From stock boy at the Hy-Vee grocery store to the NFL and the Greatest Show on Turf, Kurt Warner’s rise to football glory is the stuff of fairy tales.
That story took another improbable turn Saturday when it was announced that Warner had been selected for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Others who earned the selection committee’s vote include San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis, Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor and New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons kicker Morten Andersen, the NFL’s all-time leading scorer. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Seattle Seahawks safety Kenny Easley were also selected. The Class of 2017 will be inducted during the weekend of Aug. 3-6.
The 48-person selection committee is comprised of media and Hall of Fame members. They select five new inductees from a pool of 15 finalists.
Among the finalists was St. Louis Rams teammate Isaac Bruce, who famously connected with Warner on the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XXXIV. Bruce ranks No. 13 in all-time with 1,024 pass receptions.
Don Coryell, who was head coach of the St. Louis football Cardinals from 1973-1977 and the San Diego Chargers from 1978 to 1986, also was among the final 15. Coryell was known as an innovator of the passing offense and led the old Big Red to their most successful seasons in St. Louis.
Warner played college football at the University of Northern Iowa, of what was formerly known as the NCAA Division I-AA. He spent time as a non-drafted free agent in the Green Bay Packers camp in 1997 before being cut from the team and forced to make ends meet as a grocery clerk back in Iowa.
But he put himself back on the NFL radar with standout seasons with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League and, later, in NFL Europe.
Warner was taken on by the coach Dick Vermiel and the St. Louis Rams in 1998 and was thrust into a starting role the following season when free agent quarterback and St. Louis native Trent Green went down with a knee injury in the preseason. Warner went on to pass for 4,353 yards and lead the NFL with 41 touchdown passes and a 109.2 passer rating, prompting Sports Illustrated to feature him on its cover with the headline “Who are these guys?”
The Rams finished his first season as a starter with a record of 13-3 and defeated the Tennessee Titans, 22-16, for the franchises only Super Bowl championship.
His best season, arguably, was in 2001-02 when he passed for 4,830 yards to lead the Rams back to the Super Bowl, which they lost to the New England Patriots on a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
A chronic thumb injury and a fallout with former head coach Mike Martz led to Warner’s release from the team, a transformative event in the Rams’ stay in St. Louis.
Warner struggled in a season mentoring rookie quarterback Eli Manning and moved on to the Arizona Cardinals for five season as an on-again, off-again starter.
But his final two season in the desert — and the NFL — brought about a return to his former, healthy self.
In 2008, Warner led the Cardinals to a rare winning record, completing 67 percent of his passes for 4,583 yards, the second highest total of his career. The following year, he led the franchise to its only Super Bowl, losing again on a final-possession drive by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Despite the two losses, Warner was at his very best in the Super Bowl.
In Super Bowl XXXVI, the Rams trailed the Patriots 17-3 in the fourth quarter, but Warner scored on a 1-yard touchdown, then connected with Ricky Proehl on a 30-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 17-all with 1:30 left. Tom Brady engineered a drive to the Rams’ 30-yard line to set up Vinatieri’s 48-yard game winner.
Warner and the Cardinals trailed the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-7 late in Super Bowl XLIII, but scored 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to take the lead. It was Warner’s 64-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald that put Arizona on top by three points with 2:37 remaining.
Again, late heroics dashed Warner’s effort. Santonio Holmes caught a six-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger with 35 seconds left.
Still, Warner owns the three highest single-game passing totals in Super Bowl history and his 1,156 passing yards are second only to Tom Brady.