FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Kurt Warner is back on top in a "Chutes and Ladders" career.
Only a sore hip, from surgery in the offseason, prevented the 38-year-old quarterback from painlessly basking in the success of what he called "a neat season" as the Arizona Cardinals practiced in front of a big, enthusiastic crowd on Friday.
He expects the hip to bother him for several more months, but with Warner riding a string of 31 consecutive starts despite an assortment of injuries, he won't let it keep him on the sidelines.
"It's still not where I want it to be," Warner said. "I still have some pain in there. They say it can take anywhere from six to 12 months to get over that. That's the only thing, really. Other than that, I feel really, really good."
A year ago as training camp started, Warner was fighting what looked to be an uphill battle to beat out Matt Leinart. Warner wasn't named the starter until just before the season began.
"It means a lot, just going into this season being able to tailor our offense to what his strengths are and then working on some other things that can help us," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Warner's sore hip was kept secret as the team stunned Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia before losing a Super Bowl thriller to Pittsburgh. The injury, which began bothering him around midseason, certainly did not affect his performance.
Warner set franchise regular season records for completions (401), attempts (598), completion percentage (67.1), passer rating (96.9), touchdown passes (30) and consecutive games with a touchdown pass (22). The TD streak, counting the playoffs, stands at 26.
In the playoffs he completed 64 percent for 1,063 yards and eight touchdowns while becoming the second quarterback in NFL history to start for two teams in the Super Bowl.
Warner became a free agent when the game was over, but he never wanted to go anywhere else.
A week after he signed a two-year, $23 million contract with Arizona, Warner underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum and to remove some loose fragments.
"I don't have any regrets for the surgery because it's definitely going to be better for the long haul," Warner said. "As far as the pain, it's definitely better now than it was before the surgery, but the pain is still prevalent."
The Cardinals were long an NFL laughingstock, but there's no shame anymore, given the size of the crowd on the pine-rimmed field -- elevation 7,000 feet -- at the edge of the Northern Arizona University campus. Most of the fans wore Cardinals gear -- Warner and Fitzgerald jerseys being the most prominent.
"I think the first practice two years ago there were about 80 people out there," Whisenhunt said. "I got past 80 pretty quick today. It's a completely different feeling and you can sense it, not just on the practice field, just in the town."
Not surprisingly, Warner -- named NFL Man of the Year last season -- stayed longer than anyone to sign autographs for the hundreds who lined the field hollering his name.
"It was pretty crazy," he said. "A lot of people were talking about it coming up here. 'I wonder what it's going to be like, I wonder what the turnout is going to be like after going to the Super Bowl.' It was pretty awesome, it was pretty cool, to see everybody excited about what happened last year and about this season."
"The key is you go into this season and you appreciate the run you made and you try to top it," he said.
Warner said it's going to be his job to remind players of the kind of work ethic and togetherness it took to accomplish last year's playoff success.
"I've got to commit to working just as hard and letting guys see me not backing down, not being relaxed in where I'm at and what I believe in. It starts there," he said. "Then it continues on by trying to grab people by the arm who aren't doing that or that don't understand how to do that, and you bring them along and you show them."
After three Super Bowls, repeated benchings and dogged efforts to get back on the field, Warner is still pushing himself.
"I want to play perfect every time out," he said, "and I've never played a perfect game. So it's easy to know there's always room for improvement. Every practice I want to go out and be perfect. I don't want to miss a throw, I don't want to make a bad read.
"I think that's what keeps me going, because I've never reached that point."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press