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Warner's storybook career deserves Hall of Fame consideration

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Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner might be more of a hero in St. Louis today than he was when he took the relocated Rams to two Super Bowls during his six years playing there.

The Rams chances to improve on their league-worst one win in 2009 just improved after Warner retired after 12 seasons Friday. St. Louis has been to the playoffs just once since Warner's release in 2003, and the playing field in the NFC West has been lowered today.

The NFC West champion Cardinals have been weakened, just as the Rams were when they thought Marc Bulger was the answer instead of Warner. Unlike in St. Louis -- and with the New York Giants -- Warner's departure this time was voluntary.

It was done without Brett Favre-like drama, but there was impact. Warner will be missed. Great person. Absolutely great person. Good or great quarterback depending on the prism your life's viewed through.

Srdjan Petrovic / Associated Press
Kurt Warner's rise from quarterback in NFL Europe and the arena league, to grocery bagger, to NFL icon is well-documented.

» Photos: Warner through the years

He was as humble going out as he was when he came into the NFL via the Arena Football League and NFL Europe. He left the game playing at a high level. Better yet, he left speaking, walking and thinking coherently.

Somewhere, at some time over the next few days, Favre will watch Warner's retirement speech, if he hasn't already, and wonder if it's time for him to go too and leave the NFL a two-fisted void of experience, toughness and success. This mention of Favre is not to slight Warner on a day in which he should be properly paid due respect.

I bring up Favre because one of the first things I hear from people when it comes to Warner and his Hall of Fame worthiness is that he was dumped by two teams -- the Rams and Giants -- so how can he be cast into a group that includes Dan Fouts, Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana? Favre has been with four teams (the Falcons, Packers, Jets and Vikings). Even Unitas and Montana finished with teams other than the one with which they are associated.

But Warner was in his biological prime when the Rams opted for Marc Bulger over him and the Giants did the same with Eli Manning. If a quarterback was worth anything, why would a team move him if he could still deliver the goods?

Was Favre over the hill when the Packers elevated Aaron Rodgers before dealing Favre to the Jets? Was that also the case when the Jets let Favre go in favor of Mark Sanchez? Favre played well for the Jets until he got hurt and, at 40, we saw what he did for the Vikings this season -- which was play well enough to where he has left little doubt that he could be highly effective if he opts to return next season.

By no means has Warner had the career Favre has. Favre's thrown for 69,329 yards, 497 touchdowns and been to two Super Bowls, winning one. Warner meanwhile, has thrown for 32,344 yards and 208 touchdowns. However, Warner's also won a Super Bowl and played in three -- two with different franchises. The second franchise, the Arizona Cardinals, was one of the worst, historically, until Warner got them to the Super Bowl for the first time last season.

Warner, only the second player ever to throw 100 or more touchdowns for two different teams, got the Cardinals back to the playoffs this season, where they lost to New Orleans in the divisional round and Warner took the final violent headshot of his career. Clarity sometimes comes in obvious ways.

Though paling to Favre and some other Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Warner's numbers shouldn't work against him. He threw for nearly as many yards as Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman (32,392) and threw 43 more touchdowns. 49ers Hall of Famer Steve Young: 33,124 yards, 232 touchdowns; Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly: 35,467 yards, 237 touchdowns.

Where Warner's case gets weakened, and rightfully so, is inconsistency through his career.

National Football League
Kurt Warner's 414 passing yards in Super Bowl XXXIV remains a record for the NFL's championship game.
Most passing yards in Super Bowl history
Player
Team
Yards
Kurt Warner
414
Kurt Warner
377
Kurt Warner
365
Donovan McNabb
357
357

The five-time Pro Bowler was the league Most Valuable Player in 1999, when the Rams also defeated the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. Warner also was selected Super Bowl MVP. He got hurt in 2000 and wasn't the same player. In 2001, he was magic again, earning NFL MVP honors and taking the Rams to the Super Bowl again. He was let go two years later, signed by the Giants, then the Cardinals and was mired in a five-year slump in which he was viewed as nothing more than a backup. From 2002 through 2006, Warner threw a total of 27 touchdowns.

Favre, Fouts, Kelly, Fran Tarkenton, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Warren Moon, John Elway; none of the Hall of Famers were viewed as backups. They were franchise quarterbacks.

Warner, the rags-to-riches, grocery bagger to hero, bounced back in 2007, his third year in Arizona, when he replaced Matt Leinart. Over the next three seasons, his final three, Warner threw 83 touchdowns. He finished on a roll.

So the argument that will be debated is that of his 12 NFL seasons, he really only posted respectable numbers in five, maybe six, when he threw 21 touchdowns in 11 games in 2000. But if that's the case, in those five, maybe six seasons, he went to the Super Bowl three times.

If a team can go to a Super Bowl once in five, maybe six years, that's pretty darn good. If one guy can take two different, sad-sack teams to three Super Bowls in that span, and be the main reason that happened -- that could be Hall of Fame worthy.

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