CANTON, Ohio – The Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony on Saturday will be remembered for inspiring speeches that addressed perseverance, social injustice and the influence of strong, loving families.
That was before former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner came to the stage, the last of seven inductees to speak.
The previous six men all had great stories, but as has been said many times, Warner has one of the best stories in the history of sports.
Warner was introduced Saturday night by his wife, Brenda, and together they lifted the drape covering his bronze bust.
In a speech that lasted about 40 minutes, Warner thanked all the people who influenced him over the years and advised listeners to be aware of similar times and people in their lives.
“Don’t miss your moment, both the moments to be impacted and the moment to impact,” he said. “We have no idea today which moments will leave the most indelible impression tomorrow. We must take advantage of every single one.”
The Warners are parents of seven children, and they’ve preached to all of them that life is not fair, he said
“I would have loved to start my first NFL game before the age 28,” Warner said. “I wanted to play more in college. I wanted to hear my name called on draft day. And I had no plans of working in a grocery story.
“I never set out to hold the record for throwing the longest interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history. But what we all get to do is choose what we do with those moments.”
It’s a theme Warner returned to several times in his speech.
“The road to our dreams often has detours,” he said. “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 story – working nights stocking shelves, taking care of our kids during the day, working out in the afternoons, sleeping when I could, then waking up and doing it all over again.”
Warner took listeners through a history of his football career Saturday night, beginning with playing against imaginary opponents in the front yard, sometimes teaming up with his two brothers, wearing his lucky green jeans, pretending to be one of the great quarterbacks of his time.
Oddly, he said, he wanted to play receiver in high school, not a quarterback.
His coach had other ideas.
“Being told to stand in the pocket, get hit and let everyone else score? That went against my better judgment,” Warner said.
Warner overcame that hesitancy, obviously, and eventually led two teams, the Rams, and Cardinals, to Super Bowls. Along the way, he was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player twice.
Warner played 12 NFL seasons. Before that, he struggled at nearly every level to prove himself.
He sat on the bench four years at Northern Iowa. He was cut by the Packers, worked at a grocery store and played in the Arena League and NFL Europe before making it in the NFL.
On Saturday, Warner said he, probably more than any other candidate, could “embrace” that he was going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame because he played in the Arena League and Europe.
It’s often said Warner’s story should be a movie, and it just might be.
On Friday, Warner said people are still working on a script. The challenge?
“It’s hard to tell where it starts and where it ends,” he said.
One scene has to be the one the Warners lived after his first NFL start in 1999. He had thrown three touchdown passes in that victory over the Ravens. The Rams were off the next week, and the Warners were back home in Iowa when a Rams official called to say Warner had been named the offensive player of the week.
“It had taken me so long to get here,” Warner said on Friday “I remember looking at my wife and saying, ‘We did it.”
Warner thanked numerous people during the speech: his brothers, parents, wife, kids, coaches, teammates and fans.
His trip to Canton was not easy, but there’s not one thing Warner would change.
“I stand here tonight because of what I did with the moments I was given,” he said. “So when you leave here tonight, seize your moments. That moment with your kids, your spouse, your friends, your teammates, your players.”