Kurt Warner: Hall of Fame?
I've seen this idea passed around in different newspaper articles and sports talk radio shows and Web sites such as this one and the question has really made me think: If Kurt Warner leads the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl, is he a first-ballot Hall of Famer?
Some would say definitely yes, others would say his best years were in St. Louis from 1999-2001 when, during that three-year span with "The Greatest Show on Turf," the Rams scored more points than anyone in NFL history.
Those same pundits would also argue that Warner's best success was because of offensive coordinator Mike Martz's explosive, spread system and the talent around him.
Kurt Warner came into the NFL in 1998 as the backup to Trent Green after stints in NFL Europe as well as the Iowa Barnstormers in the now-temporarily defunct Arena Football League. As the story goes, Green suffered a season-ending head injury in a 1999 preseason game and Warner was thrust into action.
Warner's first career start was a 27-10 win over Baltimore, in which he went 28 of 44 for 309 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions, but people didn't really pay much attention.
As the wins piled up, Sports Illustrated's famous Oct. 18 cover asked, "Who IS this guy?" If you remember, the Rams were 4-12 the year prior and fans as well as ownership were on the verge of gutting the team.
At the season's midpoint, Warner had thrown a staggering 22 touchdowns to go with only five interceptions.
His greatest game came in Week Five of 1999, against the defending division champion San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers had won the NFC West 12 of the past 13 seasons, not to mention the Rams had lost 17 of their last 18 to San Francisco.
Warner proceeded to throw three touchdown passes on the Rams' first three possessions of the game and four in the first half to propel the Rams to a 28–10 halftime lead on the way to a 42–20 victory.
Warner finished the game a near-perfect 20 of 23 for 323 yards with five touchdown passes, giving him 14 in four games and, more importantly, the Rams a 4–0 record.
Along with Marshall Faulk, Issac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az-Hazir Hakim, and Ricky Proehl, Warner finished his Cinderella MVP season with 4,353 yards passing, 41 touchdowns and only 11 picks. St. Louis finished 13-3 and earned home-field throughout the NFC playoffs.
In a shootout against Jeff George and the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional playoffs, Warner sparked a second-half comeback throwing three touchdown passes in the third quarter. He finished with 391 yards and five touchdowns.
The NFC Championship game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was a different story. Against one of the NFL's best defenses, his team was trailing 6-5 before lofting a 30-yard touchdown to Ricky Proehl.
Warner completed his magical season in a Super Bowl for the ages against Steve McNair and the Tennessee Titans. The NFL's highest scoring team held a 16-point lead but the Titans tied the game with 2:12 left.
Issac Bruce's famous 73-yard catch and run put St. Louis ahead before McNair and Co. fell a yard short of one of the greatest rallies in NFL history. Warner, named Super Bowl MVP, threw for a game-record 414 yards and two touchdowns; he was the sixth player to ever win both league and Super Bowl MVP honors.
After a disappointing 2000 season, Warner returned to form in 2001. Winning his second league MVP, Warner threw for 36 scores to go with a league-high 4,830 yards passing.
Though losing on the final play of Super Bowl XXXVI to the New England Patriots, Warner's focus remained constant.
Things started going south for Warner in 2002 as his passing velocity had taken a hit in the preseason.
Warner began the season 0-3 as a starter, throwing seven interceptions against only one touchdown. In Week Four against Dallas, Warner broke a finger on his throwing hand and despite attempting to come back later in the season, his injury only allowed him to play two more games (both losses).
In contrast to his 103.4 career passer rating entering the season, Warner posted a minuscule 67.4 rating in 2002.
He threw an abysmal three touchdown passes total with 11 interceptions.
Warner was benched for Marc Bulger and was then released before being signed by the New York Giants in 2004. He was named the Opening Day starter over first overall pick Eli Manning and won five of his first seven games.
However following several poor performances in a two-game losing streak, Manning was given the starting job as the Giants finished 6-10 after starting 5-4 under Warner.
Warner was released again in 2005 and signed a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals where he was again named the starter.
He was replaced by Josh McCown after a poor start early in the season and many experts believed his career was indeed over.
Finishing 2006 well, he signed a three-year extension and was expected to tutor high-priced USC quarterback Matt Leinart. The duo exchanged starts but Warner threw 27 touchdowns in 2007 even though Leinart was penciled in as the starter for 2008.
That never happened.
Warner took the reigns of Arizona and has led them to within one game of the Super Bowl with his best season since 2001.
Up until his 27 touchdown passes in 2007, Warner amassed a combined 27 touchdown passes from his final year in St. Louis and through his stints with New York and first year with Arizona.
Currently, he has 28,591 career passing yards with 182 touchdown passes to go with a 93.8 career passer rating which is third in NFL history behind Steve Young and Peyton Manning.
If Warner does indeed lead Arizona to the Super Bowl and a championship, he must be considered as one of the top quarterbacks in NFL history.
Even at age 37, his play almost looks like he's 27 all over again, at the controls of the NFL's most explosive offense.
Though not mobile as he once was, Warner still has the innate ability to manipulate and pick apart a defense with the best of them and he will need such skills in the NFC Championship game against Philadelphia on Sunday.
So to finally answer the Hall of Fame question...In my opinion, he does indeed belong.
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