And Arizona’s success is greatly due to the aged, but fine arm of Kurt Warner, while the young USC phenom Matt Leinart continues to ride the pine. (Warner, at 37, has 10-plus years on Leinart, and to put it bluntly, is considered old.)
Before his team’s success, I certainly thought this was Kurt’s last-ditch effort to make just a little more money before ending his successful NFL career. His job would simply be to play mentor to the pretty boy Leinart. But what he did for the Cardinals this year is just what he did for the St. Louis Rams in 1999 – turn one of the worst teams in the NFL into a contender.
In 1999, Warner went under center with the worst team of that decade, with a record of 45-99 and finishing in last place six times. In his first year with the Rams though, he took them to a Super Bowl Championship.
Fast-forward to 2006 when he signed on with Arizona, a team that had only won two playoff games and two NFL titles in 87 years of franchise history. The Cardinals’ only league championship came in 1947, when they played in Chicago. In the pro sports we care about, the Cardinals are second only to the Chicago Cubs to go longer without a championship title.
When Warner came to Arizona, the team had four last place finishes in the past decade. But in just two seasons, sharing snaps with Leinart, Warner won the starting quarterback job and has now taken the team to a surprise appearance in the Super Bowl, after beating the Eagles on Sunday 32-25 in Arizona.
Facing their biggest game ever, the Cardinals will get one of the most important things from Warner yet – Super Bowl experience. Although he won one and lost one with the Rams, he is a two-time NFL MVP and MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV when the Rams beat the Titans 23-16. Warner said he plans on keeping his team loose going into the big game in Tampa Bay.
“I’m still shaking my head a little bit like, man, it really happened,” Warner told The New York Times last week. “It’s crazy. The more uptight you get with it, the less you enjoy it, the harder it is for you to prepare. Embrace it. Don’t let it become a burden. Enjoy every minute of it. Stay loose.”
Along with the excitement of next week’s game, conversations have been sparked all across the sporting world about the possibility of Warner being inducted into the Football Hall of Fame someday. I think that possibly will come down to whether or not Warner can lead the team to victory over the tough Steelers defense, which, in all likelihood, won’t happen.
Right now, Warner is behind Steve Young and Peyton Manning in all-time career passer rating with 93.8. He is the second-most statistically accurate quarterback in NFL history behind Chad Pennington with a completion percentage of 65.7 percent.
When Warner started this season he was not a hall of famer. When he took his team, after a late season slump, into the playoffs, he was still was not a hall of famer. Even now, in my mind, after taking the NFC Championship last weekend, he is not a hall of famer. The only way for Kurt to join the ranks of John Elway in Canton is to not only win the Super Bowl this year, but to also win his second Super Bowl MVP.
Not to say that I don’t like Warner. He is a good ol’ boy of the NFL. He just doesn’t match up or have the notoriety of the Elways, Montanas and Namaths. Sorry, it’s tough company to be in. But this gives more reason to cheer for Warner next weekend. To see him do well, very well, would be to see him clear a space for himself to be enshrined in Canton.
If that were to happen Warner’s story would be one for the books. It would read something like this: After being cut by the Packers in 1994, Warner did the only thing he could do. Accept a minimum-wage stock boy job at night while he coached college football during the day. Joined the Arena League. Took new lead role in St. Louis. Wife Brenda gets more camera time than Kurt even after Super Bowl Win and nobody is really sure why. Joins Cardinals. Wins Super Bowl with last-second fade route pass to win game and second Super Bowl MVP. Inducted into hall of fame all because of end-of-career Super Bowl win. Storybook ending.
Sound too good to be true? Well, it is.