|Warner resurrects career, Cardinals' franchise|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 15 January 2009 15:50|
The quarterback who climbed from oblivion to become ringmaster of football's ``Greatest Show on Turf'' in St. Louis is back. He is the 37-year-old gunslinger at the controls of the Arizona Cardinals, a team that rose from its longtime home in the depths of the NFL to face Philadelphia on Sunday for the NFC championship.
``I feel like I've always been able to do this,'' Warner said. ``Given the opportunity, I felt like I would do it again. I don't know if there is personal satisfaction. There's not any I-told-you-so or whatever. I think it's more appreciation for this organization and the coaching staff to give me that opportunity again.''
Warner's career statistics rank among the best in NFL history. His completion percentage (65.4 percent) is second only to Chad Pennington. His passer rating (93.8) trails only Steve Young and Peyton Manning. His 48 300-yard passing games ranks fifth, behind Dan Marino, Bret Favre, Dan Fouts and Warren Moon.
r times since leading the Rams to a second Super Bowl in 2001. First in St. Louis, once with the New York Giants and twice since he signed with Arizona in 2005.
He believes he has emerged as a better quarterback than the one who won a Super Bowl and was named MVP twice in the regular season and once in the Super Bowl.
``I'm smarter,'' he said. ``I understand the game better. I see things more than I did early in my career. I think I'm very similar physically. I don't feel like I've lost much physically. I'm not very talented physically, so there probably wasn't much to lose anyway.''
Warner's persistent, long route to the NFL has been well-chronicled. An undrafted rookie free agent out of Northern Iowa in 1994, he was cut by the Green Bay Packers in training camp, he spent the next three years with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League, followed by two seasons with Amsterdam in NFL Europe.
He was the No. 4 quarterback with the Rams in 1998, ascending to backup because of injuries. Then came that magical 1999 season. With Trent Green injured, the Rams turned to the untested Warner. All he did was complete a league-leading 68.7 percent of his passes for 4,353 yards and a season-high 41 touchdowns.
Super Bowl, where they lost to New England on Adam Vinatieri's last-second field goal.
But he lost the job to the young Marc Bulger after an injury-plagued 2002, played just two games in 2003 and signed as a free agent the next year with the Giants. After nine starts, and one particularly bad game at Arizona, Warner was benched in favor of rookie Eli Manning.
Then it was off to Arizona, where Warner has twice lost the starting job. When starter Matt Leinart went down with a broken collarbone five games into last season, Warner made the most of his chance. Despite a torn ligament in his non-throwing elbow, he went on to pass for 3,417 yards with 27 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
Still, at the end of last season, coach Ken Whisenhunt pronounced Leinart the starter.
But in training camp he opened the position to competition, and after the final preseason game, Whisenhunt went with the veteran.
``It was a tight competition right until the end,'' Whisenhunt said. ``I think what really, finally made the decision was thinking that Kurt would give us the chance to start quick. It really is what it was. Obviously, it has worked out.''
Warner's biggest problem had been what coaches call ``ball security.'' He sometimes held the ball too long and, when he was sacked, he was prone to fumbling. Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley said he developed drills for Warner to improve.
urt, 'You can still be a great quarterback in this league. ... The thing that was holding Kurt back was ball security,'' Haley said. ``That's what I told him, and I said, 'If you can take care of the football, you can play.''
Warner went on to have a season that rivaled his best years in St. Louis. With standout receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, along with the emergence of the young Steve Breaston, Warner threw for 4,583 yards - second most of his career - and 30 touchdowns. Fitzgerald, Boldin and Breaston each topped 1,000 yards receiving as the team set a franchise scoring record (427).
Just as he had in St. Louis, Warner has helped resurrect a losing team, and nobody else in the NFL has a history of losing like Arizona.
``That's one of the things I pride myself on in regards to my career,'' Warner said. ``With the Rams, when I got there, they were the losingest team in the '90s. And now here, there has been a culture of losing, and people have looked at us that way.''
The Cardinals clinched their first division title in 33 years and, against Atlanta, played their first home playoff game since the then-Chicago Cardinals beat Philadelphia in the 1947 championship game.
When the team prepared for the Atlanta game, Warner said he found himself daydreaming as he drove to the practice facility about the Cardinals in the Super Bowl. At the time, oddsmakers made Arizona a 40-1 long shot.
``It's probably exceeded my expectations as well,'' Warner said, ``but it's fun and I'm glad to be here. It's funny because now that we're here, I'm not satisfied.''
Through his career ups and downs, Warner has maintained a deep faith. He carries a Bible with him to every postgame news conference. In 2001, he and his wife, Brenda, established the First Things First foundation to promote Christian values. The organization has provided trips to Disney World for ill children, built recreation centers at children's hospitals, helped single parents own their own home and taught football basics to Special Olympians.
On Thursday, Warner was named a finalist for the NFL man of the year award, along with Brian Dawkins of Philadelphia and Matt Birk of Minnesota.
Wherever this season ends, Warner's three-year contract will end, too. He has talked about possibly calling it quits, retiring to his Phoenix-area home with his wife and seven children.
But after a season like this, it's hard to imagine him leaving the game.
``Obviously we want him back and he's stated that he wants to be back,'' general manager Rod Graves said. ``It's a good situation for both sides and we'll focus on that after the season.''