Kurt Warner Retires But Can We Get One Last Kurt-Ian Call?

Bryan FlynnAnalyst IJanuary 31, 2010

TEMPE, AZ - JANUARY 29:  Quarterback Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals announces his retirement from football during a press conference at the team's training center auditorium on January 29, 2010 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It is the kind of story that even a Hollywood script writer would not even try to pen. Our story starts in 1994 and the ending may still not be written yet.

It is the story of a man, Kurt Warner, from tiny Northern Iowa University, who only started his senior year and was unwanted by the NFL. While being invited to the Green Bay Packers training camp, Warner was cut before the season even began.

For most, the story would have ended here but Warner kept his dream alive while he stocked selves at a grocery store. He returned to Northern Iowa as a graduate assistant on the football team while waiting for another shot at the NFL.

Warner, still not willing to give up on his dream, turned to the Arena Football League for a chance to show what he could do. While playing for the Iowa Barnstormers, he was named to the AFL first-team All-Arena in 1996-97.

Before the 1997 Arena season, Warner was granted his request to come to the Chicago Bears training camp. But an elbow injury from a spider bite on his honeymoon kept him from attending.

A year later in 1998, Warner would get his chance with an NFL team when he signed with the St. Louis Rams. His road to the NFL would not be that straight forward. After the signing, he was sent to NFL Europe’s Amsterdam Admirals.

Warner would spend that season in Europe leading the league in passing yards and touchdowns. After the 1998 season, Rams first and second string quarterbacks Tony Banks and Steve Bono were released.

Head coach Dick Vermeil had most of the offensive pieces he wanted in place. First, he traded up in the 1997 Draft to select offensive tackle Orlando Pace.

Next, the Rams traded the Indianapolis Colts a second and a fourth round draft pick for Marshall Faulk to go with wide receiver Isaac Bruce. With the addition of free agent quarterback Trent Green, all the pieces looked to be in place.

Seemingly destined to be the backup quarterback to Green, a preseason hit by Rodney Harrison to Green’s knee gave the starting job to Warner. It was that season in 1999 when the biggest chapter to the Warner legend was written.

The backup quarterback who had once worked in a grocery store for $5.50 an hour led the Rams and the city of St. Louis to a dream season. Warner was the director for what many called the Greatest Show on Turf.

Warner had weapons all over the field with Faulk, Bruce, Tory Holt, and others setting NFL records for offence all season long. The once downtrodden franchise found its self with an NFL MVP in Warner and a spot in the Super Bowl.

Warner would lead the Rams to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV over the Tennessee Titans. For most, the story would be over and the fairy tale would end but Warner seemed to live a charmed life and the story goes on.

The 2000 season would see the Rams plagued with injuries and a porous defense. St. Louis would make the playoffs that season but was bounced in the first round by the New Orleans Saints.

That offseason would see Green traded to the Kansas City Chiefs and Warner would find his magic again in the 2001 season. Warner would be named NFL MVP for the second time in three seasons and led the Rams back to the Super Bowl.

Warner and the Rams would not be victorious in Super Bowl XXXVI against the New England Patriots. St. Louis would be beaten on a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri, as the storybook career of Tom Brady was born and Bill Belichick's Patriots dynasty would begin.  

The Rams Super Bowl loss to the Patriots signaled the beginning of the end of Warner’s time in St. Louis. The 2002 season saw him beset with injuries and bad play.

After a poor showing in the opening game of 2003 against the New York Giants, Warner was replaced for good as the starting quarterback by Marc Bulger. After the 2003 season, Warner was released by the Rams.

Warner would find a home before the 2004 season with the Giants. The start in the Big Apple looked promising with the Giants winning their five of their first seven games.

New York would suffer two losses and the pressure to play first round draft choice Eli Manning led to Warner being benched. At the time he lost his starting job, the Giants were 5-4 but would go 1-6 under Manning and finish 6-10.

Warner’s story looked to be coming to an end after the poor play in St. Louis and New York at times. The Giants released Warner to make Manning the starter but Warner would find a new home in the desert.

Arizona head coach Dennis Green would give Warner a shot to be the starter with the Cardinals. The 2005 season started with more poor play by Warner until groin injury forced him to the sidelines.

Warner would be replace by former Cardinals’ starter Josh McCown who would play well but struggle himself. Because of McCown’s struggles he was replaced again by Warner who played well but saw his season end with a MCL injury.

His strong finish to the 2005 season allowed Warner to receive a three year deal from the Cardinals. The 2006 season saw Warner struggle and this time he was replaced by another rookie Matt Leinart.

Coach Green would state that Warner would be the backup for the rest of the season. That is where he stayed until Leinart was injured in Week 16 and Warner played the final game of the season where he would, in a losing effort against the San Diego Chargers, pass for an NFL week-high 365 yards.

After the 2006 season, Green would be fired and replaced by Ken Whisenhunt, who named Leinart the starter for the 2007 season. The Warner story looked to be finally out of magic and become a backup for the rest of his career.

Leinart started out the 2007 season as the starter but he struggled early and Warner would relieve him in the third game of the season. Warner would come in for Leinart in that Week Three game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Warner would lead the Cardinals to a furious comeback after being down 23-6 to tie the game at 23-23, before the Ravens would kick the game winning field goal. The next week, Warner would come off the bench again in relief of Leinart.

Once again Warner would lead Arizona on a comeback and although he would be replaced by Leinart on the Cardinals final touchdown, an injury to Leinart would make Warner the starter.

With a chance to shine and without the pressure to play a highly drafted quarterback, Warner looked like his old self again. Warner would finish the 2007 one touchdown shy of the franchise record and nearly had a 90.0 passer rating.

Even with a 2007 season that was his best since 2001, Warner entered the 2008 season battling Leinart once more for the starting job. He would beat out the former USC star and be named the starter for the 2008 season.

Offensively, the 2008 Arizona Cardinals would show shades of a new version of the Greatest Show on Turf with Warner at the helm slinging it to wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Arizona would play up and down in this season but would win the NFC West the first division title since 1975 and make the playoffs for the first time since 1998.

The Cardinals would go on another charmed run in the playoffs under Warner who seemed destined to end his career with another Super Bowl victory this time over the Pittsburgh Steelers. In Super Bowl XLIII, Warner would have the Cardinals in the lead with 23-20 with a little over two and a half minutes to play.

Once again as he had against the Patriots, Warner had to watch from the sidelines as another quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, would lead his team to the game-winning score. Even in the loss, Warner would become the first, second, and third record holder for the most yards in Super Bowl.  

Warner also has the highest passing total in the Super Bowl as well. His leadership and play that helped the Cardinals to the Super Bowl left the Cardinals in high hopes for the 2009 season.

While Arizona looked much like their 2008 form in the regular season, by playing up and down most of the season. They were able to win the NFC West for a second season in a row and make the playoffs as well.

Warner would battle the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the playoffs in an offensive shootout. The Cardinals would win on an unlike defensive touchdown to move on to face the New Orleans Saints.

Against the Saints Warner would be battered and bruised against the Saints. He would be injured while trying to make a tackle after he threw an interception. He would return but would be replaced midway through the fourth quarter by Leinart.

In a season that saw him miss games after he suffered the second concussion of his career Warner has decided to write the ending of this story by retiring. Warner, in 12 NFL seasons would throw for 32,344 yards and 208 touchdowns.

Only Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino have more 300 yard passing games than Warner. Besides Fran Tarkenton, Warner is the only other quarterback to throw for 14,000 yards and 100 touchdowns for two teams.

While Favre has struggled with retirement having nothing to fill the void left without football. Warner has seven children and his religious faith to fall back on.

Never one to be shy about his faith, Warner always brought a bible with him into post game press conferences and runs a faith based organization with his wife.

While the Cardinals have said they are turning over the starting duties to Leinart, Warner still has one year left on his two-year $23 million contract. And it is still only late January and the 2010 football season seems miles away.

If Arizona does not go out and sign an experienced quarterback this offseason it could be they are leaving the door open for Warner to return. Warner still might need to scratch his football itch one more time.

He has one year left on his contract and a very good team to comeback too. The five-time Pro Bowler and former Super Bowl MVP could give us one last farewell tour if he returns.

If Warner does not feel the call to return, he can know his phone will ring again when he is elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH. His story book career should gain him entrance along with his numbers. 


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