If there was a Hall of Fame for journeys taken to greatness, Kurt Warner would have been a first-ballot selection.
The long, unlikely, windy road he took to the Pro Football Hall of Fame would have tested the technology of the most advanced GPS system available and blew through an unlimited data plan.
From obscure, undrafted quarterback from tiny Northern Iowa to getting tossed into the scrap heap by the Green Bay Packers to stocking shelves at an Iowa grocery store. From there, he reached two Arena Football League championship games with the Iowa Barnstormers followed by a stint in NFL Europe and a training camp tryout with the St. Louis Rams. That, ultimately, resulted in an improbable crack at a starting job after Trent Green went down with a season-ending knee injury and, amazingly, one of the great statistical offensive runs in NFL history, two Super Bowl berths and one Super Bowl title.
And then, when everyone was counting him out like so many others had before at the outset of his dubious trip, rising up once again to lift the historically morbid Arizona Cardinals to a memorable run in 2008 that left them seconds short of a Super Bowl championship.
Warner's story was, is and always will be one of perseverance, the unbending support of a family that never lost faith even when so many others stopped believing and triumph against unimaginable odds and obstacles.
Ironic, then, that there was a point in his life when all he hoped for was a straight line to whatever waited ahead of him in his quest to maximize whatever football opportunities his gifted right arm could muster.
"You grow up and you have a particular path that you want to take, especially when you start dreaming about something — for me, being an NFL quarterback," Warner said. "So, you have this straight path that you want to take. Good high school career, get a scholarship, play in college, get drafted, blah blah blah, play with the team for a long time, have success, get to the Hall of Fame.
"For a long time, that is what I wanted. As I was going through all these different routes and these different setbacks and I was just thinking to myself, 'Why couldn't I be the one to take that straight path? Why couldn't it have worked out like that for me.'"
In real time, the lack of a clear path was beyond frustrating.
He had to sit his first three years at Northern Iowa, patiently waiting for his chance. It finally arrived during his senior year, and the former third-stringer responded with a season that earned him Gateway Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors.
He couldn't stick in a tryout with the Packers, sending him back to Iowa to work out at a local grocery store and as a graduate assistant at Northern Iowa. The next invitation to an NFL camp wasn't extended until five years later. In between, he played in the Arena League and NFL Europe.
Kurt Warner:— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 5, 2017
- 2-time NFL MVP (1999 and 2001)
- 1 of 3 QBs to start Super Bowl for two teams
- Super Bowl XXXIV MVP pic.twitter.com/Kot226LK1k
All the while, he kept believing and kept plugging away. He stayed motivated by the fact he always excelled whenever he actually got on the field and through the support of his wife, Brenda, who kept urging him on to seek out his dream.
In his head, he was wondering why him?
"As I was going through all these different routes and these different setbacks and I was just thinking to myself, 'Why couldn't I be the one to take that straight path?," Warner said.
But as he looks back now, his greatness intact, his bust immortalized in Canton and his unlikely journey now an inspiration, Warner not only accepts the road he took. He can't imagine it happening any other way.
"And it is funny now that you find yourself here and you look back and I can't say thank you enough for the route that I ended up taking. I wouldn't want to change anything now because it is a route that will never look like anyone else's, it will always be different. It will be one unlike anyone else's in the different twists and turns that it took and it allows a lot more people to be able to associate with it, to be inspired by it, encouraged by it, because there is a great likelihood that there was a place along my road that so many other people find themselves in as they are chasing their dream or they're trying to figure out what the future is going to look like for them.
"So they can tap into my story a little bit and go, 'Okay, he was here at one point. He was there. He had those moments where somebody said he wasn't good enough, or he worked in a grocery store or he couldn't get on the field in college.' It doesn't have to deter you from your ultimate goal, so it is funny --I wanted that straight path for so long and now I've got this really winding, curvy path and I look back and say, 'Man, I am so glad that it went that route. I am so glad that I had those experiences to be able to hopefully help encourage and inspire other people too.'"
As many twists and turns along the way to getting the one real break he needed --unfortunately it came at the expense of Green, who the Rams were counting on to be their franchise-altering quarterback --there were as many times Warner could have given in.
There were flickers of moments when it crossed his mind. But his belief in his ability was to strong.
"There was never a moment from the standpoint of, I don't think I can play, maybe you should give it up," he said. "But there were definitely moments where you start to go, I don't know if I am going to get the opportunity, is it time to give it up? By that, I mean that you get to a certain point, 26, 27 years old --you have a couple kids, you have a wife and so much of what life is, is you trying to continue to make inroads to that dream, to that next step and sometimes you get to those places where you go, is this just causing too many issues for my family? Is this a negative for my family more than a positive, even if I end up making it on the other side?
"So you start to weight certain moments, you start to weigh, okay this is a critical point here. If I don't turn down this path or chase this path --going to NFL Europe or whatever that may be, then my dream is probably not going to happen. But if I do turn down this road and go down that path, what does that mean for my family? What does that mean for my kids when I have to leave for three and a half months to go chase my dream? What does that mean for our future? So there were definitely some moments like that, where I got to the point where it was like, is it time to give this up? Not because you can't do it, but because it is just not the best thing for not necessarily me, but everybody else --that if I keep doing this, is this going to put us back farther and farther from what we really want to be as a family and where we want to go as a family for the next 20, 25 years."
Brenda's unwavering support played a pivotal role. She had every right on any number of occasions to ask Warner to surrender his dream to focus more on their growing family.
Brenda, who will present Warner at Saturday's Hall of Fame induction, never did. If anything, she kept pushing him.
It gave him the peace of mind to stay with it.
"I think anytime you find yourself in those situations, yeah you have to chase your passion, but it is so important to have other people surrounding you that support you chasing your passion, that say, 'Hey, you've got to do this, you've got to find out and we will make this work. We will do what we have to do. When in doubt, (Brenda would say), 'I will hold down the home front for three months while you're in Amsterdam, so you can have this one last chance, so you don't look back and go, 'man, what if I would have done that?'" he said.
"Or they are not sitting back and going, 'I don't ever want you to be ...' You look at me and go, 'Well, Brenda didn't let me take that opportunity.' So I was fortunate to have so many people that said, 'You chase what your heart says to do here. Whatever that is. We trust you with what you believe and what you're going to do and how you are going to take care of our family. We trust you and so do what you have to do. Let's make sure you explore everything you need, so if you are going to walk away that you're content with what you did, so you can walk away and you can be productive and happy and content."
This article is written by Vincent Bonsignore from Los Angeles Daily News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.