Kurt Warner's path to the NFL didn't start with him becoming an MVP from birth. It took time before the then-St. Louis Rams gave him a call.
Warner played for the Arena Football League's Iowa Barnstormers for two seasons after being waived by the Green Bay Packers. In that span, he became an Arena League legend, finishing first-team All-Arena in 1996 and 1997.
After that, the Rams sent him overseas to play for the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe, where he would lead the league in touchdowns and passing yards for the 1998 season. After that, the rest was history.
Taylor Heinicke's story is a tad different, but more on that later. For now, he enters Thursday as the Washington Football Team's starting quarterback against NFC East rival New York.
No pressure, right?
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"Taylor, he's just a winner," defensive end Chase Young said Tuesday. "You know, he just goes hard."
"It's really cool playing behind a guy that, who just seems like he's always ready for the moments," wide receiver Terry McLaurin followed. "It's never too big for him. And you know, he's going to give us his best each and every week."
McLaurin isn't wrong. Every snap, Heinicke has left it all out on the field as if there's not tomorrow. In retrospect, maybe there isn't.
The 28-year-old isn't a name that makes fans ooh and ahh after his journey from Old Dominion to the NFL. Players like Heinicke either sink or swim.
A good game keeps them on the roster a tad longer. A bad one leads to nothing more than a thank you from the head coach and a trip to clean out their locker.
Heinicke isn't Warner 2.0. In fact, he'd be the first of his kind despite his path way to starting in the NFL mirrors one of the greatest gunslingers in the last 25 years.
Going undrafted in 2015, Heinicke made the active rosters for the Minnesota Vikings, Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers. He even started a game for Panthers in 2018, losing to the Atlanta Falcons and throwing three interceptions.
After being waived, Heinicke tested his luck with the XFL as a member of the St. Louis Battlehawks. St. Louis had its team back, but a different quarterback saw the field. Former Ole Miss starter Jordan Ta'amu would play in all five games before the league ceased operations due to COVID-19.
Heinicke held a clipboard. He watched from the sideline at "The Dome". Nothing more. When the league folded, maybe that was it?
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Thank goodness for WFT's Ron Rivera remembering their time together in the Queen City.
People will point back to Heinicke's playoff performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Wild Card Round where threw for 306 yards and a touchdown and dove for the pylon for another score. WFT lost, but Heinicke won when he was offered a two-year contract worth $4.75 million.
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A closer outing came this past Sunday following a hip injury to Ryan Fitzpatrick. He went 11 of 15 passing for 122 yards and an 11-yard touchdown to Logan Thomas. Once again, Washington walks away a loser, but Heinicke looks like the guy.
"All I know is when I'm out there, I'm excited to be out there," Heinicke said. "I want to play good football and win games. Maybe that's it. I try to give guys some energy."
Fitzpatrick heads to the IR for the next eight weeks or so. Maybe the season if any setbacks come the 38-year-old's way. Washington, still very much in the running for the NFC East crown, now looks to Heinicke to be their saving grace.
Maybe they view him as the long-term starter just needing time to thrive? His teammates believe in him enough to think he's QB1 material.
"You can see he never gets rattled, even when he's running around and juking guys out of the way. He still gets the ball down the field ... and even when he did make those plays, he looked like he was used to making those plays," Young said.
"He could start on any other team in the league."
Washington was hopeful that Fitzpatrick, who enters his 17th season in the league, would solve the QB carousel in Washington. It lasted less than a half before Henicke stepped in.
Since 2000, Washington has trudged out 23 different starting quarterbacks. Some were rentals like Donovan McNabb. Others were viewed to be the franchise guy, like Robert Griffin III or Dwayne Haskins. Of course, you have your surprise names like Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins.
Yet Heinicke gets the call, leaving a hole as the most important position in the game today. It also leaves concerns of players buying into the winning culture Rivera has tried to implement.
"It can be frustrating at times," McLaurin said. "It's human nature to kind of get frustrated at times, but the end of the day, the thing that comes to my mind is you have no excuses."
When he first showed up on Washington's practice squad, Young called the 6-foot-1 quarterback a "little guy." He's now the biggest man on campus for Washington in what feels like a must-win game.
Former Rams head coach Dick Vermeil only named Warner the starter in 1999 due to injury. Trent Green suffered a torn ACL in the preseason, ending his year before it truly begun. Vermeil said it was the Rams' job to rally around Warner to give him the best shot to win.
By February, the Rams were Super Bowl Champions and Warner would never be forgotten again.
Heinicke isn't Warner. He might not even be a playoff caliber quarterback. But the hero of Washington's playoffs get his shot in the spotlight for at least one more time.
Maybe this is where the wild QB carousel ride ends?
"Something I've been dreaming my whole life, being a starting quarterback in the NFL, and here we are," Heinicke said. "I really try to take it one day at a time, one meeting at a time, one play at a time. I feel like if I just live in the moment, everything else will take care of itself."