EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In some ways it was strange to see former St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner throwing passes to receivers during training camp, especially Chris Givens, who now wears the No. 13 that Warner once made famous.
But as Warner threw about a dozen routes to Givens and fellow receiver Tavon Austin after Sunday's practice, the nearly 2,300 fans in attendance didn't care much that Warner wasn't in uniform. They just cared that he was home.
Part of Warner's new life, the life that began after he announced his retirement from the Arizona Cardinals in 2008, is working as a broadcaster for the NFL Network. That's what brought him back to St. Louis Sunday night. In fact, visits to Rams Park since his 2003 release have been few and far between.
“I can’t tell you when I was back here before, but it seems like I’ve been here a couple times," Warner said. “But it hasn’t been often. Obviously, my life moved to Phoenix, and with the kids and all that since retirement. Not that I don’t love this place and have strong feelings for it but sometimes we just move on and go other places."
Of course, considering the outpouring of love Warner received upon his return to St. Louis, it's clear that had the fans had their way Warner never would have departed in the first place. It's water under the bridge at this point, but there are still some who have a bitter taste in their mouth about the way Warner departed.
After leading the Rams to a pair of Super Bowls, including a win in Super Bowl XXXIV against current Rams coach Jeff Fisher's Titans, Warner battled injuries and struggled to get back to the supernova levels he achieved from 1999-01. The Rams parted ways with him in 2003, he had a short stay in New York with the Giants, and then he revitalized his career in Arizona.
In the time since, Warner has remained active in the St. Louis community from a charitable standpoint but has made his home in Arizona. His visits to St. Louis have mostly been limited to quarterbacking the Cardinals or popping up at the Dome as part of his broadcast duties. Rarely have they included a stop at Rams Park.
But Warner has already been invited back to take part in the team's celebration of the 15-year anniversary of winning that Super Bowl against Tennessee. It's a memory near and dear to Warner but one that also feels distant.
“It does feel like it was a long time ago," Warner said. “I don’t know if it’s 15 years (ago). I feel too good to feel like I’m that old. But at the same time there’s a lot of great memories. To think back to then and to think that for me it really all started that year. And how magical that year was."
If Warner is able to make it back for that celebration, there are many who would like to see his name go into the team's Ring of Fame. It's a point of contention among his many fans that he hasn't already been honored when fellow Greatest Show on Turf members Isaac Bruce and Marshall Faulk have seen their numbers retired.
It's an honor Warner would, of course, enjoy and one he'll receive from the Cardinals when they open the season against San Diego on Sept. 8.
“What player would say, no, they wouldn’t like to see their name on a ring of honor in any facility?" Warner said. “But my career will never be defined by those things. Those aren’t things that I ever really think about. What a tremendous honor to think that an organization felt that you left a big enough impact that you should be kind of engrossed in their history.
"But those are just bonuses to everything that’s happened in my career. And like I said, I think so fondly of my time here, and this organization, and the opportunities that they gave me."
Of course, just because the Rams have yet to make such a move with Warner doesn't mean it won't happen eventually. While it hasn't been a hard and fast rule -- Bruce is an example of an exception -- the organization has generally preferred to limit such things to players with Hall of Fame distinction.
Coincidentally, that's another honor that could come Warner's way soon enough and pave the way for him to land in the Rams' version of the Ring of Honor. Warner is eligible for induction for the first time this year and while he might not make it on the first ballot, a straw poll of some voters makes it seem as if he will get in.
For now, Warner seemed content to simply reconnect with the fans who supported his rise to prominence and clearly still have love for him.
"The fans here have always been so supportive of me over the years, even since I left," Warner said. “I couldn’t be more grateful for the impact that they’ve had on my life, my family, our foundation. So it’s always fun to come back and have a chance to interact with the fans."