TEMPE, Ariz. — Kurt Warner thanked God, hugged his children and wife and said goodbye to a career that seems the stuff of fiction.
The quarterback, 38, retired Friday after a dozen years in a league that first rejected him then revered him.
A man of deep faith who carried a Bible to each postgame news conference, Warner walked away with a year left on a two-year, $23 million contract knowing he still has the skills to play at the highest level.
"It's been an amazing ride," Warner said. "I don't think I could have dreamt it would have played out like it has. But I've been humbled every day that I woke up the last 12 years and amazed that God would choose to use me to do what he's given me the opportunity to do.
"I believe I was playing at as high a level now and over the last two years as I was playing when I first got into the league. That's something I'm proud of."
For more than 40 minutes, Warner thanked everyone who helped him, singling out Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt for "his willingness to give me an opportunity that I don't know if anyone else would."
Cut by Green Bay in training camp in 1994, Warner played three seasons in the Arena Football League and one in NFL Europe mixed in with a stint stocking grocery shelves in Iowa, where he was born.
Warner made the Rams as a backup in 1998 then was thrust into the starting role in 1999 when Trent Green was injured.
What followed was wholly unexpected. He led a Rams team that went 4-12 the previous season to a 13-3 regular season and Super Bowl triumph over the Titans. He was the league and Super Bowl MVP.
Two years later, Warner won his second league MVP and led the Rams back to the Super Bowl, where they lost in the last seconds to the Patriots.
But after an injury-plagued 2002 season, he never started for St. Louis again.
He signed with the Giants for 2004 but was replaced by rookie Eli Manning after nine games. Warner came to the Cardinals in 2005 and was an off-and-on starter before replacing the injured Matt Leinart partway through 2007.
Warner beat out Leinart the next season then led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl, where they lost in the last minute to the Steelers. He called that season the crowning achievement of his career.
Cardinals general manager Rod Graves called it an emotional day "because I realize once again how extraordinary he was."
"I've only had the privilege of being around one other person that I can say was close to him, and that was Walter Payton," Graves said. "I think when you have an extraordinary player and one who is just as extraordinary off the field, then you realize you were in the presence of someone special."
Warner said he plans to spend time watching his children grow up, do some preaching and, perhaps, get into broadcasting. He knows what he wants his legacy to be.
"It's not the way I threw the football. It's not particular games that I won. But that they remember that here's a guy that believed, that worked hard," he said.
"Although things didn't always go in his favor, he continued to press through, and with his faith in himself and his faith in God, he was able to accomplish great things."