Kurt Warner's NFL story is one of the greatest ever told. He entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent after stints in the Arena League and in NFL Europe with the Amsterdam Admirals. After being cut by the Green Bay Packers, Warner was stacking shelves overnight at a supermarket. From those rags came the riches… Warner played in three Super Bowls during his career – winning one along with a Super Bowl MVP prize – he was named a league MVP and he is a proud member of the Pro Football Hall of Famer having earned his status as one of the greatest quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen.
Let's start with a look at your Hall of Fame career. It was quite the ride, wasn't it?
It was unique. Going through it, it wasn't always the most fun and I didn't always see it for what it was when I was in the midst of it but 10 or 15 years down the road, you're grateful for the ride and you're grateful for what you learned at the different places. I don't have a story like everybody else. I was always asking, 'Why me? Why did I have to be the guy who worked in a grocery store, sat on the bench for four years and got cut?' When it's all said and done, I wonder why I got this story. But when you look at what I accomplished along the way, it makes it more special and allows me to connect with a lot of people as opposed to having a great college career, being drafted high and having a great NFL career. Not a lot of people can associate with that particular career arc. A lot more people can relate to mine, at least from the stand point of it not always being easy and there are struggles that come into most of our lives and sometimes you have to fight through those things. We have to find a way – we have to work in a grocery store and make ends meet while we're chasing after what it is that we really want in life. I'm so grateful for it now but it was a bit of a journey and a lot longer getting there than I wanted it to be but it made everything a little bit sweeter and appreciate everything I ended up getting and the moments that I had – more than I might have otherwise.
What was it like winning the Super Bowl at the end of that 1999 season? A year in which you started as the backup to Trent Green and went from relative obscurity in the preseason to the NFL and Super Bowl Most Valuable Player.
When Trent first got hurt, I didn't know how serious it was – I went into that preseason game and took the next man up mentality. I didn't think he had suffered a season-ending injury and I was just thinking he would be back in a couple of weeks and here was my opportunity. Trent told me at halftime he was out for the season and he told me it was my job. I became the starter, but I had a friend who was hurt so I felt bad for him. I knew this was my last opportunity and it was what I had worked and waited for. We had a magical season and to go from there to winning the Super Bowl, winning the league MVP and winning the Super Bowl MVP in my first year, that was pretty incredible. The amazing thing is that we talk about the journey. If somebody had come up to me when I was 13 years old and dreaming of playing in the NFL and said, 'Hey, by the time you're 28 years old you will have won a Super Bowl, won a Super Bowl and been named MVP of the NFL. Would you take it?' Heck yeah! Sign me up. I am in. The crazy thing is that it was in my first year and because of the journey and everything else, it was almost like my career got fast forwarded.
How did you find walking away from the game and retiring just days after going 29 of 33 for 379 yards and five touchdowns in a playoff victory over Green Bay?
It didn't come to a screeching halt for me because I knew I was retiring midway through that 2009 season. Sometimes life and our profession can get away from us. We all have a standard that we set for ourselves and I realised, for a long time, I had a nice high and healthy standard. And then I got to Arizona, we were not a great football team and I was asked to do a lot more. My expectations were a lot higher – I knew if I didn't play well, we were not going to win. So that bar started to get moved up and once it is set at a certain mark, you're never moving it back down. It became an unhealthy balance for me in life – I was pushing too hard and I couldn't sleep. That Super Bowl in 2008 saw me weigh in at 201 pounds which I had not weighed since I was a freshman in college. Internally, at home in life, it had started to deteriorate. I knew I couldn't do it anymore. This is it. You never want to be thrown out of the game or show you are declining – you want them to remember you as you played your entire career. One of the highlights of my career was the last game of my career in front of the home fans in Arizona. I knew it. You could argue that was the best football game I ever played – it was just one of those games where you felt in rhythm and I felt born to do this. It was awesome to go out that way. Of all the great games I played in my career, the best one may have been the second-to-last one and the last at home before I retired. That's a beautiful thing. The next one was not as pretty. We got beat down by New Orleans and I got knocked out of the game and there were a lot of things going on. I justified everything and I knew I could still play but I had to do the right thing for me and my family. I felt like I could have played longer and at a high level. I even feel like I could go back and play right now – I feel that good. There was something left in the tank but I'm happy that I could feel good about my final season in the NFL and there was no decline.
For Neil's full interview with Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner check out The Neil Reynolds Podcast. The episode is streaming now wherever you get your podcasts.