Ever since Kurt Warner officially announced his retirement, sports radio stations around the country have been debating whether or not he deserves to go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The general consensus appears to be that he falls just short of the necessary credentials.
While appreciating the argument, it seemed appropriate to play devil’s advocate and make a case in favor of Warner.
This applies mainly to Warner’s time in St. Louis, where he orchestrated the "Greatest Show on Turf" (although you can’t discount his turning around an Arizona franchise mired in mediocrity for far too long). The argument goes that he only succeeded because of a supporting cast that included the likes of Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Marshall Faulk, and Orlando Pace.
Now, keep in mind that, save for one brief appearance in 1998, Warner started playing regularly in 1999. It was not until 2002 that problems really started to arise in terms of injuries and loss of form. His last year with the team, 2003, was pretty much a write-off, as Warner only appeared in two games.
Starting with Bruce, he joined the Rams in 1994 and burst onto the scene in 1995, the team’s first year in St. Louis, finishing with 1,781 receiving yards. However, despite his consistently impressive numbers, Bruce didn’t help the Rams to a winning season until Warner became his quarterback.
The same argument can be made with former overall first pick Orlando Pace, who entered the league in 1997.
It is where Holt and Faulk are concerned that the naysayers really have a stronger case. Both joined the team in 1999 and almost from the word "go," produced. After his rookie year, Holt would go on to record eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and Faulk was out-of-this-world good, including one NFL MVP award.
But, if we return to the fact that Warner’s Rams career was pretty much finished after 2002, consider that Faulk (until 2005), Bruce (2007), Holt, and Pace (both 2008) were all still playing after Warner had left.
In short, each of the four may have been important in their own right to the team’s success, but they couldn’t get it done without Warner behind center. Both before and after he left, the team did not make it to the Super Bowl. Suddenly, Warner’s importance is magnified tenfold.
Another apparent negative against Warner is the fact that he was injured a lot. In 12 seasons, he only started every game three times. This is a bit of a reach, but on another five occasions, he played in at least 10 games.
Someone called into the Brock and Salk show on ESPN Seattle, making a case for Warner by saying if you have two guys doing a job and one takes two weeks to finish it and the other a month, you’re going to pick the guy who did the job quicker.
The guys in the studio made an excellent point, countering that this is all very well, but what if the person who only takes two weeks slacks off whereas the one who took a month is consistently productive for a longer period of time?
Once again though, this shouldn’t be held against Warner. He couldn’t help it if he was injury-prone, but at least when he was fully healthy for those three seasons, he took his team to the Super Bowl on each occasion. Dan Marino started all 16 games on 11 occasions, but only went to the big dance once and lost.
Warren Moon and Dan Fouts are both in the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so. However, on the flip side to the Marino argument, they only started every single game in a season four and three times, respectively. Yes, they both played longer, but neither one even made it to one Super Bowl.
In essence, Warner should not be punished just because he didn’t start every game. It is what he managed to fit into his shorter career that should be considered.
Awards and Statistics
This leads us nicely into another argument in favour of Warner’s inclusion into the Hall of Fame. Despite his injury-plagued career, he still managed two NFL MVP awards, five Pro Bowl Selections, one Super Bowl MVP, and two first team all-pro selections.
Warner has the best ratio all time for 300-yard passing games against the number of times he played. He tied Marino as the fastest player ever to reach 30,000 passing yards (114 games.) In short, when he is on the field, he is productive.
His career quarterback rating of 93.2 is the third-best of all time and 32,344 passing yards and 208 touchdown passes aren’t too shabby either.
People will point at Warner’s 1-2 record in Super Bowl play, saying that if he had won just one more, he would be more likely to be in the Hall of Fame. However, from those three games, he has the three highest passing yardage totals in Super Bowl history.
Even in the one game where he played badly (against the New England Patriots) Warner still had enough in reserve to level the score after trailing 17-3, before Tom Brady conjured up some last-minute magic.
This is nothing against Jim Kelly, who again deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, but perhaps he is the best argument of all to be made in favor of Warner being inducted.
Kelly went to the Super Bowl four times with a supporting cast on par with the Rams but didn’t win any. More to the point, only one of those losses was close.
In fact, if you look a little further, for his career, Kelly only passed for 3,000 more yards and 29 more touchdown passes. And don’t forget his passer rating, which at 84.4 stands nearly nine points worse than Warner’s.
Also, he is renowned for his toughness, but even Kelly only started every game in a season on five occasions (relevant or not, one of those includes the strike-shortened 1987 season).
Finally, in Kelly’s career, he had four pro-bowl selections and one first-team all-pro selection, again paling in comparison to Warner.
In fact, upon further review the Kelly argument has succeeded in taking me off the fence and firmly into Warner’s corner. But, hey, what do I know?