John Gregory’s summer schedule now includes a trip to Canton, Ohio.
The former CFL head coach will attend the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony, keeping a promise he made to Kurt Warner when he became a finalist. Gregory told his former quarterback he’d be there when Warner was formally inducted.
Warner was named for induction Saturday in his third year of eligibility. Warner, kicker Morten Andersen, running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Terrell Davis, safety Kenny Easley, Dallas owner/GM Jerry Jones and defensive end Jason Taylor will be enshrined Aug. 5.
“I’m thrilled to death for him,” Gregory said Monday. “When he was nominated, I told him (wife) Carolyn and I would be at the induction.
“He said, ‘Well, I’ve got to get selected first.’ I sent him an email (Sunday) and we wouldn’t miss it … he’s like one of my own boys.”
Gregory certainly saw it coming, boldy predicting in 2009 that Warner would one day join pro football’s most elite group.
Warner was earning US$5.50 an hour stocking shelves at a Cedar Falls, Ia., supermarket when Gregory gave him a second chance in pro football. After serving as a CFL head coach with Saskatchewan and Hamilton, Gregory was coaching the Arena Football League’s Iowa Barnstormers in ’95 and signed Warner, who’d been cut the year before by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.
Warner played three seasons with the Barnstormers, leading them to two Arena Bowl appearances while earning first-team all-star honours (1996-97). Warner joined the St. Louis Rams in ’98 and was allocated to NFL Europe, where he led the league in passing and TDs.
Warner gained prominence in ’99 replacing Trent Green (knee) as the Rams’ starter. He anchored a big-play offence dubbed “The Greatest Show on Turf” and led a St. Louis team that was 4-12 the previous season to an improbable 23-16 Super Bowl win over Tennessee.
Warner won the first of his two NFL MVP honours that year before being named Super Bowl MVP. He added another league MVP award in ’01 before going on to play for the New York Giants and Arizona, guiding the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in ’08.
Warner ended his 12-year NFL career in ’09 with a 65.5-per cent completion average, 32,344 passing yards, 208 TDs and 128 interceptions. On Sunday, New England’s Tom Brady joined Warner as the only players to throw for over 400 yards in the Super Bowl.
Warner had 1,156 yards passing over his three Super Bowl appearances.
Gregory, 78, is currently the commissioner of the National Arena League, an indoor football circuit scheduled to begin its inaugural season next month. Gregory admits he didn’t see greatness in Warner’s first workout but realized quickly Warner could play.
“That’s hard to say when you’re first starting him out before you get into some games,” Gregory said in a telephone interview. “But it definitely didn’t take long because he picked up the offence very quickly.”
Gregory feels the AFL prepared Warner for both NFL Europe and the NFL because it taught him the value of throwing quickly to beat defensive pressure.
“Absolutely, it worked perfect for him,” Gregory said. “If we called a running play and our quarterback saw some sort of coverage or if we had a mismatch someplace we just threw the ball even though we had a run play called.
“I don’t think many people had done it previous but we did it all the time and Kurt was a master of it. All the receivers were always alert because they never knew when they might get the ball.”
Gregory said what Warner lacked in speed he more than made up for in smarts and athleticism.
“After we invited him to (the first) workout, I did some research and found he was first-team all-state in high school in both football and basketball so he was a good athlete,” Gregory said. “When we tested him we found he had basketball quickness and balance to get out of trouble in the backfield and throw the ball.
“He could throw the ball from any position. It’s one of those deals, ‘Oh, he threw it off his back foot,” but still completed the pass.”
Gregory added Warner’s success was also a testament to his perseverance and work ethic.
“He was very, very smart and always worked very, very hard,” Gregory said. ”It wasn’t luck, he got it (Hall of Fame induction) through hard work.”
Gregory said the six-foot-two 214-pound Warner could have excelled in the pass-happy CFL playing on the wider, longer field.
“Absolutely, he had a really, really strong arm,” Gregory said. “We had to teach him to try and take a little mustard off it because we wanted him to slide the ball out to the slotback just like a fast break in basketball.
“But he had the power to throw the out route in the CFL, there’s no doubt.”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press