Kurt Warner: Mr. Underappreciated

KP WeeSenior Writer IJanuary 30, 2008

Eight years ago this week (Jan. 30, 2000), the St. Louis became the first ever dome team to win the Super Bowl.

Kurt Warner led the once-dreadful franchise to the memorable victory in Super Bowl XXXIV, claiming MVP honors in the big game.

Warner, who has also won two NFL MVP awards (1999, 2001), is currently third all-time--behind Steve Young and Peyton Manning--in career passer rating (93.2), and is the second-most accurate QB in league history, with a career mark of 65.1 percent in pass completion.

Warner has also been to three Pro Bowls, and ranks fourth all-time with a mark of 8.1 yards per pass attempt.

And Warner took the Rams back to the Super Bowl two years after winning it all, ultimately falling short to the underdog Patriots. Still, two trips to the Super Bowl in three years (with one victory), after a decade long of mediocrity for the Rams organization is a great feat.

And in Warner's first year as a starter in the NFL in 1999, he helped turn the Rams, once a laughing stock in the NFL, to a winner. After all, the Bengals and Rams were the two losingest teams of the 1990s heading into that final year of the decade. And the Rams organization (45-99 going into Warner's first year) didn't make the playoffs even once during the '90s—that is, until Warner showed up.

Despite all those accomplishments, it seems Warner's career has been underappreciated by the media and his teams.

Yes, backup Marc Bulger came along when Warner got injured, and played well. After all, Bulger was six years younger, and showed he could lead "The Greatest Show on Turf" as well as Warner.

Warner was finally released by the Rams in 2004, and he moved on to the Giants. Warner was certainly not horrible for the G-men, and the two-time MVP led New York to a 5-2 record in their first seven games. But a two-game losing streak (in which Warner threw two TDs and two picks, not really enough to bench him) ensued, and head coach Tom Coughlin gave the starting role to rookie Eli Manning.

Of course, at the time, the Giants were 5-4 and in contention, but after the QB switch, the team finished 6-10.

Warner was gone following the season, and signed on with Arizona Cardinals. Injuries again hampered Warner, but in 2006, Warner was healthy. However, after a Week One, 301-yard performance against the 49ers, the Cards lost three straight. Head coach Dennis Green also benched Warner in favor of rookie Matt Leinart.

Same deal as in New York.

Yes, the Cardinals had a poor record with Warner at the helm—but remember, these were the Cards after all—but why was a two-time MVP shown such disrespect? Yes, he has not been able to stay healthy throughout his career, but still, he was a proven veteran and his stats backed him up.

Yes, younger QBs were able to step in—well, Eli did go 1-6 as Warner's replacement. But still.

I again look at the 2004 season. Warner led the Giants to a 5-2 record and then lost two straight. Then he was basically banished. And you look elsewhere in the league, and you wonder why. In the same season out in Green Bay, Brett Favre led the Packers to a 1-4 record—including a Week Four loss to Warner and the Giants at Lambeau Field—and yet he was allowed to continue playing, protecting his consecutive-game streak. (For the record, Favre lost his first four starts and began 1-7 the next season, and yet played on.)

Warner lost his jobs in St. Louis, New York and Arizona. Favre, on the other hand, didn't in Green Bay. Was it because Favre had one more MVP than Warner (3-2)? Just looking at those two QBs as an example, both led his team to two Super Bowl appearances, winning once—with Warner's not coming in New York, of course.

So that part of it was a wash. Was it because Warner had better backups waiting to make a difference? Well, out in Green Bay, the Packers of course have had Aaron Rodgers, a guy at one point thought of as a potential No. 1 overall draft pick—who actually became the 24th pick in 2005—still waiting for his shot behind Favre. (Why didn't Rodgers take over for Favre in 2005 after a disastrous 4-12 campaign?)

Warner's Rams in 2002 even manhandled Favre's Packers in the playoffs, but no one seems to remember that.

Warner did gain a measure of respect in 2007, a season in which he started out as Leinart's backup. Warner played when Leinart was ineffective and later injured, and had 27 TDs for the year. And the Warner-led Cardinals, who were in playoff contention, gave the NFC West leaders, the Seattle Seahawks, a scare late in the year before ultimately falling short.

Still, the Kurt Warner story is still one that could have been much better. Too many teams haven't given him a fair shake the way other QBs have received in the NFL.

But, let's celebrate Warner this week because of that great Super Bowl XXXIV performance that he delivered eight years ago in temporarily turning the Rams franchise around.

Who are some other underappreciated players in sports (relatively speaking, of course, since these guys are paid pretty well to begin with)? Discuss.