25 Greatest Players: No. 16 Kurt Warner

CHICAGO – Continuing its countdown of the 25 Greatest Players in AFL History, the Silver Anniversary Committee has announced its selection for the 16th Greatest Player in AFL History: Kurt Warner.

Without question the most famous Arena Football player of all-time, Kurt Warner turned three seasons in the AFL into perhaps the greatest sports success story of all-time.

Warner was third on the depth chart at quarterback until his senior season at the University of Northern Iowa. Upon earning the starting job in 1993, Warner was named the Gateway Conference Offensive Player of the Year. However, the success of his senior year did not impress scouts enough to select him in the 1994 NFL Draft. He was invited to try out for the Green Bay Packers, but with Brett Favre, Mark Brunell and Ty Detmer already on the roster, Warner was little more than a camp arm.

After being released before the start of the 1994 season, Warner went home to Iowa. Though he refused to give up on his dream of playing professional football, Warner had to do something to make ends meet, so he stocked shelves at a Hy-Vee grocery store in Cedar Falls, Iowa for $5.50 an hour.

Warner made his AFL debut in 1995 and was the League’s top passer with 2,996 yards and 43 touchdowns in his rookie season with the Barnstormers. In a game against Arizona that year, he set a League record for passing yards in a game with 428. The mark remains the second-highest single-game total in League history.

The following season, he earned First-Team All-Arena honors after passing for 3,341 yards and 61 touchdowns and leading the Barnstormers to an appearance in ArenaBowl X. Down four points to the Tampa Bay Storm on the team’s final drive, Warner led Iowa down to the Storm one-yard line. However, on four straight downs, Warner’s Barnstormers were stopped shy of the end zone, giving Tampa Bay a 42-38 win in what was selected by the AFL Historical Committee as the Greatest Game in AFL History.

Warner’s final season in the AFL came in 1997. A First-Team All-Arena selection for the second time in his career, Warner passed for an Iowa franchise-record 4,149 yards and 79 touchdowns in 1997 and led the Barnstormers to a second consecutive championship game appearance. In ArenaBowl XI against the Arizona Rattlers, he completed 31 passes on 51 attempts. Both numbers represent ArenaBowl records.

The success of his 1997 season caught the attention of the NFL’s St. Louis Rams, who allocated Warner to the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe. After staying the spring overseas, Warner spent the 1998 NFL season as the Rams third-string quarterback. Then, when Rams starting quarterback Trent Green went down with a torn ACL in the 1999 preseason, Warner seized his opportunity and the “Greatest Show on Turf” was born. Four Pro Bowl selections, two NFL MVP awards, one Super Bowl MVP award and one Super Bowl championship later, Kurt Warner became the greatest success story in the history of the Arena Football League.

After retiring from the NFL in 2010, Warner joined NFL Network as an on-air analyst and has returned to the AFL as a broadcaster for the last two ArenaBowls. In 2010, the Iowa Barnstormers retired his No. 13 jersey and at ArenaBowl XXIV in 2011, Warner was announced as one of ten inductees for the Arena Football Hall of Fame class of 2012. He will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame following the 2014 NFL season.

The League’s Silver Anniversary Committee will continue to countdown its list of the 25 Greatest Players in AFL History each week throughout the 2012 regular season, with the announcements of the Top 5 during the postseason.

25 Greatest Players in AFL History
16.  Kurt Warner
17.  Bob McMillen
18.  Mark Grieb
19.  Darryl Hammond
20.  Alvin Rettig
21.  Durwood Roquemore
22.  Chris Jackson
23.  Ben Bennett
24.  Clevan Thomas
25.  Gary Mullen