Paper towels and canned foods typically aren’t associated with football legends – unless you visit the Hy-Vee in Cedar Falls.
While nearly 15 years have passed since Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner turned in his white Hy-Vee name tag for a football jersey, there’s still interest in his story.
“We’ve fielded some calls from the media,” said Rob Green, store operations manager.
The New York Times called, and a local television station asked for an interview.
It isn’t the media frenzy Warner’s story ignited in 2000, the year Warner and the St. Louis Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans, 23-16, in the Super Bowl.
Back then, everyone wanted to know more about the University of Northern Iowa quarterback who stocked shelves for $5.50 an hour after being cut from the Green Bay Packers. They saw him hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy and applauded his dedication to a sport that had shunned his talent.
“My dad and I had gone to UNI games since I was a kid,” said Ben Johnston of Cedar Falls. “We saw him play in college and then he disappeared for a few years.”
When Johnston saw Warner play again, Warner was on TV.
“It’s just an amazing story,” said Johnston, a Hy-Vee customer.
Warner and the Rams went to a second Super Bowl two years later. The game ended in defeat. And it seemed the Warner fairy tale was over, too.
He continued to play football, but not with the level of success that kept his name in headlines and Hy-Vee’s phones ringing. His story became a footnote in history, a piece of trivia for football fans.
The Hy-Vee in which Warner worked closed to make room for a bigger store a few yards away.
Then the improbable happened. Again.
Warner, 37, led the Arizona Cardinals to their first Super Bowl, which will be played Sunday, and the often-told story is again circulating in Hy-Vee’s aisles. “He’s a great inspiration for young children,” Hy-Vee employee Greg Mick said. “He’s someone you can point to and say, ‘Hey, Kurt Warner did it. It took him a while, but he did it.’”
“It’s pretty cool to say he worked here,” said Stephanie Pickett, a University of Northern Iowa elementary education student and Hy-Vee employee.
Pickett didn’t work with Warner. Many of those who did no longer work for Hy-Vee.
“It’s an area where we see a lot of turnover,” Green said. “There’s probably only a handful still here that did.”
Cashier Cindy Dahl is one of them. She didn’t know Warner well, but remembers him as a nice person who deserves his success.
“I’m cheering for him,” Dahl said. “Green Bay is usually my team, but I’m rooting for Kurt.”