Perseverance propelled Iowan Kurt Warner to Pro Football Hall of Fame
CEDAR FALLS, Ia. — Mark Farley kept circling back to one word.
The Northern Iowa football coach saw the trait remain steadfast in Kurt Warner, no matter what situation he encountered.
It showed while riding the UNI bench for three years before finally snagging the starting quarterback job. It showed as Warner slogged through the countless Hy-Vee night shifts after going undrafted and being cut from the Green Bay Packers in 1994. It showed as Warner bounced from the Arena Football League to NFL Europe before finally getting an NFL chance. It showed in Warner’s ascension to starting quarterback, two-time league MVP and Super Bowl champ.
“Everybody’s got great work ethic,” said Farley, who was UNI’s linebackers coach during Warner’s college tenure, “but Kurt’s perseverance doesn’t waver.”
That perseverance culminated once again Saturday night, as Warner became the first person born in Iowa or to graduate from an Iowa high school to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The former UNI quarterback — who was born in Burlington, attended Cedar Rapids Regis and played for the Iowa Barnstormers — was one of five modern-day candidates to be voted in. Warner will be inducted on Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio.
Others voted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday were kicker Morten Andersen, running back Terrell Davis, running back LaDainian Tomlinson and defensive end Jason Taylor. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was voted in as a contributor, and former Seattle Seahawks safety Kenny Easley was voted in by the senior committee.
"It’s awesome," said former UNI coach Terry Allen, who led the Panthers during Warner's college career. "Well-deserving and very proud of him.
"A great man who survived everything."
Warner's Hall of Fame path — which features three Super Bowls and 32,344 career passing yards — is quite circuitous.
After a UNI career where he didn’t start until his final season in 1993, Warner went unselected in the 1994 NFL Draft and didn’t last long in Packers training camp. Stints with the Barnstormers and the Amsterdam Admirals followed before Warner finally got his NFL shot in 1999.
In his second year with the Rams, Warner seized the starting job and took off after Trent Green suffered a torn ACL in the preseason. The Iowan propelled the Rams to a Super Bowl title over the Tennessee Titans that season, earning MVP honors in the process. He remained with the Rams for the next four seasons, securing another league MVP and Super Bowl appearance in 2001.
But just like Warner’s early stint, obstacles began to appear. After injuries led to struggles in his final years in St. Louis, the Rams parted with Warner following the 2003 season. He landed with Giants in 2004, but quickly moved onto the Arizona Cardinals after just one season. For three years in Arizona, he fought and clawed but could never hold onto the starting quarterback job.
But there was that perseverance.
“It was not an easy path for him,” Farley said. “Everybody’s seeing the outcome of a person’s struggles (and) perseverance. Everything he did had road blocks to it. And he was never fazed by it.”
In 2008, Warner spearheaded the Cardinals’ magical run to Super Bowl XLIII after a 9-7 regular season, nearly pulling off what would have been Arizona’s first title. Warner led the Cardinals back to the playoffs the following season before retiring after a 12-year career.
Warner told the Register in 2015 that his Iowa upbringing is a big reason for his success.
"I think it's everything," he said. "The work ethic, the commitment to excellence. It shaped my dedication to go after my dream."
Farley caught the first glimpses, watching Warner wait patiently for his chance in purple and gold. And even when he finally seized the starting reins, things didn’t begin smoothly. The Panthers opened the 1993 season 0-2 before winning seven of their next eight games to secure a playoff berth.
“To sit there,” Farley said, “and watch a guy for three years be a backup and then finally get your chance and then struggle early — but then turn the whole thing around and carry a team into the playoffs — that takes a great internal will, to go through that and come out on top.”
It boiled down to that word again — perseverance.
“To me, his story is the model,” Farley said. “He’s blazed the trail for so many people.
“I think all those road blocks along the way made him stronger, and that’s probably why he’s at where he is today.”
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.