CEDAR RAPIDS — An amazing circle of football life closes for Kurt Warner this week.
This Saturday night, the 1989 Cedar Rapids Regis High School graduate will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He is the first native Iowan to receive that honor.
For his family, it’s obviously a wonderful week. There will be no pregame worries, no in-game stress, no danger of the former quarterback absorbing one of the countless violent hits he took.
The result is known, and it’s a good one. Warner will be the last of Saturday’s seven inductees to speak at the induction ceremony. Everything directed his way will be tribute and celebration of an extraordinary football career.
“I don’t know if it’s sunk in completely,” Sue Warner, Kurt’s mother, said last week in Cedar Rapids.
“It’s pretty surreal. But then, Kurt’s career was pretty surreal."
Tom Miller, Sue’s husband, neatly summed it up. “It’s a huge deal,” he said.
Kurt’s story — two NFL regular-season MVP awards, a Super Bowl MVP honor in leading the St. Louis Rams to a world championship, quarterbacking the Rams to two Super Bowls and the Arizona Cardinals to their only such appearance — will be told and retold this week in Canton.
That’s just part of it, of course. Coming from being undrafted out of Northern Iowa, playing Arena Football and NFL Europe, and then setting oodles of NFL records formed far too good a biography to be kept out of the Hall of Fame.
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This was the third year in which Warner was eligible. The first year, he flew in his family members from Arizona to join him the day before the 2015 Super Bowl. That’s when the Hall of Fame Committee elects seven inductees from 15 finalists.
The NFL puts the finalists and their families in hotel suites in the Super Bowl host city the day of the announcement. Miller called the experience of waiting for hours in a hotel room only to be told his stepson missed the cut “brutal.” He and his wife chose to stay home in 2016 and 2017, not wanting to again be put through the prolonged tension and potential agony.
Almost six months ago, Kurt called his mom shortly before the 2017 honorees were announced publicly. She said he told her this: “I made it. You’ll be in Canton with me.”
Warner’s parents, stepparents, and his brother Matt and his family will head to northern Ohio this week. They share perspectives most of us don’t have. They know what their favorite football player physically and emotionally endured to play quarterback in the NFL.
“I love football,” Miller said. “But after you see it ... we were down in St. Louis one time and we’d always go over to Kurt’s house (after games). He’d come home, and 10 or 12 feet into the door he had to get down in a chair because he was so sore.
“It gives you a whole different perspective about football. Sue’s never seen that hit against the Saints (a blindside blast on a block by New Orlean’s Bobby McCray in Arizona’s 2010 playoff loss, Warner’s last game as a player).”
“I won’t watch it,” Sue said. “Tom won’t let me.”
“Kurt had a six-fumble game in New York (with the Rams in 2003),” said Miller. “Well, he had a concussion and ended up in the hospital that night. Something was wrong with Kurt. We can tell. It was hard to watch that.”
While in the NFL, Warner suffered a chronic thumb injury, a broken finger on his throwing hand, a torn labrum, and more than one concussion. He broke two ribs during the Rams’ Super Bowl win over the Tennessee Titans in 2000.
“We couldn’t break Kurt,” then-Titans Coach Jeff Fisher said.
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“Kurt never whined about injuries,” his mother said. “It was ‘Just get me back out there, do what you have to do. I’m going to play through it.’”
But the good times were so, so good. In 1999, Warner’s first year as a starter, he owned the NFL. What his St. Louis Rams did offensively was different-level stuff. It was hard for his family members to wrap their minds around it, let alone the nation’s fans.
“It was kind of a blur,” Sue said. “To get to the Super Bowl your first year playing, it was crazy.
“Every young man in Cedar Rapids claimed he played either with or against Kurt. I’d hear guys say they played Metro (Youth) Football with Kurt, and Kurt never played Metro Football. I couldn’t afford Metro for him.”
“It was weird to go into a supermarket and see your son on magazine covers. That was funny. Someone would say ‘Are you into football?’ ‘Well, that’s my son.’ ‘Oh no, that’s not your son.’ ‘Yeah, it is.’ ”
Here we are 18 years later. You can’t tell the full story of the NFL without stopping to marvel at Warner’s career. It began in Cedar Rapids. It will now be told in Canton.