Kurt Warner is one of 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2017, with the smart money on the former quarterback to reach Canton in his third try.
After all, he was a top-10 finalist in his first two years of eligibility, and he was on the doorstep of Canton a year ago before just missing the last cut. But this is supposed to be his time, with Warner considered the most likely candidate not named LaDainian Tomlinson for induction.
"It's so surreal," he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. "For so long, it was just ... I wanted an opportunity. I just wanted a chance; wanted a glimmer of hope that I could show people that I could play at this level.
"And after 12 great years, with a lot of ups and downs along the way, to be in this category … to be among this list of finalists for the third time … is just such an honor and is so humbling it's surreal.
"I was the guy who was never supposed to play in the NFL, and now to be considered as one of the greats … and whether I'm elected or not … just to be a finalist three times puts you just outside that category anyway.
"Just a tremendous honor, and I'm enjoying the process as I do every year, and we'll just see what's in store in the future. The great thing is that just being here helps to define what I want my career to be about and to be able to inspire people (that) regardless of where you start or how you get there, you can still have a great impact in the time that you have and the opportunities you get."
Warner is one of the greatest feel-good stories of modern sports history, going from stocking shelves in a local grocery story to the Super Bowl – taking, first, the St. Louis Rams there twice and, later, the Arizona Cardinals. He was a two-time league MVP, a Super Bowl MVP and one of the most likeable and respected players in recent league history.
I was the guy who was never supposed to play in the NFL.
But, as he pointed out, it's not the accolades or the Super Bowls … or even the Pro Football Hall of Fame, should he make it … that defines him. It is something far greater, something he said he realized when he started dreaming of having a bust one day in Canton.
"For me," he said, "it was a bigger picture that if, somehow, I can have the impact in this short period of time that I get to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, what kind of impact can that have on so many other people?
"And I think that’s how I looked at it. Not so much as it defined my career because I'm very content and very proud of the things that I accomplished. But, more so, if I could find a way to get there and let people recognize that it's not always about the number of opportunities or the number of moments you get to make an impact; it's about what do you do with the few or the many that you do get.
"And that, if I'm able to get in, is really the story for me. It's to let people know we're not all going to get the same opportunities; life is not fair from that standpoint. But what do you do with the ones that you get?
"To me, that’s what my whole career has been about, and why I love the way that it took the path that it did. Because I think so many more people can associate with what it took to get here and what I was able to do in those moments and the ups and downs along the way.
"And to say, 'You know what, I didn't get the opportunities I wanted, and I didn’t get as many as I wanted ... (or) to have those moments, like Tom Brady, to play with one team for so many years and to have a chance to go to seven (Super Bowls). I didn’t get those opportunities. But the ones I did ... I felt like I gave everything I could and did the best I could, and I believe I played as well as guys that have ever played this game.' To me, that’s what I want my career to be defined by."