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Super Bowl XLIII | The game

Legacy of Kurt Warner: giving franchises new life


Some quarterbacks, you remember for their arms. They are the riflemen, the tall passers who whip the ball across the field without effort. Dan Marino and Dan Fouts and John Elway are among their number. Kurt Warner is not. Some quarterbacks, you remember for their legs. They are the scramblers, the men who can turn trouble into touchdowns. Steve Young and Fran Tarkenton and Roger Staubach are among them. Warner is not. Some quarterbacks, you remember for their moments. They are the players who come covered in confetti, the ones who always seem to find a way to the winning side of the scoreboard. Joe Montana and Tom Brady and Terry Bradshaw come to mind.

So far, Warner isn't quite one of those, either.

What, then, is the measure of fame for Kurtis Eugene Warner, the quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals?

Maybe it is this: Some quarterbacks raise dead franchises.

As legacies go, that isn't a bad one to have. Twice, Warner has come from nowhere, and twice, he has rescued the team that rescued him. Before this season, the Cardinals had won 49 times in their previous nine seasons. Before his first Super Bowl with St. Louis, the Rams had won 45 times in their previous nine seasons.

Behind Warner, both of those miserable franchises made it to the Super Bowl.

And, yeah, that should make Warner famous enough.

Even today, the Cardinals are dependent upon Warner's right arm to equalize things against the powerful Pittsburgh defense. If the Cardinals are going to win this game, they are going to have to spread the field, and Warner is going to have to stand up to the heat and deliver the ball. If Larry Fitzgerald stars again, if Anquan Boldin becomes the surprise of the game, it is going to be because Warner gets them the ball.

Just like a decade ago, Warner is the essential player in this game. Who would have thought you would say that then? Who would have thought you would say it now?

Say this for Warner: The guy has the strangest resume in the history of the game. Every time you think the game has thrown him away, he ends up standing on top of it. Back in '98, if you remember, he was the former Arena Football League star, the kid who had thrown footballs around a grocery store where he worked as a stock boy.

Then he was done, and the Rams threw him away, and the Giants used him as a seat-warmer until Eli Manning was ready. By the time Warner signed with the Cardinals, most people felt the player and franchise were beneath their notice.

And, yet, here he is, leading another fastbreak offense into the biggest game of the year.

"Sometimes when you go through things, you think 'I wish this could have been easier,' " Warner said. "I would have liked the big-college recognition, the high draft choice, somebody just to hand you the ball.

"But when everything is said and done and you look back, I wouldn't change a thing. But, yeah, as things were going on, I would have liked it to be easier."

Yes, he said, there were doubts along the way. There were times he wondered if his days as a starter were through, days he wondered if any coach would ever entrust him with an offense. Warner knew the perception on him was that he was closer to being finished than he was to being a starter.

Even this year, it came down to a decision by coach Ken Whisenhunt late in training camp before the Cardinals went with Warner over Matt Leinart, a younger player who seems to be the promise of tomorrow.

"I think the easy thing to do would have been to make the opposite decision," Warner said. "I think this organization did something very few would have."

Good guy, Warner. This week, as he carried his playbook from meeting to meeting, there was a letter on the front from his 17-year-old daughter, Jesse. She wanted Kurt to know how proud she was of him, so she slid the note into his bag. Warner was unable to talk about it without his voice cracking.

"Hall of fame father," Fitzgerald said of Warner. "Hall of fame family man. Hall of Fame football player."

We'll see. Warner will not be one of those players who gets into the Hall by statistics alone. Voters are going to have to consider his circumstances, his postseason record (8-2, second best all time), his teams. The best guess is that a victory today brings him from possible to likely.

Either way, he is the quarterback who never lost hope and who never stopped instilling it.

As memories go, that one's pretty good, too.

"He's an amazing leader and the best teammate you could ever ask for, a consummate professional. … I'm looking forward to seeing his bust in Canton one day."

Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, on quarterback Kurt Warner


Kurt Warner

Age: 37

Height/weight: 6-2, 218

Hometown: Burlington, Iowa

College: Northern Iowa

How acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2005

Career highlights:

• Played in Arena Football League championship games in 1996 and 1997

• Led the Rams to a Super Bowl XXXIV win over Tennessee

• Twice named NFL MVP

Legacy of Kurt Warner: giving franchises new life 01/31/09 [Last modified: Sunday, February 1, 2009 8:31am]
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