruz is a staff writer for Rams Talk. You can find him on Twitter @MCruz1988.