GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sunday morning following his team’s walk-through, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he had not had a chance to watch Kurt Warner’s Hall of Fame speech.
“We were in meetings,” he said.
Larry Fitzgerald, on the other hand, was in Canton for the ceremony, being on hand to support a quarterback whom he played with from 2005 to 2009 and together helped change what it meant to be an Arizona Cardinal.
The receiver stayed in Ohio following Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game, missing practice Saturday so he could be present for Warner’s induction.
“It was great to be there and be able to support a good friend and mentor,” Fitzgerald said Sunday. “And the overall experience I had yesterday was top-five I’ve ever had.”
Fitzgerald said the chance to rub shoulders with other Hall of Famers, people who helped pave the way for today’s players, as well as get a more in-depth look at some of the game’s history was special.
Asked if there was any player he was hoping to meet, he said former Steelers great John Stallworth.
“Going to the University of Pittsburgh and hearing about him, the kind of man he is, getting a chance to finally meet him was really cool,” he said, noting he had previous opportunities to meet most of the rest of the greats who were in attendance.
Of course, Fitzgerald was there for a different reason, and that was to celebrate Warner, who was joined in induction by Jason Taylor, LaDanian Tomlinson, Terrell Davis, Morten Anderson, Kenny Easley and Jerry Jones.
Warner, whose 39 touchdown passes to Fitzgerald are the most of any quarterback to the receiver in franchise history, is someone Fitzgerald credits for helping him become the player he is today.
Fitzgerald said he did not spend too much time with Warner Saturday, though, because the quarterback had plenty going on and he did not want to get in the way. He did get a chance to catch up with him at a party Thursday night after the preseason game, and there had a chance to not only catch up with Warner, but his wife, Brenda, as well as many other family members he hadn’t seen in a while.
It was all courtesy of a story Fitzgerald said has never been seen before.
“His story is, I would say, one of the more unique I’ve ever heard, football players, anything in general,” he said of Warner’s bumpy road to Canton. “His road to get to where he was at was unbelievable.”
After graduating from Northern Iowa in 1994 Warner’s path saw him struggle to stick in the NFL, which led to him bagging groceries before heading to the Arena Football League and NFL Europe before finally lasting the 1998 campaign with the St. Louis Rams as their third quarterback.
He was slated to be the backup to free agent pickup Trent Green in 1999, but a knee injury suffered by Green in the preseason opened the door for Warner, with the rest being history.
Three trips to the Super Bowl, one Super Bowl title, two league MVPs and a host of other accomplishments later, Warner was immortalized Sunday as one of the best football players of all time.
His career just needed a bit more time than usual to get going.
“I remember asking the guys on the podium with him, the Hall of Famers, ‘Who never started in four years?’ and I remember them guys looking around like, ‘I started all four’ so I got a good kick out of that,” Fitzgerald said.
A self-proclaimed historian of the game, Fitzgerald said he has a great affinity for what the Hall of Fame represents. It’s not just about the NFL, remember, but rather professional football as a whole.
He is unsure of whether or not his understanding of the game’s history has helped him in his career, other than that he believes it probably gives him a greater appreciation of what he and his peers have accomplished.
“Because I know how difficult it is and how lucky you have to be to not only make it to the NFL, but to be able to stick,” he said. “A lot of things have to go your way and especially to be immortalized as one of the greatest to ever do it.”
In time, Fitzgerald will join the players he saw on stage Saturday.
At this point in his career, Fitzgerald is a virtual lock for Canton, with the only question being when his bust will be unveiled. He is about to enter his 14th NFL season and is already third all-time in receptions, ninth in history for receiving yards and eighth in receiving touchdowns.
Fitzgerald will first become eligible for the Hall of Fame five years after he retires, though he said Sunday even while watching others get inducted, he never really thought about what it would be like for him.
“I don’t ever think about that,” he said. “Obviously you hope and dream if the opportunity presents itself at some point, but it was more so just happy for the guys that you know.
“T.D. waited a long time, and obviously I’ve known LaDanian for a really long time and Jason Taylor and guys like that I’ve gotten to know over the years; so you’re just happy for them and their families. To be recognized as one of the greatest to ever do it is something special.”
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