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Ageless Warner finds fountain of youth in desert with Cardinals

Kurt Warner was brought to Arizona in 2005 as a Band-Aid, a snack, something to hold the Cardinals over until they could heal and grab a franchise quarterback. It's why Warner, who signed as a free agent after leaving the Giants, was initially given only a one-year deal.

Two men who forged the move -- current Cardinals general manager Rod Graves and then-Cardinals head coach Dennis Green -- instantly recall the circumstances.

"At the time," said Graves, "we felt we needed an experienced quarterback. We needed stability in our locker room and Kurt had the leadership qualities we wanted. We did not think he was a long-term fix. We just wanted him to hold it and us together until we got our quarterback for the future."

Green had coached against Warner in the quarterback's glory days, his league MVP seasons in 1999 and 2001 as the St. Louis Rams quarterback.

"We looked at every single throw he made the previous year with the Giants," Green said. "Every one -- the good, bad and indifferent. I didn't see a huge drop-off. I knew there were some injuries in there. But when he had time to throw, he could eat a team alive."

A one-year contract turned into a fresh three-year deal the following season.

A franchise quarterback, Matt Leinart, was drafted but sits behind Warner.

A temporary fix has become the Cardinals' backbone vs. Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game.

"While we kept focusing in other directions, he kept bringing it back to him," Graves said. "If you know Kurt Warner, there is no quit about him. The one thing that radiates from Kurt is his level of competition. He throws himself at the helm in that. (He's) an outstanding captain and person, and he reminds me of two players during my time with the Bears who were like that: Walter Payton and Mike Singletary. That's talent and competition combined to create something special. It's inspiring. He has emerged.

"His contract is up after this season, but we will re-visit it then. We have already talked to Kurt and his agent and expressed our desire to have him back. We want him to finish his career in Arizona. Kurt is the kind of player you want in your program regardless of what his role is. He has helped us emerge as a respected football team. I am glad he is a part of the story. Without him, there would not be this story."

Pro football has rarely given us a match of franchise and player that utterly fit hand-in-glove.

There's the Cardinals, that woeful franchise, downtrodden, abused, those incessant losers, and Warner, the former grocery-store clerk and three-year Arena Football League quarterback.

Warner, 37, rose to prominence in St. Louis and then faded. Since his MVP seasons, he had been obscure, considered done in many NFL circles. Old, tired and finished.

Warner and resurrection are synonymous.

An NFL personnel executive, requesting anonymity, said of Warner: "There is a maturity factor there with him that is showing across the board with the Cardinals. For plenty of this season, he carried that team. He did not get flustered. He handled their system, and those guys around him are playing like they believe in him. That looks really valid. The difference in these games often is confidence. They are playing now like they have a ton of confidence in Kurt and it's spread throughout every facet of the club."

Warner, as he prepares for the Eagles, has said his team feeds off people counting them out. He said he has challenged his teammates to continue to "shock the world" after playoff victories over Atlanta and Carolina. To prove it.

He said the key vs. the Eagles defense will be to recognize their approach and attack it. To attack, particularly, the zones in the defense that Philadelphia is trying to keep hidden and protected.

That will be a similar challenge for Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Warner and McNabb share the experience of being under the spotlight when things were aglow and under it during dark times. McNabb's regular season was cold then hot. Warner's was hot, cold and then hot again. Both quarterbacks this season were forced to re-energize themselves and their teams. Particularly in the playoffs, both have succeeded.

Both have particularly excelled with their accuracy, throwing passes in the playoffs that their receivers can not only handle, but can make important runs after the catch. This dynamic has helped kick both offenses into high gear. It will be a critical factor in not only deciding which quarterback has the best NFC Championship Game outing, but also which team reaches Super Bowl XLIII.

Air & Ground Players of the Year

Kurt Warner was one of three QBs nominated for the FedEx Air Player of the Year award, joining signal-callers Drew Brees of New Orleans and Peyton Manning of Indianapolis. Who should win? Vote now ...

"The one thing that stood out to me during Kurt's days in St. Louis was that he had a special rhythm with Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt and those receivers," Graves said. "He has developed some of that here with our guys. They understand him now and what he is looking for. There is a precision that is happening. It took us some time to get to that. We've become more balanced in the offense and that helps. Earlier there was some hook and crook and Kurt throwing and us living off it."

By asking Warner to do a little less, his production means even more. Same with McNabb.

The Cardinals have played their best football at home this season; so has Warner. To reach the Super Bowl seven years later would be a sweet, satisfying moment for Warner. People counted him out. Old and washed up. Why didn't everyone learn the first time? Kurt Warner is hard to silence and harder to banish.

"I've been around this league a long time and I've seen some great stories," said the 59-year-old Green, who spent 13 seasons as an NFL head coach. "His story is the most incredible story in the league -- ever. There has never been one like it, a quarterback who played three years in the Arena League keeping his game alive, incredible perseverance, getting where he did and then coming back again like he is now. Never one like it. And there is more to that story. That story is not over."

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