The Rams are gone from St. Louis, but NFL players who shaped their legacies in St. Louis continue to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The NFL announced the 2017 induction class for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night, and football fans around St. Louis were elated to discover that quarterback Kurt Warner finally earned a spot in the Hall. Warner, who was the face of the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams offenses from 1999-2002, had been a finalist in 2015 and 2016 but missed the cut during the final selection meetings.
Warner, a former grocery bagger and a star in the Arena League and NFL Europe, had the Rams’ starting job fall into his lap during the 1999 preseason after Trent Green suffered a season-ending knee injury. He proceeded to dominate, leading the Rams to a Super Bowl victory on 1999 while leading the NFL in completion percentage, touchdown passes, and passer rating.
His success continued over the next two seasons, as he led the league in completion percentage during both campaigns and led the league in touchdown passes and passer rating once again in 2001 while leading the Rams to another Super Bowl (one that many St. Louis fans argue they would have won had it not been for the New England Patriots’ cheating). He won the NFL AP MVP in ’99 and ’01, and he was on top of the world heading into the 2002 season.
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As Warner dealt with injuries and a feud with head coach Mike Martz and was limited to seven games in ’02, however, Marc Bulger began to assert himself as the Rams’ signal caller. Warner was benched after one game in 2003 and never started another game in St. Louis. He was released at the end of the ’03 season.
In a turn of events that fit in perfectly with the rest of his career, though, Warner regained his elite form in 2008 after spending a year in New York as the bridge guy to Eli Manning and three more as a competitor to Matt Leinart in Arizona. After he wrestled away the Cardinals’ starting job away from the former USC star for good that year in training camp, Warner got the 9-7 Cardinals into the playoffs and proceeded to lead them to a Super Bowl. They lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the title game, but Warner added to his Hall of Fame case, completing 68.1 percent of his passes during the playoffs while throwing 11 touchdown passes and three interceptions.
After one more spectacular season in which he took the Cardinals into the second round of the playoffs, Warner hung it up. He retired with the fourth-best completion percentage (65.5%) and the 10th-best career passer rating in NFL history (93.7).
Warner will be the sixth former St. Louis Ram to enter the Hall of Fame, joining Jackie Slater (class of 2001), Marshall Faulk (2011), Aeneas Williams (2014), Jerome Bettis (2015), and Orlando Pace (2016). If you’re following along with the math there, that means this will be the fourth straight year that a former St. Louis Ram is being enshrined in Canton, even though Bettis is remembered much more for his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Williams is remembered equally or more so for his time with the Arizona Cardinals than his time in St. Louis.
Warner’s favorite target, wideout Isaac Bruce, was a finalist this year but obviously came up short on the final ballot. So did former St. Louis football Cardinals coach Don Coryell, who was instrumental in creating the aggressive passing attack that has influenced nearly every modern NFL offense.
With Bruce, fellow receiver Torry Holt, and linebacker London Fletcher all having a chance at the Hall in the future, St. Louis players could have a very prominent presence in Canton before it’s all said and done, despite the fact that the Rams played in the Gateway to the West for just 21 seasons and were wholly noncompetitive for about 14 of them. The NFL has rather publicly attempted to erase St. Louis’s role in football history, but for those of us who lived it, we’ve got the good fortune of knowing that we were able to see so many legendary players in our city.