By now, Kurt Warner’s heartfelt rags-to-riches story has become slightly trite, and with the Arizona Cardinal’s rapid rise to fame, Warner’s story has instead been replaced by a heated debate on his Hall of Fame potential.
Frankly, it’s a shame we need to spend time arguing the issue, for Warner deserves to be enshrined as much as Joe Buck deserves a job that doesn’t require talking. Unfortunately, the debate rages on, as a sizable group of people who believe Warner and Hall of Fame are mutually exclusive still exists.
Call me crazy, but I have a tongue-in-cheek feeling these critics had applications that didn’t get them into the college they wanted. After all, if we likened Warner’s Hall of Fame candidacy to a Harvard Law School application, I sincerely doubt Warner would have any problems being accepted.
And perhaps—just perhaps—a somewhat silly comparison of this sort will convince some of Warner’s critics to see the light.
Statistically, Warner’s numbers read like a transcript on academic steroids. Much like an outstanding 3.9 GPA, Warner’s 93.8 career passer rating stands fourth overall, behind only Steve Young, Peyton Manning, and Tony Romo.
His accuracy is god-like, as Warner’s 65.4 percent career completion percentage ranks 2nd overall, and he certainly knows how to rack up yards in a game—averaging an NFL record of 259.9 career passing yards per game, a number unsurpassed by even the great Dan Marino.
Warner’s critics, however, often point to the fact that Warner plays in a pass-happy era of professional football, and as a result, his passing numbers are an inaccurate depiction of his actual skill in comparison to great QBs of older decades.
Yet, in career yards per attempt (8.0) and career net yards per pass attempt (7.14)—two statistics that many consider valid when comparing QBs of different eras—Warner ranks third and fifth respectively.
In other words, if you can’t trust Warner’s GPA because you think his school encouraged grade inflation, you can certainly trust his standardized LSAT scores, an immutable test every law school applicant must take.
When that critique doesn’t pan out, naysayers tend to attack Warner’s limited playing time, arguing that no NFL player deserves Hall of Fame recognition after only three or four outstanding seasons and only 110 regular season games.
They also tend to conveniently ignore modern-era Hall of Fame QB Bob Waterfield, who played only 91 games, and Hall of Fame QBs Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, Joe Namath, and Norm Van Brocklin—all of whom have played more games than Warner but thrown fewer touchdown passes than Warner.
After all, doesn’t it seem unfair to favor a student who gets straight B’s while attending every class over a student who receives straight A’s despite missing a couple of classes?
Perhaps most impressively, despite not playing many games (going to many classes), Warner performs brilliantly when he actually does play. Warner has thrown for more than 300 yards in 44 percent of his games (including games where he didn’t start). The next closest quarterback is Dan Fouts with a 28 percent, while Manning and Marino stand at a measly 26 percent.
Now desperate to defend their point, Warner’s critics often finally succumb to criticizing his tendency to throw ill-advised interceptions.
In reality, however, Warner’s career percentage of interceptions (3.2 percent) actually ranks better than 22 other Hall of Famers, including Warren Moon, Jim Kelly, Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, and Terry Bradshaw.
Moreover, his touchdown passes vs. interception differential is higher than the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Warren Moon, and Troy Aikman. Seemingly, Warner learns and improves plenty for every mistake that he makes—a trait that should hardly harm his candidacy.
On top of his tremendous regular season statistics, Warner is an absolute genius in the playoffs, and when the games and tests start to truly matter, he nearly always brings his A+ game.
Among all quarterbacks who have started 10 or more playoff games, Warner’s 80 percent winning percentage (8-2) is only behind Bart Starr and Tom Brady and ahead of Bradshaw, Aikman, John Elway, and even the great Joe Montana. Even in the two losing games he started, Warner threw for a combined 730 yards, and in Super Bowl XXXVI, Warner rallied the Rams from 14 points down before “Automatic Adam” kicked the winning field goal.
In addition, Warner holds the second-highest postseason QB rating in NFL history (97.3) and the record for most passing yards in a Super Bowl (414). In some ways, “(K)Clutch Kurt” might actually be an appropriate nickname for Mr. Warner—especially after Warner orchestrated the Cardinal’s winning 14-play 72-yards drive in the NFC Championship Game.
With such outstanding statistical credentials, Warner’s resume is bound to have a respectable awards section. He is a two-time NFL MVP (and arguably should have won for the third time this season), has four Pro Bowl selections, and three Super Bowl appearances—which is more than Manning, Marino, and Brett Favre.
More impressively, Warner is just the second quarterback to lead two different teams to a Super Bowl.
Of course, many applicants to both Harvard Law School and the NFL Hall of Fame have impressive statistics; what, then, distinguishes the deserving from the not so deserving? Toughness, leadership, and character.
When all is said and done, Warner is a star beyond any numbers. He’s a fearless warrior willing to get pummeled by a heavier linebacker in order to give his receivers the precious seconds needed to get open. He’s a gritty fighter who carried two laughable franchises to stardom, even after suffering rejections, injuries, and demotions. And he’s a decent human being who always puts the team and sportsmanship before individual merit and egotistical showmanship
On the football field, Warner is nothing short of class act; he led a group of players from both teams in prayer when teammate Anquan Boldin was injured on a vicious helmet-to-helmet tackle during a regular season game against the Jets.
Every night before a football game, Warner and his family eat at their favorite local restaurant. During the meal, Warner has his kids quietly target another family eating, before he proceeds to tell the wait staff that he would like to anonymously add the dinner tab of that family of strangers to his own.
Why does he do it? Because it’s a “way of instilling in his children the joy of giving” and reminding them that “our circumstances are not the most important thing. It’s what we do with those circumstances that matter.”
Without a doubt, Warner has taken the tough circumstances presented in his own life and molded quite a defining career. Not only is Warner’s career successful and statistically impressive, it offers a story unprecedented in its inspiration.
Rarely do we find professional quarterbacks that shine so brightly both on the field and off; just look at Warner’s backup Matt Leinart who has failed to do so on both accounts. When we do find that shining gem, however, it would be nothing short of a mistake to fail to celebrate and enshrine its existence and achievement.
Kurt Warner represents that gem, and regardless of whether the Cardinals win Super Bowl 43, Warner should be a celebrated member of the NFL Hall of Fame, and perhaps some day—in a different time—a member of Harvard Law School.