Sports

Many came to Canton to salute Kurt Warner

Reactions to his Hall of Fame induction, excerpts from his speech

Fans of Kurt Warner share camaraderie outside the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio Saturday. (Mike Hlas photo)
Fans of Kurt Warner share camaraderie outside the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio Saturday. (Mike Hlas photo)
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Here are two stories I wrote about Kurt Warner getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday night, followed by excerpts of his speech: 

CANTON, Ohio — Kurt Warner’s father tried to describe what it was like to see his son about to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Unbelievable,” Gene Warner of Solon said. “Well, that word isn’t big enough. But it is unbelievable.”

It was unbelievable in 1999 when Warner became a starting NFL quarterback with the St. Louis Rams and led that team to a Super Bowl championship that season. It still seemed a little hard to fathom Saturday.

“A story almost too good to be true,” master of ceremonies Chris Berman said before the induction speeches began Saturday night before 13,400 people at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. “Almost.”

But here Warner was Saturday night, becoming the first Iowa-born player among the 310 in this Hall of Fame. His speech, which was the last of the seven 2017 inductees, began at 11:10 p.m., Eastern time. It covered a lot of places and a lot of life.

A portion was devoted to his days in Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls and Des Moines as a quarterback at Regis High School (Class of 1989), the University of Northern Iowa, and Arena Football’s Iowa Barnstormers.

Warner spoke about his Regis basketball coach, Dick Breitbach, who was in attendance. “He wanted to know if I was competing at my highest possible level,” Warner said. “His message: Excellence is a mind-set to be practiced every day.”

Moments later, Warner said “Shoutout to the UNI Panthers!” before speaking about his mother, Sue Warner, who urged him to not quit when he was frustrated at not getting to start at UNI until his senior season. He also mentioned his father, brother (Matt Warner) and stepbrother (Matt Post) early in his address.

Over 20 former UNI players gathered in Cleveland and took a bus to Canton for the ceremony. Warner’s UNI head coach, Terry Allen, was here. So was a mainstay of Panthers football over most of the last 45 years, Bill Salmon.

“It’s awesome,” Salmon said. “I’m here as a fan. I was never an NFL guy, but when Kurt won in his first Super Bowl, I went outside and started screaming to myself.”

Salmon, a stellar quarterback at UNI himself in the 1970s, was on UNI’s coaching staff during Warner’s time there.

Asked if he saw Hall of Fame ability in Warner then, Salmon said “God, no! But he could throw it, and he really developed from his freshman year to when he was a junior and senior.”

Fresh out of UNI in 1994, Warner went to training camp with the Green Bay Packers. He never played in a preseason game and was released. Four years later, he was signed by the Rams.

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“Kurt came back from Green Bay,” Gene Warner noted, “and said ‘Dad, I can play in that league. I know I can play in that league.’ ”

Twenty-three years later, Kurt Warner became a Hall of Famer.

“It’ll be pretty emotional, obviously,” his father said before the event. “I’m sure I’ll shed a few tears.

“It’s awesome he’s accomplished what he’s accomplished.”

***

CANTON, Ohio — Andy Brewer of Ankeny received a lot of high-fives and complimentary comments Saturday afternoon outside the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

While hundreds of fans inside and outside the museum were wearing NFL jerseys, Brewer’s was of an old Arena Football League club. The Iowa Barnstormers, to be precise.

It was a tribute to Kurt Warner, who was inducted into the Hall here Saturday night before hundreds of fans who wore St. Louis Rams or Arizona Cardinals jerseys with Warner’s name and his No. 13.

 

Before Warner was an NFL star quarterback, he was a Barnstormer. He threw 183 touchdown passes for Iowa over his three seasons, from 1995 to 1997.

“I’ve appreciated him as much as a person as a football player,” Brewer said. “My wife and I decided if he ever got into the Hall of Fame, we’d make the trip.

“What I appreciated most about him was how many times he was told he wasn’t good enough but always believed in himself. He’s just a good example for people.”

The Rams left St. Louis for Los Angeles after the 2015 season. Many a St. Louisan may do an un-Warner like thing and take the Rams’ name in vain. But many were here Saturday to salute their favorite quarterback.

“He had all-around class, on and off the field,” said Meghan Baumer of Creve Coeur, Mo.

“I was a big Kurt fan more than a Rams fan,” Dan Patterson of Troy, Ill., said. “I was a charter PSL (Personal Seat License) owner when the Rams moved to St. Louis. We sat through a number of bad years. Kurt shows up, and it was a new experience completely.

“I’ve had two exciting experiences as a fan of football. One was the night Ricky Proehl caught that touchdown pass from Kurt in the NFC Championship Game. The other was in our living room with my family ...”

Patterson choked up a bit, then continued.

“That touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce in the Super Bowl.”

I told Patterson that on Saturday morning, ESPN2 re-aired a 90-minute show about that Rams win over the Tennessee Titans in the 2000 Super Bowl.

“It never gets old,” he replied. “It never gets old.”

I encountered several Rams fans from southern California who came here to salute Warner though he never played a down with the franchise in its Los Angeles incarnations before and after St. Louis.

“I’ve been a Rams fan since I was 5 or 6 years old,” said Bob Santelli of Los Angeles. “I was always waiting, waiting for a championship. Kurt delivered.

“But I like him more because he’s an extraordinary human being. To me, he represents many of the qualities and values you want to find in a player. He’s the ultimate role model for people. I’m more of a Kurt Warner fan than a pro football fan these days.”

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Phil Alei of Carlsbad, Calif., proclaimed “I’ve been a Rams fan since Day 1. Kurt Warner became my all-time favorite player with the Rams and then the Cardinals. I don’t think there’s been a better leader ever in any sport. I told my son if he ever makes the Hall of Fame, we’re going to Canton. In February, I texted him. ‘We’re going to Canton!’ ”

Alei said he was watching pregame warmups of a Cardinals game when “Kurt comes out to the 45-yard line, no helmet on. He threw 10 times in a row to a guy in the end zone, 55-yard throws. The guy in the end zone never took a step. The ball was always right to him.

“The deep religious stuff, that doesn’t do a lot for me. But I’m impressed with his faith, and his commitment to it.”

Inside the Hall, a display was set up for the seven newest members. Behind glass in one display were three Warner jerseys. He wore one of them with the Rams, one with the Cardinals, and one with the Barnstormers.

 

You couldn’t tell his story without mentioning his Des Moines days playing indoor football.

“The way he commanded passes,” Brewer said, “I’ve never seen that before or since.”

Warner’s story, Chris Berman told the crowd before the start of the induction ceremony, “is almost too good to be true. Almost.”

***

From Warner’s speech: “For those who witnessed my career from the outside, you will undoubtedly use the milestones: Super Bowls, MVPs, and of course, tonight, as the defining moments of my career. But if there’s one thing this process has revealed, it’s that those pinnacle accomplishments on the field were simply byproducts of the moments that would lay the foundation of the man who stands here this evening. Moments that few have heard about and even fewer witnessed. Moments that, no matter how insignificant they seemed at the time, would become the backdrop of my story. Moments that would shape my character and set the stage for one unforgettable journey.”

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“The road to our dreams often has detours. So, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do while you’re waiting to do what you were born to do. Thus, my infamous stint at the grocery store. Working nights stocking shelves, taking care of our kids during the day, working out in the afternoons to stay ready, sleeping when I could, then waking up and doing it all over again.

“But just as I knew it was something I had to do, I also realized there’s a point of no return — and I was backing myself into that corner. If I wanted different results, I needed to change my course because, trust me, no NFL scout comes running into Aisle 7 at 3 a.m. looking for their next QB. I was crippled by the fear of the unknown and I needed a little nudge to take that first step.”

“For a long time, I convinced myself that I could will myself to that dream. As long as I wanted it bad enough, I could make it happen. But if there is one great truth I learned from this great game, it’s that no great accomplishment is ever achieved by yourself. Being successful is contingent on others and it always starts with someone taking a chance on you.”

“To those listening tonight: Don’t miss your moments, both the moments to be impacted and the moments to impact. If you would have asked me 30 years ago which moments would best define me, I would have said, like most of you, the accomplishments, Super Bowls, MVPs, Hall of Fames. But I now know that not to be true.

“As you’ve heard, we have no idea today which moments will leave the most-indelible impression tomorrow. It isn’t something we can plan for or see ahead of time, so we must take advantage of every single one.”

“In the early stage of my career, I had a chance to stand on a podium similar to this in front of millions of people after winning Super Bowl 34. In that moment, I made sure the first thing I did was say thank you this person for what he had done for me. Many felt I was thanking him for orchestrating the Super Bowl win, making my passes fly straighter or causing my opponents to make more mistakes, but those people had it all wrong.

“That gesture was my way of thanking him for the trials which prepared me for this platform, for showing me, with him the impossible becomes possible and for choosing me as the lead for this once-in-a-lifetime role. Love it or hate it, that opening scene captured the imagination of the sports world and the words became the heart of my story. The rest, as they say, is history. Bringing us to this, the famous last words — and the only place this extraordinary journey can end. His final moment was for me, mine is for him. Thank you, Jesus!”

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