NFL Network analysts Terrell Davis, LaDainian Tomlinson and Kurt Warner *will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday along with fellow Class of 2017 members Morten Andersen, Jason Taylor, Kenny Easley and Jerry Jones.*
In his 11-year career, Warner earned two NFL MVP awards, three Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl MVP honor following the St. Louis Rams' victory over the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. Warner started in two other Super Bowls -- once again with the Rams in February of 2002 and eight years later with the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, the franchise's first-ever Super Bowl appearance.
In the months leading up to Saturday's enshrinement ceremony, notable names around the NFL, including some of Warner's colleagues and former teammates and coaches, shared stories and raved of the quarterback's Hall of Fame career.
FIRST IMPRESSION OF KURT WARNER?
Heath Evans (NFL player: 2001-2010 | NFL Network analyst): The first time I met Kurt was at NFL Network, so my impression was that of a co-worker. Kurt is argumentative, and if you try to ruffle his feathers a little bit from a different viewpoint about offensive football, he's feisty. That's what I love about him.
Brian Baldinger (NFL player: 1982-1993 | NFL Network analyst): In 1998, he was with the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe, and I was out at a preseason scrimmage. A friend of mine who played in the arena league with Kurt said the best player in NFL Europe will be Kurt Warner. I had never heard of Kurt Warner before, but I filed it. Then that year, he was the best player in the league playing for the Admirals. Then, he went to the Rams, and I called the Rams' first game of the 1999 season. I asked Dick Vermeil about Kurt Warner, and he said, "He's No. 3 in our depth chart, but he's our No. 2 quarterback right now." Then Trent Green got hurt and he took over. The rest is history.
Steve Mariucci (NFL head coach: 1997-2005 | NFL Network analyst): The thing you have to remember is when Kurt was coming out of college, all he played was one season in his fifth year at Northern Iowa. He wasn't on anybody's radar. There was no first impression from a college standpoint. We signed him in Green Bay as a camp quarterback in 1994. We weren't expecting him to be ready or really compete for a job, but he often threw to Jon Gruden's receiving group in drills. Every now and then, we'd put him in seven-on-seven drills. I asked him to go in for team snaps and he said, "I'm not going in there. I don't know this stuff." And he turned it down. … So my first impression was he was raw, young and not ready for this level.
David Carr (NFL player: 2002-2012 | NFL Network analyst): I went to a Rams game in my last year in college. I watched him from afar, but admired the anticipation that he threw with. He didn't have the strongest arm, he was a great leader -- but the anticipation stands out. He threw the ball so early, and for me as a quarterback, it was crazy to watch. His receivers were able to run after the catch. I think a lot of that had to do with the time he spent in the arena league.
Chris Harris Jr. (NFL player: 2011-present): Just watching him grow up with the Rams, definitely love them and what they did. He kind of had a story like me, being an undrafted guy, an underdog. That's why I always gravitated to him. Just the way he orchestrated their offense.
Lance Moore (NFL player: 2006-2015): As a receiver, I loved watching teams that threw the ball a lot. The Rams and "The Greatest Show on Turf" threw the ball 30, 40, 50 times a game, scoring a ton of points -- and the touchdown celebrations they all did together. Kurt was the catalyst behind it. Obviously it was Mike Martz's system, but the way [Kurt] was able to go out there and throw to those receivers helped me fall in love with the wide receiver position.
Bucky Brooks (NFL player: 1994-'98 | NFL scout: 2000-'07 | NFL Network analyst): I played him in a preseason game in 1999, when Kurt was a backup for the Rams. He completed like 17 passes with outstanding timing. From that performance, you knew that when he got his opportunity that he might be better than everyone expected.
Andy Reid (Coached Warner during his rookie training camp): Well, No. 1, I'm proud of Kurt for being elected into the Hall of Fame. He was a great player and he did it with a couple different teams. At Green Bay, it didn't quite work out for him. He was one of our young quarterbacks that we had brought in from Northern Iowa there and really didn't have a big name as far as him coming into the [league]. He wasn't a first-round pick. All right, so he comes in and, um, he was shy at that time. I mean really shy. And we actually gave him a real easy play to run and he just said, "I can't. I can't call it." And I think it was just a straight red right 22 Z end, and he wanted no part of getting in that huddle. I can't tell you that [Brett] Favre was real easy on him. It was kind of a brutal deal. He had a variety of names -- "Pop Warner" on through. I mean some of them I can't even repeat, but he, you know, he got the brunt of it as a rookie.
LaDainian Tomlinson (NFL player: 2001-2011 | Hall of Fame Class of 2017 | NFL Network analyst): He was very smart, and his ability to anticipate the throw to his receiver and his ability to command that offense was something else. Those guys were "The Greatest Show on Turf" and I remember like it was yesterday. When Trent Green went down, I remember Dick Vermeil saying, "We will rally behind Kurt Warner," and I'm thinking, Kurt Warner? Who is he? But you saw the command and it was like his team from the beginning.
Terrell Davis (NFL player: 1995-2001 | Hall of Fame Class of 2017 | NFL Network analyst): He was intriguing because the Rams quarterback got hurt and the coach was talking about how Kurt Warner was going to lead the team. And everyone was like, "Who is this Kurt Warner? Whatever. The Rams' season is over." Then, he came in and started to play well. It really went from this unknown guy to being the big names for "The Greatest Show on Turf." It was incredible. I met Kurt about a year later and he was just a humble guy, not brash or anything like that. He was a very likeable person, so the person I saw when I met him was different than what I thought he'd be like when I saw him play. He played with a bit of a swag, but you can play arrogant and not be arrogant.
THE MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT OF KURT'S CAREER?
LaDainian Tomlinson: Arizona? They weren't anybody. When you played Arizona, it was like, Oh, that's a win. When he got there, he totally changed the perception of their organization and that's how he's going to be remembered.
Heath Evans: Kurt hugging Dick Vermeil after winning the Super Bowl. The hug was one of elation, but it was more like you could almost see he conquered self-doubt that day. I think he had overcome so much and been beat down so early in his career about what you can and can't do, and then he got to that mountaintop experience. I think it was almost a sense of relief in his face.
Brian Baldinger: The Super Bowl is the crown jewel of any player. To be the MVP of that game against the Tennessee Titans and the league MVP, it doesn't get better than that.
Steve Mariucci: I'm coaching the Niners in 1999, and we had beaten the Rams 17 times in a row. We were banged up, but we go play the Rams. ... So we went to St. Louis and he lit us up. I mean, tore us up. And Bill Walsh said after the game, which agitated me to no end, something like, That team could win the Super Bowl or They looked like a Super Bowl team. It was like, *They beat us once in 18 tries and now they're going to win the Super Bowl? * ... I went in the Rams' locker room after the game - with my suit on and briefcase in hand -- and they were celebrating. I was looking for head coach Dick Vermeil to congratulate him because we were -- and still are -- friends. He was in the shower and the only guy left in there. I said, "Hey, Dick. Great win." He comes over and gives me a hug soaking wet. No lie.
Chris Harris Jr.: When they beat the Titans in the Super Bowl. I was kind of like 50-50 that year because I loved [Steve] McNair. But seeing [Warner] win, I was kind of happy that they won. They had a great offense that year.
Bucky Brooks: His time in St. Louis is memorable, but I'll always lean on his Arizona years. He and Larry Fitzgerald were a 1-2 punch, making plays every time they were on the field when everyone knew the Cardinals' offense was about their passing game.
WHAT DIFFERENTIATES KURT FROM OTHERS AT THE POSITION?
Steve Mariucci: When you look at all of the Hall of Fame quarterbacks -- from Terry Bradshaw to Roger Staubach, Johnny Unitas, Sammy Baugh, Steve Young and Kurt Warner -- they are all different. There is no prototype. If there is a common denominator, they are all mentally tough. Kurt was like the others in that respect, but he was different in this way: To have a start in the NFL like he had, that's what separates him. Nobody had a start in his first year like Kurt Warner -- I don't think. Tom Brady is comparable here, but his defense was great in 2001. I think Kurt was even surprised by his start. It was like, BAM! Kurt Warner has arrived! His first attempt at being a starting quarterback in the league was an MVP year. Who does that?
Wade Phillips (Longtime NFL coach): I think decision making with quarterbacks is the key thing. I just thought he made so many great, key decisions at the right time.
Corey Liuget (NFL player: 2011-present): The fact that he went through a lot of adversity throughout his career. He played in the NFL, a league in Europe or Canada somewhere and the lowest leagues of arena football or something, and he made it to where he's at now. He won a championship and is a Hall of Famer. That doesn't happen often.
Heath Evans: To some extent, it's how long he had to wait. Very few quarterbacks get the opportunity to go to another team and do it all over again. Maybe one thing others don't applaud him for was when the job was taken from him in New York. I remember thinking as a player, Man, this is freakin' bogus. He should still be the starting quarterback there. But there was a plan in place there and he kept his mouth shut and handled his business. Then went to Arizona and got another opportunity. There's a humility factor that he brings to the table.
Brian Baldinger: I think he was absolutely fearless. I don't know if people recognize just how hard it is to play quarterback. Some days you're just a punching bag and you still have to throw the ball accurately and do your job for the offense to work. Kurt is tough. If he was a boxer, he'd be a guy in the middle of the ring just sluggin' it out, taking punches and giving punches. He's just built physically and mentally tough. Even what happened in New York to him. He's Eli Manning's guide and Eli, who wasn't very good at all at the time, takes over for him. Kurt has to swallow his pride and all that kind of stuff. Then he gets a chance in Arizona and a great second act.
Ike Taylor (NFL player: 2003-2014 | NFL Network analyst): He knew his strengths and weaknesses so well that you had to really be prepared. And I don't ever think I've seen Kurt panic. Sometimes players get too high or too low, but he stayed even-keeled for most of his career.
David Carr: His competitiveness. I've spent time with him off the field and he's super competitive. I think everybody in the NFL is competitive in some regard, but Kurt takes it to another level. He wants to play mind games with you. He's got like grown-man qualities. If you're playing basketball against your dad, that's kind of how I rationalize playing against Kurt. I feel like I'm a better athlete than Kurt. I feel like every quarterback who's ever played against Kurt feels like they're a better athlete. Kurt's even said that to me before, that he felt like he was the worst athlete on the field when he was playing football. So when I'm playing basketball against Kurt, I don't think I should lose to him, but he finds a way.
He's a tough guy. They used to not even protect guys. I remember watching him with the Rams, and there were three defenders running at him. He kept backing up and waiting until the last possible second to throw the ball. Then his accuracy was off the charts. The most accurate quarterbacks I've ever seen are Steve Young, Troy Aikman and then Kurt. He could throw from different arm angles and still put it right on the money, and that's pretty impressive.
Chris Harris Jr.: He won that big game, man. A lot of these quarterbacks haven't won that big game. He was very consistent, he played for a long time. The way he made it into the league, nobody really came into the league like that. He was working at a convenience store, I think, and then being able to transform to an All-Pro quarterback. Then he kind of transformed the league, offensively.
Lance Moore: His story. Coming from arena league and bagging groceries to Super Bowl champion and league MVP. I mean, that's crazy. That's a movie.
Bucky Brooks: His quick release and outstanding anticipation is what differentiated him. He trusted his guys to get in open windows and the way he weaved his throws through defenders was unrivaled. When the Rams' offense was clicking, it was a sight to see. Then to have him bounce back and do it again in Arizona speaks volumes not only to his passing ability but his leadership.
Eric Kendricks (NFL player: 2015-present): I remember how he used to walk on the field with kind of that 5 o'clock shadow, a little grey coming through. I think he only had the one buckle [chin strap] on his helmet. It's sort of like a picking-up-your-lunch-pail, going-to-work type mentality. You feel like he has the edge over you mentally just because he's vetted. I feel like he always played with that kind of swagger, kind of confidence.
Kirk Cousins (NFL player: 2012-present): I'm a big fan of Kurt Warner. So, you know, when he was in the prime of his career with the Rams, I was, you know, in middle school, and he was a joy to watch. And then as I got older and understood the game more and was able to study it, just to watch his anticipation, his accuracy, his feel for the position of quarterback, was second to none.
Marshall Faulk (Warner's teammate: 5 seasons | Hall of Fame Class of 2011 | NFL Network analyst): I think it is not just what you do on the field, but off the field -- and Kurt's conviction in his life, his family. It makes it easy to respect a man, follow a man when you have got to watch him not only play the game right, but he also does the things to live life right.
Jeremy Kerley (NFL player: 2011-present): The biggest thing about Kurt is he can hit a receiver on any part of the field. Not a lot of quarterbacks can do that -- or target their third or fourth receiver in a progression and scan the field like that.
Steve Smith Sr. (NFL player: 2001-2016 | NFL Network analyst): He's always taken the scenic route. When you think of Hall of Famers, every single guy has a unique story and a lot of adversity. But when you hear about Kurt and what he's accomplished, when you say Hall of Famer, he's not somebody you would think went through all of that. I think he played more non-NFL games than actual NFL games. He had a long career in the NFL, but I think it was a longer career outside of it for him. That's why even in his younger age, he was able to have success and deal with the lows and stay pretty grounded on the highs.
Terrell Davis: I think the story of Kurt Warner is one of hope. It puts my story to shame a little bit. He was working in the grocery store and goes from that to becoming league MVP and winning a Super Bowl. That's hard to put into perspective. That doesn't happen. My story is unique in its own way, but Kurt's is so far out of football. You know when people say that you couldn't write something as unbelievable as this story. That's the story of Kurt Warner.
LaDainian Tomlinson: His consistent ability to challenge himself and always continue to evolve. You think about the different offenses Kurt played in. A lot of people thought that he was just good in quick passes, but that wasn't the case. He adjusted his game when he went to the Arizona Cardinals, so I believe he's a guy who can play in any system.
A PERSONAL STORY
Brian Baldinger: In 1999, I was an analyst at FOX and Curt Menefee and I were calling St. Louis vs. Cincinnati. It was Week 4 of the season, and you could see that this offense was going to be really good -- and I know Torry Holt was a rookie. Kurt threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns that day, and I remember leaving the stadium, and Curt Menefee and I were like, We gotta tell our bosses this team is way too good for us to be calling it. This team is going to be really, really good.
Steve Mariucci: I really respect the person more than the player. He's a role-model dad. His kids are his priority.
David Carr: When I played against him, he was with the Cardinals. I had never met the guy and he just wanted to talk to me for 10 to 15 minutes before the game. Why? I don't know, but there are some quarterbacks like that. Matt Ryan's like that, too. It still kind of catches you off guard when a guy either follows your career or watches you play [and] takes the time to actually care enough about what's going on in your life to ask you.
Lance Moore: We played him in the Divisional Round of the playoffs in 2009 when I was with the Saints. All week, Coach Sean] Payton is talking about Kurt Warner and these receivers and Kurt Warner and these receivers. He knew that if there was a chance for us to lose this game, it'd be because of Kurt Warner and his receivers. At that point, Kurt was older in his career and he wasn't the young, spry quarterback that he once was. But I remember in that game, he was taking a pounding and he just kept getting up. And getting up. And getting up. And getting up. I think he got so much more respect from me after that game because he took a beating. He was an older guy, but you could see how much it meant to him and see how passionate he was about winning and helping his team really get to a [Super Bowl and win there in Arizona.
Bucky Brooks: I admire the man that he is. His integrity and character are impeccable. When he says something, you can believe his word. Kurt is one of the most genuine people and I'm proud to call him a friend.
Willie McGinest (NFL player: 1994-2008 | NFL Network analyst): In the Super Bowl, we were up pretty much the entire game, but I remember Kurt getting that momentum back. He started finding other ways to beat us when we took certain things away. I went over to the sideline and said, "Hey, we've done a great job keeping them from scoring a lot of points, but I don't know how long we can hold these guys off." Kurt started catching on fire.
Johnny Hekker (NFL player: 2012-present): Kurt was the kinda guy that, when I was a young player in St Louis, you heard all about how he was a larger-than-life, kinda urban-legend-type guy. Everyone loved him. When he would come back for games, he got a standing ovation.
Marshall Faulk: Being a Hall of Famer myself, the best words you ever want to say to a teammate is, "Welcome to the Hall of Fame." And I got a chance to do that. I got a chance to hug him. For the last couple years, we have sat on set, and the opportunity, it escaped him and he took it. He took it each and every year. His family was at the Super Bowl and they were waiting for the moment. And it's hard, it's hard. It takes a better man to continuously go through it expecting that the experience you are going to have is about to happen.
LaDainian Tomlinson: Kurt is really competitive. Basketball, flag football, it doesn't matter. I went to his flag football celebrity tournament and he's hosting and not supposed to be playing. But he's so competitive that he had to create his own team. I thought that was unfair and he's winning all the games. It was unexpected but at the end of the day, it sounds about right.
Terrell Davis: So this was the day we went to the hotel to see if we were selected into the Hall of Fame] or not. At the [Super Bowl, everything is blocked off. We have about 20 minutes to get to the hotel and we're already a little late. They kept taking us in circles and we could see the hotel, but we couldn't get to it. We went around back and as we're talking to the security guard, this car pulls up between our car and the guard. I'm upset because I'm trying to get into this hotel, and the guard, who brushed me off, went to the other car. Then I look at the driver of the other car and it's Kurt. We're both lost and the guard helped us out. We were running late to get to the point to hear this news, and we were in the elevator like, "Good luck, brother. Next time I see you, hopefully we'll be getting gold jackets." That was a good moment.
WHAT SOLIDIFIED KURT AS A HALL OF FAMER?
Wade Phillips: He came on the scene and just dominated. I guess that was part of it. We didn't realize what a great player he was. Obviously, the league didn't either because he wasn't playing in the league for a long time. Then he came out and he was the star of the league.
Heath Evans: Arizona is probably what solidified his spot in Canton, getting to a Super Bowl with a second team. I'm not sure he gets into the Hall of Fame if he doesn't have that.
Philip Rivers (NFL player: 2004-present): To me, when it comes down to the Hall of Fame], [Kurt was a lock] if [Pittsburgh] wouldn't have completed that pass. If [Ben] Roethlisberger wouldn't have completed that pass and won another [Super Bowl, [Kurt] would have been a lock. [It was] like up for discussion because of one play. Kurt had a heck of a career.
Brian Baldinger: He has this great run in St. Louis and then injuries catch up with him. Next, he gets knocked down in New York. Then, he gets up and beats a No. 1 draft pick for the job in Arizona, puts that team on his shoulders and comes within inches of winning the Super Bowl. If it just ended in St. Louis, I don't think he'd have a Hall of Famer career. The roller coaster of his career is amazing.
Chris Harris Jr.: Of course, the Super Bowl. Then, you have to look at his numbers. His numbers are ridiculous. He's very consistent. In order to be a Hall of Famer, you have to be consistent every year. I think that kind of just put him in there.
Bucky Brooks: Everyone recognized Kurt's greatness in St. Louis, and I think he would've been a Hall of Famer solely from what he did there. But playing at an MVP level years later with a different organization is what makes him special.
Marshall Faulk: This man -- his conviction, his ability to lead men, and to show you, not just tell you how to do it, but show you how to do it -- I knew that Kurt Warner would get into the Hall of Fame. The question was just when.
WHAT LASTING IMPRESSION DID HE HAVE ON THE NFL?
Andy Reid: Well, he's] one of the great passers to have played in the National Football League. You don't get in the [Hall of Fame unless you're that. I think the thing also on top of that is Kurt's] a great person. … He'll represent the [Hall of Fame the right way and do things off the field that are so important.
Corey Liuget: No matter what circumstances you have in life, there's always a brighter side of it.
Brian Baldinger: It's not just the NFL -- it's life in general as an American. Anything is possible. Nobody gave Kurt anything. He created it all himself. It's a great story that you can be Super Bowl MVP after playing at a small school, getting cut, playing in other leagues. AND become a Hall of Famer. Everything is possible.
Ike Taylor: Kurt demanded greatness from everyone around him. He put Larry Fitzgerald over the edge to be great.
Chris Harris Jr.: With that Arizona team that he had, they had a great chance to win it. I think he kind of raised a lot of those players' careers. He raised Larry Fitzgerald, having him coming in. Being able to learn from Kurt Warner made him a better player.
A.J. Bouye (NFL player: 2013-present): I read a lot of books about psychology and stuff like that. And people] talk about how he was undrafted and what he went through and the next thing you know he's winning the [Super Bowl. He's faced a lot of adversity in his life, and everything's not going to be perfect and you're not going to win everything. It's how to learn from it and bounce back. You could tell that he did that and that's why he's in the Hall of Fame. It's not just about how many victories he has. [Warner's story] just shows that people try to put labels on [undrafted players like him and me], but you just don't focus on that. Your situation might be different from somebody who was a first-rounder, but you just gotta keep pushing forward.
Lance Moore: That goes back to the story about humble beginnings. It's something little kids can look at and be inspired by, and I don't think it's something that's even talked about much. This guy was an arena quarterback and years later he's going into the Hall of Fame. If there's something someone needs to be inspired by, just listening to his story should be enough.
Bucky Brooks: The lasting impression he's made is based on what he's been able to do off the field. The affect his charities have had, earning the Walter Payton Man of the Year award and helping others be the best they can be extends what he means to the NFL far beyond the field.
LaDainian Tomlinson: His success on the field is well documented, but the human being that he is speaks to what we all aspire to be. He went through a tough patch and never lost the faith that he still belonged and believed he was a starting quarterback in the league. A lot of players that go through something like that can't ever come back from it. But because of his faith and man that he is, he was able to come back from it.
Tyler Horka, Gregg Rosenthal and Anthony Smith contributed to the reporting for this piece.