By Darren Urban
When the Cardinals brought Kurt Warner in for a free-agent visit back in 2005, young wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was asked to attend the dinner at Fleming's, a steakhouse near the team's Tempe facility.
Fitzgerald, still only 21 years old, knew of Warner - the two-time former MVP, the Super Bowl champion -- but he didn't know Warner.
"The first time I formally got a chance to meet him and he started asking me immediately about certain concepts," Fitzgerald said. "He was kind of trying to see what my football IQ was. At that point I was like, 'This guy is sharp. I know he hasn't played much the last two years with the Rams and Giants, but if he comes here, we can be a team -- with our talent offensively, that could be something special.' "
The entirety of Warner's career was special. That's why he's being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday night, within a class that includes running back LaDainian Tomlinson, running back Terrell Davis, kicker Morten Andersen, defensive end Jason Taylor, owner Jerry Jones and safety Kenny Easley.
Warner's story is well known, struggling to get a foothold in the NFL after successful stints in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe and eventually going from the grocery bagger to leading the Rams to two Super Bowls and a championship with the "Greatest Show on Turf."
As great as his first three seasons were with the Rams, however, the Hall of Fame wasn't realistic. Not after injuries drove Warner to the bench and he spent half a season as a placeholder for Giants rookie Eli Manning.
"Once we won the Super Bowl, you think, 'Now it's going to be easy,'" said Warner's wife Brenda, who will serve as her husband's presenter on induction night. "Maybe it's ignorance. It wasn't easy. It was just as hard starting over in New York ... (and) starting over again in Arizona. But that's the best part of the story. People relate to the ups and downs more than a Super Bowl trophy."
The Cardinals were the one team willing to give Warner a chance to compete for a starting role. Besides, "I just kind of felt it was a match made in heaven," he said. Warner saw that many believed his career was essentially over and would have no more success, just like many didn't believe the Cardinals could be successful.
"I just thought, 'What a perfect fit at this point in my career,'" Warner said.
The quarterback who showed up to Fleming's that March evening and met Fitzgerald was a guy who still believed in himself. He had done amazing things with the Rams. But he needed the Cardinals and his five seasons in the desert. Without them, Warner wouldn't be getting a bust in Canton.