When Kurt Warner decided to walk away from football on Jan. 29, 2010, he had no hesitation about doing it. He knew it was time.
Now, more than two and a half years later, time isn’t something Warner has much of in his retirement. And that’s just how he wants it.
“I don’t want to just retire and lay around,” Warner said. “I want to continue to impact people and so I think it’s important at this stage of my life that I take advantage of some of these great opportunities I have in front of me.”
Indeed, Warner’s post-football career might actually be more time-consuming and demanding than the day to day grind of a football season.
The center of Warner’s priorities is a commitment and devotion to spending as much time with wife Brenda and their seven children. Around that, though, Warner has far-reaching endeavors that range from his numerous charitable activities to an ever-expanding television presence to finding ways to stay connected the game that allowed him the platform for those things in the first place.
In fact, it is those duties that will bring Warner back to St. Louis Thursday night to be honored by the Rams and their fans at the Edward Jones Dome as he participates in the NFL Network broadcast of the game against the Cardinals.
For Warner and his family, any chance to get back to St. Louis, the place his NFL career first blossomed, is more than welcomed.
“I always look forward to it,” Warner said. “The people of St. Louis are awesome and to be able to do what we do there, we love it. It’s one of those things, unfortunately, when you get crazy busy and you have seven kids, you almost have to have an excuse to come back whether it’s to go see my family in Iowa or to come back to St. Louis but we look forward to those excuses to come back to St. Louis to see friends and to continue to impart what we want to continue to do in that community and feel the support that we still have from so many people there. It’s always welcome when we have that opportunity or when we schedule these things every year.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Of course, even when Warner and his family can’t make it back to St. Louis, they continue to have a presence in the community through the various charitable efforts of his First Things First Foundation.
The foundation continues to have a strong foothold in St. Louis through the Warner’s Warm Up coast drive program, which is set for Nov. 1-14 this year as well as the First Things First Golf Classic, now in its fourth year at Norwood Hills Country Club on Oct. 5. The Warners also have furnished homes for low income single moms, Disney World trips for Make-a-Wish Foundation kids and their families, outreach at Thanksgiving and Christmas for those in need and much more.
That Warner has been able to stay so active in a community that he left nearly a decade ago speaks volumes about the relationship he established with the city nearly from the day he stepped on the field for the first time as a Ram.
It’s evident every time Warner returns and in the continued outpouring of support in Warner’s community outreach.
“I think we are just amazed every year that people continue to support the different things,” Warner said. “Warner’s Warm Up just gets bigger and bigger every year; our golf tournament has done extremely well. I think that continues to amaze us that we still have a presence there and people still step up to support us even though we haven’t been a part of their direct family for seven, eight years now. It is humbling and it’s pretty impressive what that community is all about. We are going to keep coming back as long as that door continues to stay open.”
Warner’s work in the community isn’t exclusive to St. Louis, though. In fact, the project closest to his heart right now is something called “Treasure House,” which calls for the creation of assisted living homes for young adults with disabilities.
Warner’s oldest son, Zachary, was accidentally dropped on his head as a child, diminishing him mentally and leaving him legally blind. Now that he’s out of high school and out of the house, Warner wanted to find a way to keep him close enough to visit but also allow the family to see him when it wanted, an opportunity Warner wants to create for all families and young adults with special needs.
“With our oldest son having disabilities and him graduating from high school, we have always wondered what’s next for him,” Warner said. “We’ve actually got him in an assisted living home now where he’s growing leaps and bounds and becoming independent and really living the life that we believe God created him for. Our goal is to; first of all bring our son closer to us because he’s not in Phoenix right now and to also open those opportunities for other families. So we are in the midst of that but it’s really coming together really quickly and very well. Our hope is to take that and model that around the country to as many places as we can so that other parents like us don’t have to send their children away, they can keep them close and still have those opportunities. So that’s the big piece of the puzzle.”
First Things First isn’t just building and helping in the United States, either. Warner has been involved with a number of projects in impoverished nations and is working to keep all of the current programs in the U.S. rolling along.
While the charitable efforts of Warner have always seemed to come a bit second nature to him, he’s also found a number of ways to challenge himself by taking on new tasks and challenges.
Since retirement, Warner has used his platform to continue to make a positive impact in a variety of different avenues. He competed on the reality show “Dancing with the Stars” in 2010 and accepted an on-air role as an analyst with the NFL Network the same year.
Warner remains in his role with the NFL Network but only spends one day a week on the road for that role so as not to be away from his family too much.
Always blessed with the gift of gab, Warner has had little trouble going on television and talking but he’s about to take on a new role that’s a bit more exigent. In conjunction with the USA Network, Warner will host a new reality show “The Moment,” which will debut at the start of next year.
Warner will serve as the show’s host and for the first time finds himself in the position of being the interviewer instead of the interviewee. Filming for that show has gone through the summer and is about to wrap up but the experience has certainly been educational.
“The challenge becomes getting on television and whether it be asking certain questions or drawing certain things out of people or being able to stand up and present something, that isn’t just the response to a question,” Warner said. “It’s just trying to fine tune the different things I have to do. Being a host of the show is more about drawing things out of people and asking questions and trying to solicit emotions or make sure I take the show in the right direction or get where we need from an emotional standpoint. That’s been a definite challenge and something I am working my way through but I enjoy having the opportunity to do different things and to be challenged in different ways.”
It should come as no surprise that Warner’s show is focused on – what else – helping people realize their dreams. The show took tons of submissions from family members of people who, for one reason or another, stopped chasing their dreams long ago. After sifting through the submissions, USA selected a group of people, traveled to them and surprised them by presenting them an opportunity for a life mulligan.
If the participant agrees to chase their dream, they spend two weeks with a “coach” who is one of the top people in whatever field they choose and at the end of the two weeks; they get a chance to take on a job opportunity in their chosen profession.
“I got involved simply because of my story,” Warner said. “They reached out to me and I sat down with them and had an interview and shared with them what my vision for the show would be and it seemed to connect along with my story so I became the host and have been traveling around the country trying to help people fulfill their dreams.”
FILLING THE VOID
When asked whether he misses football, Warner pauses for a moment and thinks it through. It’s not that Warner doesn’t miss the game; it’s more that he hasn’t really had time to sit down and think about it.
Rare is the athlete that can walk away on top, with his health intact and the knowledge that he’s accomplished everything his sport has to offer. But Warner did just that. He reached the mountaintop and came to the realization that the platform the mountain’s peak provides is one that is quite powerful.
As the past couple of years have gone by, Warner hasn’t found himself wanting to get back under center so much as he’s kept up a continuous search on how to fill the competitive void that resides in a high-caliber athlete.
“There are moments where I miss it,” Warner said. “I miss the competitive part of it. I miss going out there every Sunday and competing against the best in the world and the challenge of performing on a weekly basis. I miss the guys. I think one of the hardest things is when you have a built in network or camaraderie or team every single day of your life you are around them and have that built in and then you retire and you have to fill that void somehow. I think that’s been one of the hardest things.”
Taking away the built in friendships and relationships that go with a football locker room and adding the extensive travel and constant schedule juggling has made it a bit hard for Warner to settle aside from his close-knit family. He spends as much time with his kids as possible and two of his boys are playing youth football with Warner helping out as coach.
Looking back, Warner knows he left the game at the right time and is doing all that he can to use the tools football gave him to continue making a positive impact on the world. In some sense, he’s filling his own void by helping others fill theirs.
“I understand why I got out,” Warner said. “The game was unbelievable for me and my family but also took its toll in a number of ways and that was the reason I needed to get out when I did. Because of that, I think the transition has been easier. A lot of people are never really sure when they are supposed to walk away so as they get a little bit older it’s more ‘Well, I think it’s getting close, everybody says it’s about time.’ For me, I knew it was time to get out. It was an easy decision for me to walk away from that standpoint and I think that’s kind of made it easier now that I’ve gone into retirement and I’m looking back and going ‘Man, why did I retire again?’ I don’t have that question like I think a lot of guys struggle with when they’re done.”
A SPECIAL CONNECTION
Take a look around the Edward Jones Dome or even just the city of St. Louis on any fall football weekend and you’ll see fans dressed in their favorite player’s jersey. There are no definitive facts on which jersey you’ll see the most of but Warner’s No. 13 unquestionably remains one of the most popular.
It’s been nine years since Warner last donned the horns of the Rams and his family relocated to Phoenix after he began playing for the Cardinals. Yet there has always been something magical about the connection between Warner the city of St. Louis.
Fans speak of him in reverential terms, not just for his many accomplishments on the field but for reasons far more personal.
Perhaps they relate to the blue collar method that took Warner from stocking shelves in the grocery store to throwing game winning touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Maybe they connect to Warner on a spiritual level, an understanding of his devotion to faith and what it can do for the human spirit.
Or possibly, they just appreciate the fact that at his core, Warner is a downright outstanding human being.
Whatever the case, it’s a bond forged long ago that doesn’t appear ready to break anytime soon.
“I think sometimes you try to understand it and I think I did when I was there but I think as you get separated from it a little bit, you are not sure,” Warner said. “My wife and I always sit back and talk and say ‘We’ll do these things as long as the door stays open’ and I think every year we kind of expect the door to close where people are like ‘Eh, we’ll move on and support the next guy or it’s kind of run its course.’ We are just amazed every year that people still feel that way after all these years.”