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There are still quite a few people out there in football-land that think he hasn’t done enough. They point to his "late" start, or his injuries, or the trifecta of teams that he didn’t take to the playoffs following those miraculous years guiding “The Greatest Show on Turf”, and before his leading the perennially lousy Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl.
He was injured in St Louis after shedding the brightest of lights on a Rams team that, despite a flukey 1979 Super Bowl appearance, has been generally wandering aimlessly in the dark since the 1950‘s. Be it in the City of Angels, or the Gateway to the West. He then regained his health, but not his job.
Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner "knew" he was a better QB than Marc Bulger, who played Lou Gherig to Warner’s Wally Pipp, but he was considered washed up just two years removed from quarterback greatness, and released.
Once again being on an island in his belief in his ability. Once again, he stood alone in the firm belief that he could to get back to the "Big Game." He was called in by the New York football Giants two days after being released, where he was signed for two years and set to start, while taking hot shot rookie Eli Manning under his wing, giving him time to learn.
The Giants started out 5-2 under Warner in 2004, but then they lost twice. And once again, Warner was replaced. The Giants were still firmly in the pack of playoff hopefuls at the time the rookie Manning started, but their playoff hopes went in the toilet soon after, as Manning could only muster a single win in New York's final seven games. Warner, again, was told that he is alone in his belief that he can take a good, even a decent team to the Super Bowl.
So Kurt winds up in the land where Steve Buerline, Boomer Esiason, Dave Creig, snowbirds, Canadians, Jim McMahon, Chris Chandler, myself, and other assorted former football quasi-stud QB’s and/or frozen northerners go to retire.
Sweet home, Arizona.
But Warner made it clear upon his arrival that he wasn’t coming to the desert to work on his tan as he headed into retirement. He made it abundantly clear that he came to take the team, the Cardinals, to the Super Bowl.
Don’t laugh! He was serious!
Don’t laugh! He was serious!
He signed a one year deal in 2005, confident that he could show enough to then head coach Denny Green to turn it into a more secure deal for his ever growing family. He was quite sure he could make great use of the Cardinals' young and extremely talented starting receivers, Pro Bowler Anquan Boldin and sophomore stud Larry Fitzgerald.
Even though it was a pretty bumpy 2005 season, where Green played musical chairs with he and Josh McCown, it wasn’t long before Green (a notoriously terrific judge of talent) saw the potential that Warner (still) had, and signed him to an incentive-laden three-year contract after the season.
Good thing too, because two months later, in April, USC quarterback Matt Leinart dropped into the Cardinals lap at No. 10 in the draft. Warner, once again, was basically being told he wasn’t a team’s long term answer to the promised land.
But again, Warner persevered. He had no choice. He was under a new three-year deal, and again watched the team he just signed with, grab a studly young QB high in the draft, but he had to try and stay positive. The NFL isn’t a place where a first round draft pick sits for very long. Especially if he’s a top 10 draft pick quarterback, making high first round quarterback money.
The writing, again, was on the wall for the "bagboy."
In 2006 the Cardinals were opening their shiny new stadium in Glendale. It was the year they were going to show off their shiny new uniforms. They were unveiling their new mega-free agent RB Edgerrin James’ signing. It stood to reason that they would also try and show off their shiny new QB, too. And the sooner, the better.
After a humbling second season where he was replaced by the hot-shot prospect after four games, Warner again was a national question mark. The quaint little flash-in-the-pan, rags to riches story was 'obviously' near its end. While the new hotshot QB was the toast of the town, Warner was again wondering if he was toast.
Still feeling he was the best QB on the team, and the Cardinals best hope for tripping the light fantastic in the big dance, he pushed on. He again showed enough that letting him go wasn’t an option, even with a new regime coming in. He made it clear to new head coach Ken Whisenhunt that all he wanted was a legitimate chance to start. That request was granted.
But as August turned into September and the preseason wore down, coach Whiz named Leinart as the starter in 2007. Disappointed but not discouraged, Warner did his best to be a team player, and helped tutor Leinart as much as possible. It became almost automatic to see No. 7 (Leinart) head straight to No. 13 at the end of drives, regardless of how they ended.
Whisenhunt's inaugural season wasn’t starting well under Leinart, and by Week 3, Warner again found himself on the field. He came in late in a blowout against Baltimore, and lit up the scoreboard with two fourth quarter TD passes to tie the game. The Cards lost anyway on a late FG, but Warner again stated his case by his play, not his mouth.
This set off a game of musical chairs the likes of which just aren’t seen these days outside of college football. The following week against the Steelers, the “Leinart start/Warner relieve” gameplan was set. But a shoulder injury to Leinart put Warner back on the field for good once the former was placed on injured reserve, ending his season.
Warner, somehow still bursting with self confidence, finished the season and put up numbers the likes of which haven’t been put up by a Cards QB since the days of Neil Lomax, despite the fact that he played in only 14 games, and started just 11. He threw for nearly 3500 yards, and tossed 27 TD passes, one shy of the team record. The Cardinals were in the thick of the Wild-Card playoff chase in late November (an oddity), only to fade at the end, finishing 8-8.
After the season, Whisenhunt shocked the faithful when he named an underachieving Leinart as the starter heading into the 2008 season. Warner had just performed like no other Cardinal seen standing under center since their arrival in the Sonoran Desert, making football watchable, even enjoyable in the Valley of the Sun. The natural question of "why" was naturally seen as a sign of ownership meddling into the affairs of the new, well-liked coaching staff. It didn’t go over good.
Not only had Warner performed very well, but Leinart’s shine started to tarnish a tad among the locals. Beer bongs and partying pictures made their way around the Internet as well as the locker room. Once the team went up the hill for training camp, Warner again had to prove himself to everyone that mattered, but himself. And he did. By the time the season opener rolled around, Kurtis Eugene Warner was named the starter.
The Cardinals success in 2008 is well documented. And it's quite clear it wouldn’t have happened without Warner.
You see, football-wise, Warner is all about the second season. He’s all about the playoffs. He’s all about getting to the Super Bowl, and winning it. He has endured as many or more cumulative injuries, insults and disrespect as any past player, and always had the focus,the resolve, the tunnel vision for the Championship, and the confidence, the talent, and the faith to get there.
And when you think about it, isn’t football itself all about the playoffs? Isn’t the NFL all about getting to and winning the Super Bowl? Isn't it about championships? How many teams and how many fans go into the season saying "our ultimate goal is to finish in the top 10" or whatever? It doesn’t happen, because the only thing that matters, ultimately, is the championship.
Warner’s list of regular season accomplishments are on par with, and often exceed many fine, even great, quarterbacks throughout NFL history. In fact, even quite a few already enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Regular season NFL records fall by the wayside in almost every game he plays. He has thrown for over 17 miles, has tossed over 100 touchdown passes for two different lousy teams, is in the top 5 all-time in quarterback rating, blah, blah, blah...I could go on forever.
But where Warner shines the most is where it counts the most: in the playoffs.
If you can overlook the fact that, when uninjured and/or not pushed aside by a top 10 draftee, and just given the reigns, he has played as well and/or better than any quarterback who has taken a similar amount of NFL snaps: if you can overlook the courage, determination, dedication, confidence, talent and faith that has allowed him to persevere when most others would have folded like a tortilla; if you can somehow fail to see what it takes to lead two perennially losing franchises to places neither has seen in literal generations; you can’t overlook the following when pondering his Hall of Fame credentials.
Consider that Warner plays his best “when it counts.” Comparatively speaking, very few quarterbacks in the history of the game have or can put up the numbers that he has "when it counts". Warner stands in the top five in literally every important quarterback stat in playoff history. When given a real opportunity to get his team to the playoffs, he has done it. Once there, he has taken them deep. He is 9-1 in playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl.
And one final thought to consider. The same Kurt Warner that stood on an island, all alone in his belief in himself so many times when others were ready to write him off, is the very same Kurt Warner who stands on an island, all alone as the only quarterback in NFL history to take every team he has started all that season's games for, to the Super Bowl.
Regardless of where the Arizona Cardinals end up in 2010, it’s quite clear by now that Kurtis Eugene Warner deserves to end up in Canton.