Kurt Warner took the long and winding road to the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- starting in the Arena League, then going to NFL Europe and, finally, landing in the NFL.
But he made it, not stopping until he reached the Pro Football Hall of Fame. and he made it because he had a chance to prove himself in a league ... any league. And it’s that idea that’s behind Major League Football, a spring developmental league scheduled to open in eight non-NFL cities across the United States in 2018.
The idea for a developmental league has been in the works for years, with Major League Football scheduled to kick off this past spring. However, its opening was postponed until after a lead investor reneged on his commitment. When someone stepped in to take his place, Major League Football was back on track – with the next Kurt Warner waiting on his chance in places like Salt Lake City, Birmingham, Shreveport and Portland, Ore., all under consideration as sites.
“(Warner) is the number-one guy who got the opportunity,” former CFL GM and NFL scout Mike McCarthy, now with Major League Football, said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “He was in the Arena League before he went to NFL Europe. And I almost brought him to Ottawa in 1994 as a quarterback with the Ottawa Roughriders of the CFL.
“But then NFL Europe started, and his agent said, 'Hey, my guy’s going to NFL Europe, and he may have an opportunity to go to the National Football League.’ And that’s what happened.
"There’s a perfect example (of someone who gained an opportunity), and he’s one of 300 or 400 guys who have done it. Kurt was probably the most successful guy, but Brad Johnson was another guy who played in the NFL and played in the Super Bowl. And that’s what we want to do, regardless of position.”
McCarthy was the youngest GM in CFL history to win a Grey Cup when, at the age of 38, he and the Toronto Argonauts won the league championship in 1991. But he’s had plenty of professional football experience, including working with the USFL when that start-up league originated in the 1980s.
Like Major League Football, it began as a spring league. Unlike Major League Football, it eventually took on the NFL in the fall and was not a developmental league – luring star players like future Hall-of-Famers Steve Young, Jim Kelly and Reggie White away with lucrative contracts.
“We don’t want to compete with the NFL, like we did with the United States Football League when we started it,” said McCarthy. “We’re setting ourselves (up) to create an innovative and accessible game for the fans at a low cost in secondary cities away from the National Football League … play in the spring like the USFL did and NFL Europe did.
“What we’re about (is): Developing kids, letting them play, giving them a chance to play, hone their skills, work on their position specifics and getting better at what they do ... It's opportunity, and that's the threshold of what we want to do.”