|Warner never lost belief that he should still be an NFL starter|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 10 October 2007 14:15|
Whether it's defying the odds to go from NFL castoff to Super Bowl MVP or hanging in there with a good attitude after losing his job to a rookie - twice.
Now Warner is back. The 36-year-old quarterback will start for the Arizona Cardinals against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, replacing young Matt Leinart, who is out for the season with a broken collarbone.
Even though he's been playing behind Leinart, and helping the second-year pro without complaint, Warner believed all along that he was good enough to start.
``I think I've proven that through the preseason and even through the time that I've played in the regular season that a lot of people would see me as a starter,'' he said.
Even though he wasn't starting, Warner has seen considerable time on the field as the quarterback when coach Ken Whisenhunt goes to a ``no-huddle'' offense, a fact that Leinart didn't like.
From the start, Warner showed a knack for grasping the offense Whisenhunt brought with him when he took the job this year.
``For whatever reason, it made sense to me,'' Warner said. ``It was easy to pick up for me, and I could visualize what I was supposed to do on a lot of plays. When you can do that early on in an offense, you can kind of take control of it and gain confidence in it.''
Still, as expected, Warner was on the sideline when Arizona opened the season. He did what he could to mentor Leinart and tried to stay ready if needed.
As he settled in to his role as veteran backup, it was easy to forget Warner's unprecedented rise from obscurity to stardom not so long ago.
Warner signed with Green Bay as an undrafted free agent out of Northern Iowa in April 1994 but was released four months later. Three seasons with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League followed before he was signed as a free agent by the St. Louis Rams the day after Christmas, 1997.
He played 10 games in 1998 for the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe in 1998, then saw action in the Rams' final game of that season.
Then came an unbelievable 1999.
Warner got the Rams' starting job and took off from there. He broke virtually all the franchise passing records and was the league and Super Bowl MVP in the process. He passed for a Super Bowl-record 424 yards in leading St. Louis over Tennessee.
Two years later, Warner got the Rams to the Super Bowl again and won his second NFL MVP award. St. Louis lost to New England in the Super Bowl on a last-second field goal.
``His story is certainly a remarkable story,'' Whisenhunt said, ``and it's a credit to perseverance. I guess if you ever say if you ever have a dream, work hard and pursue that dream and don't give up - that's the epitome of that. It's always good to see good guys have success in the league.''
But Warner played in only seven games in 2002 because of injuries and lost his starting job in 2003.
He left the Rams as a free agent, signing with the New York Giants. There, a mistake-prone Warner lost his starting job to rookie Eli Manning.
Then it was off to Arizona, where he started 10 games in 2005. The team drafted the Heisman Trophy winner Leinart in 2006, and Warner again lost his job to a rookie - this time after five games.
Whisenhunt replaced the fired Dennis Green after last season, and his personal experience with Warner more than exceeded what he had heard about him.
``If there's ever a term for a professional, a guy that's a pro, to me that's what Kurt is,'' Whisenhunt said. ``Unselfish, has that leadership quality, obviously a guy that has confidence from having been successful in this league and genuinely cares about his teammates.''
Warner was better than Leinart at running the no-huddle game, so Whisenhunt switched quarterbacks when he wanted to speed things up. The move was mostly successful, although Leinart didn't like it.
At training camp, Warner's passes were sharp and on-target. There were no fumbled snaps or other turnovers that had plagued him. He began wearing a glove on his throwing hand to protect his perpetually sore thumb. He won't say that the glove has helped.
``I have no evidence it has. I have no evidence it hasn't,'' he said. ``I feel good with it. I don't think it has any affect on the way I throw the football. I don't think that I'm throwing the ball any better. Inside the pocket, I can't really say one way or the other.
``The thing I can tell you is I've been better protected this year than I have the last three I've played and maybe more. To me, that's the biggest difference. It's hard to drop the ball when you're not getting hit. I guess time will tell.''
Any quarterback controversy was resolved when Leinart went down.
Offensive guard Reggie Wells said the switch from Leinart to Warner should be a smooth one, and that the team respects Warner as a player and person.
``Kurt is one of the better guys, I guess you could say, in the league as far as what he does on the field and off the field,'' Wells said. ``It's no secret what kind of guy Kurt is.''