CHICAGO — Kurt Warner’s rags-to-riches story just got a lot richer.
The former Cedar Rapids Regis and Northern Iowa quarterback was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night, culminating an unlikely NFL career that almost never happened.
“My journey is unlike anybody elses,” Warner said in a news conference after the announcement. “It’s such an honor to to end up in Canton (Ohio).”
Warner is the first native Iowan — and Iowa high school product — to earn pro football’s highest honor and joins just four others from Iowa colleges. Iowa, Coe and Ellsworth Community College are the only Iowa schools with alumni in the Hall of Fame.
Marv Levy, a Coe graduate and former Kohawk assistant coach, entered the Hall in 2001 after coaching the Buffalo Bills to four AFC championships.
Former Iowa players Paul Krause, Andre Tippett (also the Ellsworth connection) and Emlen Tunnell also are in the Hall of Fame. Krause, a two-way starter at Iowa in the early 1960s, entered the Hall in 1998. Tippett was an All-American defensive end for the Hawkeyes who starred for the New England Patriots before his induction in 2008, and Tunnell played quarterback, halfback and defense during his two years at Iowa. He went into the Hall of Fame in 1967, the first African-American inductee. Krause (81) and Tunnell (79) are ranked first and second all-time in NFL career interceptions.
“The way my journey played out ... I don’t know if I ever really felt if I did enough,” he said. “When I was between the lines, I felt I played the game as well as anybody. Is that enough to get in? I had no idea.”
After an all-state career at Regis, Warner played one season at the University of Northern Iowa after sitting on the bench for three, waiting his turn. He earned Gateway Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors after leading the Panthers into the NCAA I-AA playoffs and an 8-3 season.
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Undrafted, he was invited to the Green Bay Packers training camp in 1994, but was released before the regular season. He then stocked shelves at a Cedar Falls grocery store, but never gave up on his dream.
He played in the Arena Football League, earning all-league honors in 1996 and 1997 after leading the Iowa Barnstormers to the Arena Bowl. He signed with the Rams in 1998 and played a season with the NFL Europe’s Amsterdam Admirals, leading the league in touchdowns and passing yards.
He stuck with the Rams for the 1998 season as a third-stringer behind Tony Banks and Steve Bono, completing 4 of 11 passes for 39 yards. He started the 1999 season as a backup to Cedar Rapids native Trent Green, but earned the starting nod when Green tore his ACL in a preseason game.
“We will rally around Kurt Warner, and we’ll play good football,” his coach, Dick Vermeil, said at the time.
Warner ended up passing for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns that season, the first of what now is a Hall of Fame career.
A two-time NFL MVP, Warner completed 65.5 percent of his 4,070 career passes, finishing with 32,344 yards, 208 touchdowns and 128 interceptions in 116 starts. The Super Bowl XXXIV MVP after leading the Rams to the 1999 NFL title, he passed for 3,952 yards in 13 playoff games, completing 66.5 percent of his passes with 31 TDs, 14 interceptions and a 102.8 quarterback rating. His 304 yards per game and six 300-yard games are NFL postseason records.
Warner started three Super Bowls, twice with the Rams and once with the Arizona Cardinals. He is only the second quarterback in NFL history to start a Super Bowl with two different teams.
“I was most proud of the fact I was able to impact two organizations,” said Warner, who also played a season with the New York Giants. “... that is what I wanted my career to be defined on.”
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A four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro selection, Warner won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award in 2008.
Warner, 45, retired from the Arizona Cardinals in early 2010. He and his family live in Arizona, where he helps coach a high school football team. He also works for the NFL Network and stays active with several charities, including Habitat for Humanity.