The car jumped the curb and smashed into his bicycle, sending Kevin Warren flying over concrete. He landed on the only nearby patch of grass, saving his life but not his femur.
At 11, Warren found himself in a body cast, his parents calling him their "house plant." His muscles atrophied and his doctor warned him he might never walk again.
Warren asked one question: "What will give me the best chance of recovering?"
"Swimming," the doctor said.
On the ride home from the hospital, Warren mulled the $30,000 settlement he would win from the driver of the car that hit him. He told his parents he wanted a pool. "My parents couldn't afford a pool, and I knew that," Warren said. "So I told them I'd pay for it."
Warren built an in-ground pool and swam laps at all hours, building the muscle that would make him an athlete and the resolve that would make him a pioneer.
In February, U.S. Bank Stadium will host Super Bowl LII. In August, Vikings training camp will move to a new complex in Eagan. Warren, 54 and the team's chief operating officer, played a key role in the construction of both facilities. His rise to prominence began with a smaller amount of concrete, in a small backyard in Arizona.
The progeny of blacks, Mexicans and Choctaw, the racial bouillabaisse of the Southwest, Warren would become a Division I college basketball player and begin building networks in sports, business and law. Today, he is the highest-ranking black executive working on the business side of an NFL team and the league's first black COO.
"That time in my life provided a powerful lesson to me," Warren said. "You have to go and get what your destiny is. You've got to be willing to build your own pool. And you've got to be willing to pay for it."
'No limitation for Kevin'
Warren's allies say he is qualified to run a franchise, or even the NFL itself. Warren's goal is to own his own team. "He has groomed himself so much that he is prepared for anything," said his wife, Greta.
"He can go anywhere and do anything," said Mike Slive, the former Southeastern Conference commissioner and a one-time law firm colleague. "I could see him in New York, at the NFL office at a very high level. But would Kevin leave? Kevin has this ability to be highly successful while keeping his family life in balance."
"There's no limitation for Kevin," said former Rams coach Dick Vermeil, who worked with Warren when that team was in St. Louis. "I've never been around an administrative executive who was more capable of becoming a Number 1 person in any field."
Warren's family history informed and inspired his rise. His father and uncle played on the Arizona State football team in the mid-1940s that was told not to bring black players to a game at what is now known as the University of Texas-El Paso. His father, Morrison Warren Sr., fought in World War II before becoming the first black president of a college bowl game, the 1982 Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., and later a vice mayor of Phoenix.
His mother, Margaret, worked for a year as a sharecropper when she was a teen. His family members defied institutional racism in the Southwest to produce generations of scholars, teachers and athletes.
"Warrens can kick your butt in sports," said Kevin's brother, Morrison, one of the first black scholarship athletes at Stanford in the early 1960s. "And Warrens can kick your butt in the classroom."
Warren's father attended what was then called Phoenix Junior Colored High School. He set state records in track and football. His college career was interrupted by the war, but he returned and became one of Arizona State's 50 greatest football players, as well as one of the first people of color to receive a Ph.D. in education from the school.
"Because of some issues in Arizona he couldn't get a professor's job," Warren said.
Racial issues? "Yes," Warren said.
Warren's parents were accomplished but not wealthy. His father became a principal at Booker T. Washington elementary, and worked as a lifeguard during the summer.
"Every week I read something new about him, or someone comes up to me when I'm in Arizona," Warren said. "They'll ask, 'Are you a Warren?' And they'll tell me a story.
"You think about him being a vice mayor, and the political climate at the time. President Kennedy being shot in '63, and Doctor King and Bobby Kennedy and Malcolm X. My father truly was a Renaissance person."
Warren and his five siblings grew up in a 1,300-square-foot house on East Violet Drive. His parents were attentive and tough.
His father did all of his own house repairs. One summer, he decided to put railroad ties in the yard; Kevin dug the trenches before leaving for his construction job.
"We were the last family to get a weed wacker because my dad had me use these massive manual hedge trimmers," Warren said. "I complained, but using them gave me incredibly powerful forearms that helped me in sports."
When his father suffered a stroke in 2001, Warren flew home and slept in his father's hospital room. Warren asked him why he had been such a disciplinarian.
"He said he just liked to see everything done right," Warren said. " He said, 'It's not the big stuff; it's the details that will separate you during life.' "
Warren adopted his father's views on bigotry. During Warren's tenure, the Vikings have elevated three women to vice president positions and recently promoted Kelly Kleine to college scouting coordinator.
"My father raised issues for a purpose," Warren said. "If he heard black people saying anything racist about whites, he would put a stop to it."
When his father returned from World War II, he brought pictures of Jewish bodies stacked in concentration camps. "He actually talked more about the Holocaust than slavery," Warren said. "I don't think he wanted us to view injustice as a purely black issue."
Warren's mother earned her college degree at 40 and became a librarian because of her love of reading. She earned a master's degree and a Ph.D., and she handled most of the family discipline.
"Fun to her was writing research papers," Warren said. "She could talk to you about how a plane flies, about cancer research or politics."
Warren's maternal grandmother died when he was a junior in college. His mother told him she wanted to be driven to the funeral home at noon. Warren had worked his summer construction job all morning. When he got out of the shower at 11:30, his mother was already there and told him they were leaving.
Warren drove her to the funeral home in bare feet, shorts and a polo shirt. "It was summertime in Phoenix and she wouldn't let me walk 40 feet to my room to put on shoes," Warren said. "I think her message to me was, 'I was early, yes, but considering the circumstances and emotions at play, you should have been ready early.' I could have been dressed and waiting in the car. I employ that philosophy today. Why not be ready early?"
The Warrens lived across the street from Elijah Muhammad, who led the Nation of Islam. "When Malcolm X was assassinated, there were implications that there had been conflict between [Malcolm X] and the Nation of Islam, so we slept on our floor for a while," Warren said.
Ambition and talent
Because the neighborhood had grown dangerous, the Warrens moved to Tempe. As a high school basketball player, Warren starred for Marcos de Niza High and faced the family's old school, South Mountain, in the state tournament.
Kevin's brother Morrison was sitting in the stands. He heard South Mountain fans question Kevin's toughness because he didn't grow up in the old, hardscrabble, neighborhood.
Morrison knew otherwise. He, his brothers and future Notre Dame star John Shumate had spent hundreds of hours pummeling Kevin in neighborhood games.
He played a dominant first half, scoring 19 points. Although his team lost, Morrison remembers the old neighborhood giving his brother an ovation as he left the court.
"Playing in the yard, we beat his butt," Morrison said. "He just kept coming back for more punishment. When he walked off the court after that game, he had proved himself."
Warren signed with Penn to play basketball, but finished his career at Grand Canyon State in Arizona. After becoming an academic All-America and a member of the school's hall of fame, Warren earned an MBA at Arizona State and graduated from Notre Dame Law School.
"When the family came to Arizona in 1925, the family had earned one college degree," Morrison Warren said. "Now we've got about 40, including degrees from Cornell, Occidental, Stanford, Notre Dame, Harvard."
Warren signed with a law firm run by Slive and Mike Glazier to represent universities charged with NCAA violations, then formed Kevin Warren and Associates to represent athletes and entertainers.
A friend recommended him to Vermeil, then the St. Louis Rams coach. Warren became the Rams vice president of football administration, as well as the head of their player program and their legal counsel. Greta raised the family and helped with her father's business in Kansas City. Her husband would return home for a few hours on Sunday nights and Monday mornings during the season, and on weekends during the offseason.
Warren lived in a hotel across the street from the Rams' facility and worked as a lawyer by day and a football apprentice at night, attending coaches' meetings, working 12-15 hour days. Vermeil credits Warren with helping save the life of a suicidal player, and creating a family environment in the organization.
"He was overqualified," Vermeil said. "He turned it into the finest player program in the history of the NFL. To this day, Kevin never misses a birthday, a Father's Day, a Mother's Day. My wife gets a beautiful bouquet every time."
When Vermeil retired, Warren became the Detroit Lions senior vice president of business operations and general counsel. When the Lions cleaned house two years later, Warren went back to the law until, in 2004, Denny Green, the former Vikings coach who was then coaching the Arizona Cardinals, contacted Warren to help him put together a group to buy the Vikings.
Warren attended a meeting that included Phoenix high-rollers Reggie Fowler — who was a limited partner for a time — and the Maloof brothers, who owned the NBA's Sacramento Kings. That meeting led to one with Zygi Wilf.
Soon, Warren was representing the Wilf family in negotiations with then-Vikings owner Red McCombs. Warren moved his family to Minnesota. "I had a burning desire to make things right because my career with the Rams went so brilliantly, but my career in Detroit did not work out well," Warren said.
Warren has become a member of the NFL committee on workplace diversity and was honored at last year's Super Bowl with the Texas Southern University Pioneer Award for his career achievements and "commitment to championing diversity."
"He's not only a very important part of our organization, he has become a part of our family," Vikings owner Mark Wilf said. "We've put in a lot of long days together, and when the last meeting of the day is over, Kevin will lean back and say, 'Looking for work.' "
Warren looks for good works, too. His family "adopted" Lucy Craft Laney Community School in Minneapolis, donating athletic uniforms and almost 4,000 backpacks filled with school supplies to the school's underprivileged students.
In 2014, the Warrens and the Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital created Carolyn's Comforts, donating $1 million to a pediatric emergency care fund. The fund honors Warren's sister, Carolyn Elaine Warren-Knox, who died of brain cancer, and helps families pay for the kinds of expenses that insurance doesn't cover.
"I would describe my husband as a recklessly generous human being," Greta Warren said.
"He isn't the type to write a check and feel like he's done his part," said Elizabeth Patty, chief development officer of the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital. "Every year he hosts Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for these families. He and Greta spend the day, and he hires the chef and hands out presents. He pays for all of the expenses, and he changes the linen when it gets dirty. He's a visionary. He's also wrapped up in the tiniest details."
Warren often tells business partners that "two plus two needs to equal 180."
"I tell him he struggles with math," said Twin Cities Orthopedics CEO Troy Simonson. "The first few times I met him, I wondered if he was for real. Now I know he is. He can motivate a room like no one I've ever seen."
Warren's children are following his path. His daughter, Peri, plays volleyball at Occidental. His son, Powers, found his scholarship offers lacking after his senior year season of football at Minnetonka High, so he enrolled at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and is now a tight end at Mississippi State.
Powers' father appears poised for an even more prominent role in the sports world.
"But Minnesota is my home," Warren said. "This is where I raised my kids. This is where I built my pool."