Editor’s note: Cedar Rapids native Kurt Warner was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday night in Canton, Ohio. This is the full transcript from his speech at the ceremony.
"Man, I wasn’t sure if this moment was ever going to come. In more ways than one.
Marshall (Faulk) told me there would be a moment when it just hits you. All right, now it’s getting real.
People say, ‘Hollywood couldn’t have written it any better.’ After this, they don’t have a chance.
Let me begin by saying how honored I am to be joining these six well-deserving, character-driven men as part of the Class of 2017, and how humbled I feel to be joining this new team made up of men that I’ve admired and tried to emulate ever since I first picked up a football.
For those who have 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 made 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 which would shape my character and set the stage for one unforgettable journey.
Like the moment I visualized this for the first time. The moment that tonight became a possibility.
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Growing up a huge football fan, my Sundays were spent watching every game I could find on TV. At the culmination of the games, I’d grab my jersey – a term I use lightly, because it was really just a T-shirt with a number on it. Then I’d head outside to reenact my own version of the games.
My jersey didn’t have a nameplate. So I pulled out the masking tape and created my own. Then I’d write the last name of the man who would be the star of that day’s show.
Most of the QBs sitting behind me, who played in that era, donned the back of my jersey at least once. My frontyard played host to Broadway Joe, Bart Starr and Lenny Dawson. Johnny U, Bob Griese and Fran Tarkenton. ‘The Snake,’ Dan Fouts and, of course, Roger ‘The Dodger.’
The only name I don’t ever recall writing was Bradshaw. You see, I grew up a Cowboys fan. So no matter how great he was, there was no way I was wearing a jersey with a Steeler QB on the back. Especially that Steeler QB, who broke my heart twice on Super Bowl Sunday growing up.
I’m sorry, Terry, you know I love you now.
I spent the greater part of my childhood trying to be these incredible players. I practiced their throwing motions and memorized their movements, thinking that was how I would get here.
Then one afternoon, that all changed.
This particular Sunday played out like all the others. Until it came time to write a name on the back of my jersey. I went through all the usual suspects, until finally settling on one I was sure had never made the cut before.
It would be the first time I would wear a jersey with his name on it, and it would be the last name I ever wore on the back of my jersey.
I’ll never forget writing it the first time and realizing a few little letters could change everything. It was the day I added ‘A-U-T-O’ to the biography I was writing.
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There were the moments when football changed from a pastime to a passion, like when my two brothers and I would head outside on Saturday morning.
I have this image of us walking down the street in slow motion, like the wolfpack in ‘The Hangover,’ carrying a boom box blasting ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and me, wearing my lucky green jeans, with my beat-up duke under my arm.
We would solicit all challengers to the gridiron. A gridiron which varied from snow-filled frontyards, to the inclined street in front of our house, where we dodged parked cars on our way to the end zone, to our neighbors’ field, where their mowed lines made us feel like we were playing in the Super Bowl.
We’d play until it got so dark we couldn’t see the football, or until we couldn’t feel our fingers or toes, only to return refreshed the following week.
Now, I already apologized to one Hall of Famer. Now I’m going to do it to three more.
Troy (Aikman), Emmitt (Smith), Michael (Irvin), I’m sorry to break it to you here, but we were the original triplets. Where you at, Michael? Relax. Relax. We agreed to let you retain the title, alright?
So to my brother, Matt, and my other brother, Matt – I know, don’t ask, we’re from Iowa, we like to keep things simple – thanks for being the Emmitt and Michael to my Troy, for building my confidence in all those years by letting me beat up on you, and for always being my biggest fans.
As a father of seven, I’ve come to understand the selflessness and patience it takes to parent a child who is always asking for something. This made me respect my dad (Gene Warner) more, because I was one of those children.
I rarely asked for the newest toys, or the latest video games or the coolest shoes. My greatest ask was always for my dad’s time.
‘Dad, will you play catch with me in the backyard?’
‘Dad, can you take us to the park so we can play 1-on-1-on-1?’
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‘Dad, will you drive me to the gym and spend your whole afternoon rebounding for me?’
I’ve come to appreciate the greatest gift any parent can give their child is saying yes to spending time with them.
Dad, I know there were plenty of times you would have chosen to do something different, something you enjoyed more, but thank you for all the times you said yes. Because your yeses fanned my spark into a flame and your yeses kept me going when everyone else was saying no. I love you.
When I was a teenager, there were those moments of enlightenment. Now listen closely kids, especially you, Elijah. The moments when this know-it-all kid didn’t have all the answers, and I didn’t always know what was best for me.
You see, my dream to play in the NFL didn’t start with the QB position. It began wanting to be the next great wide receiver. The next Steve Largent, Charlie Joiner or Lynn Swann.
Yes, I know how outrageous that sounds now, especially as often as my boys reminded me about my Madden speed rating.
But that all changed when I showed up at high school. At my first practice, our coach was separating us by position when he realized no one was trying out for quarterback.
So he lined us up and asked us all to throw it as far as we could. It was the one competition in my entire life I didn’t want to win. But as fate would have it, I did, and I was promptly switched to QB.
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Now, I cannot confirm nor deny if tears were shed that day, but unquestionably my dream to play in the NFL had been crushed.
My biggest hurdle: the willingness to stand in the pocket and get hit.
I’d spent my whole life avoiding hits, scoring touchdowns. So being told to stand in the pocket, get hit and let everyone else score? That went against my better judgment.
Every time I would drop back, my eyes would go directly to the rush, looking for a route of escape. After weeks of frustration, my coach came up with a special drill just for me. He called it the ‘Kill Kurt Drill.’ Surprise: It was my friends’ favorite drill.
It was made up of just the O-line and the D-line. I would get the snap, drop back and have to move between the tackles, avoiding the rush until Coach blew his whistle. Then, if I hadn’t been flattened by one of my buddies, I’d have to throw it as quickly as I could. Then we lined up, or got up, and did it again. Somebody would so be getting fired if they ran that drill today. But he – I mean, it – forced me to stand up and face my fear head on.
That year, I learned to welcome the challenges of life, because it’s where our best is often revealed. It taught me that through discipline and dedication and the ‘Kill Kurt Drill,’ your greatest weaknesses can become your greatest strengths.
Coach (Jim) Padlock, thanks for patiently opening my eyes to what I couldn’t see, even if they were plastered shut because of all the hits you let me take. That moment freshman year influenced the direction of my life as much as any.
The person who influenced my life most in high school was my basketball coach, Coach (Dick) Breitbach. His impact had little to do with the finer points of being a QB, but had everything to do with the competitor I would become on the field.
It was during summer basketball camp – and not to brag, but I was without a doubt the best player on the court. It’s my story, I’ve got the mic. We were scrimmaging, I was dominating, and then came Coach B’s whistle. I remember thinking, ‘he’s going to let these guys have it.’ Then before I knew it, he was looking right at me, his face as red as his Regis High School T-shirt, and he was spitting and screaming and screaming and spitting. All I remember were the words, ‘Kurt, what do you think you’re doing?’ I wanted to respond, ‘I think, I’m killing these jokers.’ But I knew it best not to respond to one of Coach B’s rhetorical questions.
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He pulled me aside and told me he wasn’t interested in the score or the scoreboard, or if I was the best player on the court. He wanted to know if I was competing at my highest possible level. He shared the potential he saw in me and told me to never let the actions of others, the talent of my competition or the circumstances I find myself in hinder my pursuit of excellence. His message: excellence is a mind-set to be practiced every minute of every day in everything I did.
Coach B, thanks for caring about me so much that you wouldn’t let me settle for anything but my best.
Every great narrative has a plot twist. You know, that 180-degree turn that you never see coming. As you may have noticed, mine had a few.
The most difficult came in college when I found myself sitting on the bench for four long years. You heard me. Four consecutive years on the bench.
Alright, humor me guys, show of hands of everybody who spent four years on the bench your entire lives.
So you can imagine the frustration, contemplating my future and my big dreams when I couldn’t even get on the field at a small college.
Shoutout to the UNI Panthers!
I remember calling home and telling my mom (Sue Warner) I was considering transferring or just quitting altogether. The words on the other end of the line that night, coming from the person I admire most, would forever alter my perspective.
She told me to be grateful for my opportunity, even if it didn’t look like I wanted it to look. To never stop working or preparing, because God had a plan and I needed to be ready when he showed it to me. And lastly, that I wasn’t a quitter, and we would get through this together.
I was reminded of watching my mom do those exact things. She gratefully worked three jobs, sacrificing so my brother and I could have more, all while enduring things no person signs up for. She consistently demonstrated hard work, commitment to your responsibilities and how even when your life doesn’t give you what you want, you never stop believing.
Mom, so much of who you see today was formed from what I saw in you. The spirit of perseverance that runs through my veins and which has defined my career (was) without question passed down by you. Thank you for never quitting on your greatest passion, your boys, and for not allowing me to quit on mine. I love you, Mom.
Reeling a bit from the unforeseen blow to my pride, life began to spiral downward. But then it happened. In the midst of my greatest struggle, God delivered my greatest blessing.
Four years on the bench would be enough to drive any man to drink. Rest assured, I never went down that path. But, it did drive me to some drinking establishments.
One in particular, a country bar named Wile E. Coyote’s. It’s where I would spot the greatest obsession of my life: A young gal in red cowboy boots and a mini skirt, with unforgettable hair.
Come on, you knew this story had to have a gorgeous girl, right?
Unfortunately, she’s graduated from the boots and mini skirt, but hey, she’s still got the coolest hair ever.
Just like Wile E. Coyote in the old cartoons, I would commit the rest of my life to pursuing the most amazing creature I’d ever met. It would lead to the love of my life and teach me lessons I only thought I knew. The definition of courage – and it wasn’t mastering the ‘Kill Kurt Drill.’ How to overcome the greatest of odds. You think I’ve been through stuff. The depth of the saying ‘semper fi’ – or, ‘always faithful.’ And what it looks like to walk by faith. Together, we’ve ridden this amazing ride.
So when asked who I wanted to present me tonight, the answer was simple. Many have shared in the victories, the great accomplishments and the breakthroughs. But there’s only one who has logged as many miles and made as many sacrifices. There’s only one who was wounded by every criticism, felt every hit, suffered with every interception and comforted me in every setback. Only one that’s dealt with all the good, the bad and the unpredictable this adventure had to offer.
Brenda, I chose you because of all the people who have loved and supported me over the years – and there have been many – you, above all others, deserved to share this stage with me. The greatest joy in my life has been having you by my side. If I had to do it all over again, I’d still choose you. I love you.
The road to our dreams often has detours. 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 afternoon to stay ready, sleeping when I could and 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.
But I was crippled by the fear of the unknown. I needed a little nudge to take that first step. My nudge would come in two separate incidents within just days of each other.
The first, actually did happen in Aisle 7 at 3 a.m., just not in the form of an NFL scout, but more aptly, that of a cereal box. I was stocking the cereal aisle, opened up a case of Wheaties and on the box was one of the men with a seat behind me: Dan Marino.
Once on the shelves, it seemed that Dan ‘The Man’s’ eyes followed me like one of those creepy paintings in a horror movie as I walked back and forth throughout the night. Every time I looked at the box, Dan seemed to be asking, ‘Are you going to spend your life stocking someone else’s cereal boxes, or are you going to step out and make sure someone else is stocking yours?’ That crazy conversation between me and a cereal box would set the wheels of change in motion, and would lead to a pretty good laugh when less than five years later, I would join Dan Marino as the only two players in the 40-touchdown club.
Dan, I know you had no idea the role that you played, but thanks for the motivation.
Coincidentally – if you believe in that sort of thing – the second incident would come just days later. Driving Brenda and our two kids home on a cold winter night, when I eased onto the highway, my truck ran out of gas. It was the same truck I had purchased with my signing bonus from the Green Bay Packers, because there was no doubt my NFL future was bright, right Mooch (former Packers quarterbacks coach Steve Mariucci)? Just to set the record straight, yes, you were the one that cut me.
There I sat on the side of the road with my family freezing and no money to my name. The four of us began rummaging through the seats, hoping to scrape up enough change to get home. We didn’t find many coins and as I jogged back to the gas station, I kept thinking, ‘my kids deserve so much better than this. I convinced the attendant to give me some gas, while at the same time convincing myself this would never happen again. I vowed to make a change, and for the first time, it wasn’t based on me or chasing my dream, but on giving my kids what they deserved.
We’ve since added five more children. If you guys would stand up. Z.T., Jesse, Kade, Jada, E.J., Sienna and Sierra, undeniably, you are my greatest motivators. My commitment on that jog some 22 years ago was that no matter where life would take us, I would never stop trying to be better for you. Forget about being a better football player, you drove me to be a better man, to be a better father, to have a better marriage, to love your mama better, to be a better example and to make life better for you and as many people as I possibly could. You inspired this. Tonight, I hope this inspires you to believe you can be anything you set out to be, regardless of what others think or what your circumstances say, or even what’s your speed rating in Madden.
Your future? That’s up to you. Most get here striving every day to be better between the lines. For me, it was a result of striving every day to be better for you. You motivated me to embrace every moment, regardless of the task, as an opportunity to be better. And when I missed the mark, which you often witnessed, to have the courage to change so I wouldn’t miss it again. Now it’s your turn, and I can’t wait to sit in the stands and cheer you on. I love you guys.
Needless to say, I made a change, stepping a step closer to my dream – and hopefully that cereal box – by choosing to play arena football. Now, like most people, I wondered if this league could do anything for my ultimate dream of playing in the NFL. I stand here tonight knowing, without a doubt, it honed my skills for the next level. But its greatest contribution? Reigniting my passion for the game.
Playing with a bunch of guys that didn’t make much money, didn’t have the greatest accommodations and didn’t necessarily have long-term futures playing the game, but simply wanted to do something they loved for as long as they could. It made me fall in love with the sport all over again.
So to Jim Foster: Thank you, for doodling on that manila envelope. To John Gregory, the Iowa Barnstormers and my teammates, for showing me why I started playing in the first place.
I, possibly more than anyone else up here, embrace that I am being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Not just the NFL Hall of Fame. I wear that as a badge of honor, because without pro football, in all its forms and fashions, I’m not here tonight.
For a long time, I convinced myself that I could will my way to my dream. As long as I wanted it bad enough, I could make it happen. But if there’s one great truth that I’ve learned from this great game, it’s that no great accomplishment is ever achieved by yourself. To be successful is contingent on others, and it always starts with someone taking a chance on you.
For years, I wondered if my someone was out there. My answer came in 1996. Out of the blue, I received a call from Al Luginbill, head coach of the Amsterdam Admirals, asking me to play in NFL Europe. Knowing a second chance in the NFL would most likely include a trip across the pond, I told him if he could get an NFL team to sign me, promising me that one last invite to training camp, I’d go.
Al called numerous different teams. None were interested. When he informed me, I told him, ‘thanks, but no thanks.’
I assumed this would be the last time I would ever talk to Al, but out of the blue, almost exactly one year later, my phone rang again. It was Al, extending his same offer, to which I responded with the same conditions. ‘Get an NFL team to sign me, I’m in.’
I was told this time Al called 12 different teams. Once again, no interest. But the 13th team, the St. Louis Rams, they agreed to give me a tryout. It was the chance I had been waiting for.
I showed up at Rams Park early with bells on. Then I proceeded to have the worst workout of my life. I called Brenda from the hallway of the facility and told her I blew it. I blew my last chance at the NFL. But a few days later, I’d get a call from the Rams offering me a contract. To this day, I believe the signing must have been just as a favor to Al, but all the same to me. One man’s junk, another man’s treasure.
Al, thanks for calling back, for dusting me off and for uncovering my value. Thanks for being my someone.
But due to my long and winding path to realize my ultimate dream, I would need another someone.
1998, the night before final cuts, and the biggest question was who would be the Rams third-string quarterback. So Dick Vermeil polled his entire staff on which of us to keep. The votes were split down the middle. So the decision would be left to the instincts of the head man.
I’ll never forget the moment I made the team. I was wandering the halls of Rams Park – the same halls from which I’d called Brenda, informing her I blew my tryout – when, who do I run into? Coach Vermeil. Not very often do you find out your football future in the hallway of the facility, but after everything else I’d been through, why should this surprise me? It was there that I found out the first step of my dream had been realized.
But, ‘you made the team,’ was not the statement that made the greatest impression. It would be the one that followed. Coach V looked me in the eye and said, ‘the reason you made this team is I feel there is something special about you. Something different. And I couldn’t let you go without seeing if it was true.’
Coach, you know I love you, and I’m indebted to you for giving me that chance. I spent my entire career trying to prove you right. In a business dominated by head decisions, thanks for following your heart.
You know, the spotlight in every blockbuster production always focuses on the main character, or the QB in this case, bringing with it an unfair amount of credit. But often times, it’s the supporting cast that makes it the greatest show. At least that’s been my experience. So to the family and friends who have supported me over the years, who didn’t get mentioned specifically tonight, your encouragement was essential to keeping my dream alive.
To the fans, that packed the stands to watch me play, I hope at least once, I gave you my money’s worth.
To Mark Bartelstein and the Priority Sports team, I hope I represented you half as well as you represented me.
To the Packers, Barnstormers, Admirals, Rams, Giants and Cardinals organizations and ownership, thanks for opening your stage to me.
To the coaches I had the honor of playing for, specifically, Coach Vermeil, who I just mentioned. Mike Martz, your football brilliance brought out the best in me. John Ramsdell, Tom Coughlin, the late Denny Green, Ken Whisenhunt, Todd Haley, thanks to all of you for giving me an opportunity that I’m not sure any other coach would have.
And then, of course, to every teammate who I had the pleasure of performing with, if you guys could all stand. To those that share the stage with me tonight, I’m ecstatic to be on your team again. To those that will one day join us up here, I look forward to those reunions. And to all of you that will never be fitted for a gold jacket, tonight, I share this honor with you.
In the ultimate team game, I’m not one for singling guys out, because you all played in a role in my being here. But I would like to recognize one teammate who had a more profound impact on me than any other: Trent Green. Our paths crossed in the most incredible of ways, and I acknowledge, you could easily be the one standing up here tonight. But the class that you showed while dealing with the toughest of situations is etched in my mind. Your willingness to share your football secrets so I could succeed was incredibly valuable. But the character displayed and the way you modeled the definition of teammate was priceless. Those lessons followed me the rest of my career. Thanks for sharpening my character with your own.
— NFL (@NFL) August 6, 2017
All of you were the best part of my career, the part I miss more than any other. It was a privilege being your QB.
Moments matter. They leave their impression upon us. They shape how we live our lives, and they impact who we become. They also offer us something of possibly more value: The opportunity to leave a lasting mark on the world around us.
I came here tonight to say thank you to all of those who crossed my path and didn’t miss their moment to mark on me. It made all the difference.
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.
We tell our kids all the time, ‘we aren’t all promised the same things in life. Life’s not fair.’ We don’t all get to choose the number of moments we get. I would have loved to start my first NFL game before the age of 28.
We don’t all get to choose the nature of our moments. I wanted to play more in college, I wanted to hear my name on draft day, and I had no plans of working in a grocery store.
And we don’t all get to choose the substance of our moments. I never set out to hold the record for throwing the longest interception returned for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.
But what we all do get to choose, is what we do with those moments. I stand here tonight, not because I accomplished as much, or played as long as most of the players on this stage. I believe I stand here tonight because of what I did with the moments I was given. My enshrinement makes the statement that, although impact is measured over a career, it is established in the moments, regardless of how many, or how few, you’re blessed with.
So when you leave here tonight, seize your moments. That moment with your kids, your spouse, your siblings, with your friends, your teammates, your players. Because that moment may just be the one that leads to you becoming or inspiring the next LT (LaDainian Tomlinson), TD (Terrell Davis), Jason Taylor, Morten Andersen, Kenny Easley, Jerry Jones or Kurt Warner.
— NFL (@NFL) August 6, 2017
I want to conclude with one last moment and one last thank you. To the one who, without a doubt, has left the deepest mark and has become the cornerstone of my life.
In the early stage of my career, I had a chance to stand at a podium similar to this, in front of millions of people after Super Bowl XXXIV. In that moment, I made sure what I did was say thank you to this person for what they’ve done for me. Many felt I was thanking him for orchestrating a Super Bowl win, or making my passes fly straighter, or causing my opponents to make more mistakes. But those people had it all wrong. The gesture was my way of acknowledging how fortunate I considered myself for the moments he had given me. Thanking him for the trials which prepared me for this platform. For showing me that with him, the impossible becomes possible. And for choosing me for the lead in this once-in-a-lifetime role.
Now, 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!"