'It's been an amazing ride': Warner retires after 12 NFL seasons

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Kurt Warner has called an end to one of the great storybook careers in NFL history.

The 38-year-old quarterback announced his retirement from the game Friday after 12 years in a league that at first rejected him, then revered him as he came from nowhere to lead the lowly St. Louis Rams to two Super Bowls, winning the first of them.

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Written off as a has-been, Warner rose again to lead the long-suffering Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl last year.

Warner, a man of deep faith who carried a Bible to each postgame news conference, walked away with one year left on a two-year, $23 million contract, knowing he still had the skills to play at the highest level.

"It's been an amazing ride," he 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."

Warner had one of the greatest playoff performances ever in the Cardinals' 51-45 overtime wild-card victory over the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 10, but he sustained a brutal hit in a 45-14 divisional-round loss at New Orleans six days later.

"He has had a dominant career. He's a good person," Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said of Warner. "He's got to do what's best for his family. He played long enough. He took us to the Super Bowl last year. We had a great season this year. It's a good thing. If you're going to go out, go out on top."

The Cardinals signed Warner to a one-year contract in 2005 largely because no other team would give him a chance to be a starter. His opportunities over the next two years were scattered, and even when Ken Whisenhunt took over as the Cardinals' coach in 2007, Warner was the backup to Matt Leinart.

But when Leinart went down with an injury five games into the season, Warner got his chance. He started 48 of the remaining 49 games of his career.

Warner leaves the game with a legacy that could land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame even though he didn't make his first NFL start until he was 28.

In a comparison with the 14 quarterbacks to make the Hall of Fame in the last 25 years, Warner has a better career completion percentage, more yards per pass attempt and more yards per game. Only Dan Marino, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning had more career 300-yard passing games.

In 124 regular-season games, Warner completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 32,344 yards and 208 touchdowns. He and Fran Tarkenton are the only NFL quarterbacks to throw for 100 touchdowns and 14,000 yards for two teams.

Cardinals general manager Rod Graves called Warner's retirement emotional "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 (Hall of Fame running back) 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."

Whisenhunt said Warner ranked "at the top" of players he had coached.

"He's one of the best quarterbacks in this league," Whisenhunt said, "and I think it's well noted that he's one of the best people I've been around."

Warner brought his wife, Brenda, and their seven children to the podium during Friday's news conference, hugging each one of them. He choked up as he thanked them.

"Every day, I come home and it doesn't matter if you won or lost or have thrown touchdowns or interceptions, the one thing that I always knew is that when I entered that door, when I stepped in our house, that none of that mattered to these guys," he said. "I can't tell you how much of a blessing that is."

Warner, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and played collegiately at Northern Iowa, ranks among the NFL's career leaders in a variety of passing statistics. He was the fastest player in NFL history to 10,000 passing yards and tied Marino as fastest to reach 30,000.

Warner also has the top three passing performances in Super Bowl history. His 1,156 passing yards in the 2008 playoffs broke the NFL record of 1,063 that he set with St. Louis in 1999.

Warner's rise from obscurity seems the stuff of sports fiction.

Warner played three seasons in the Arena Football League and one in NFL Europe, mixed in with a stint stocking grocery shelves back in Iowa. He 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 a masterful and wholly unexpected season, when Warner led the Rams to a 13-3 regular-season record, then a Super Bowl triumph over the Tennessee Titans. He was selected the league and Super Bowl MVP.

St. Louis was upset in the first round of the playoffs the following season, but Warner had the Rams back in the big game in 2001, when "The Greatest Show on Turf" lost a squeaker to the New England Patriots. The season earned Warner a second league MVP award.

But after an injury-plagued 2002 season, Warner was sacked six times and suffered a concussion during a 2003 season-opening loss to the New York Giants. He never started for the Rams again.

Warner signed a free-agent contract with the Giants for 2004 and led the team to a 5-4 record, but rookie Eli Manning replaced him after nine games. Warner came to the Cardinals in 2005 and was an off-and-on starter before replacing the injured Leinart part way through the 2007 season.

Warner had to beat out Leinart the following year, then led the Cardinals to the NFC West title and playoff victories over the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles before the narrow loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, when he threw for 377 yards.

Warner called that season the crowning achievement of his career.

Warner and his wife operate the First Things First Christian charitable foundation. Last year, he was selected the NFL's Man of the Year for his off-field and on-field accomplishments.

For more on the Arizona Cardinals, check out the latest from our bloggers.

"We all learned great lessons from Kurt's humility, dignity and grace," Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom said in a statement released by the team. "We will forever be thankful for the success he brought us and the unparalleled generosity he has shown the St. Louis community and beyond."

Warner's departure leaves Leinart the presumed replacement in Arizona. The former Heisman Trophy winner has started 17 games for the Cardinals but only one in the last two years.

Warner said he plans to spend time watching his children grow up, do some preaching and perhaps get into football broadcasting. And 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," Warner 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."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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