Former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner gives his speech during his induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Sunday night.
CANTON, Ohio – Moments matter, Kurt Warner emphasized, as he talked about the ones that did for him.
One came during his famous stint as a shelf stocker at the Hy-Vee grocery store in Iowa, when he was trying to provide for his growing family and watching his dream of playing pro football slowly wither away.
"I was stocking the cereal aisle, opened up a case of Wheaties, and on the box was one of the men sitting behind me – Dan Marino," Warner said on the stage in which he was delivering his induction speech Saturday night. "Once on the shelves, it seemed like Dan the Man's eyes followed me, like one of those creepy paintings in a horror movie, as I walked back and forth throughout the night.
"Every time I looked at the box, it seemed like he was asking me, 'Are you going to spend your life stocking someone else's cereal boxes, or are you going to step out and make sure someone else is stocking yours?' A crazy conversation between me
and a cereal box set the wheels in motion."
Warner's speech wasn't about what got him to the Hall of Fame – those spectacular years with the St. Louis Rams, and then his epic Act Two as a member of the Cardinals. It was remarkably devoid of any reminiscing about his MVP awards, Super Bowl trips or any of the passes he threw, whether it be to Torry Holt or Larry Fitzgerald.
Instead, it was about what got him to what got him there – his time growing up with the sport, his time in high school and sitting on the bench in college, his stint in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe. Lasting about 33 minutes, Warner spoke about his childhood love for the game along with meeting his wife and building a career to sustain his children.
And he talked about his grocery store days, when he had been hoping for just a chance to play again after college.
"If I wanted different results, I had to change my course," Warner said. "Because trust me, no NFL scout is running into Aisle 7 at 3 a.m. looking for their next QB."
Warner at one point asked for a show of hands from all the Hall of Famers on the stage who had ever been on the bench for four years total in their career. None had – except for the newest Hall of Famer, who sat for four years at Northern Iowa alone before finally getting a chance to play.
It was that backstory that was always the most intriguing part of the Warner journey.
While former Cardinals teammates like Fitzgerald, former safety Adrian Wilson – now a Cardinals scout – and Calais Campbell
were in attendance, so too were four-fifths of Warner's offensive line his lone year of starting at Northern Iowa.
All were a part of what made Warner's career, although Warner also made an incredible impact on the teams he was with – including the Cardinals.
"What he did for Arizona and what he did for the team, just being able to re-live that with him, talking to him on Friday night (at Warner's party), how much it meant for him to have Larry and I kind of be there for him and show our support for him, because obviously, this is something he really deserves," Wilson said. "His time in Arizona … it kind of cemented his path to get here."
Fitzgerald was allowed to miss Saturday's practice to attend the night celebrating one of his close friends.
"To see a person you care about so deeply to be immortalized as one of the greatest ever to do it in his profession, there's no greater honor," Fitzgerald said. "To be here in support of him and everything he's done on and off the field is really special. It's a night I'll remember the rest of my life."
Fitzgerald figures to be the next Cardinal likely to enter the Hall of Fame. Warner long ago talked about wanting to help change the franchise when he first signed in Arizona, and his gold jacket underscores the metamorphosis that's happened in the 12 years since.
Watching Warner get inducted "is incredibly special," Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said. "Until now, all the Cardinals who have gone on to the Hall of fame, I wasn't working at the Cardinals. Kurt is the first – My sister (Nicole) advised me of that earlier. There has been a transition (with the franchise). I'm so excited for him."
As an "ultimate team guy" Warner declined to talk about teammates by name, although he did list off coaches, including Dennis Green, Ken Whisenhunt and Todd Haley with the Cardinals. The one player he did mention was Rams teammate Trent Green – whom he praised for his class in handling Warner's rise to stardom, a path created only when Green suffered a torn ACL in 1999.
That was one of the moments that got Warner to where he had been hoping to go. A place that ended up delivering him to the Hall of Fame.
"Moments matter," Warner said. "They leave their impression upon us, they shape how we live our lives, and they impact who we become.
"Don't miss your moments."
Images from Kurt Warner's gold jacket ceremony and induction ceremony