Will Canton bust fit like a glove for Warner?

The Arizona Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl.

Hell may have frozen over, but luckily, the water coolers have not, and the topic du jour around them this week is not the inauguration or the economy, but a 37-year-old ex-grocery bagger.

Everyone's asking the same question, but the delivery changes depending on the situation:

» If you don't know a person well, you ask "Hey, you think Kurt Warner's a Hall of Famer?"

» If you know the person well, and that person is a sports fan, the question is simply "Warner: Hall of Fame?"

» And if you're into texting, it's "KWARN-HOF?"

A few years ago the suggestion of Kurt Warner in the Hall of Fame would have solicited an LOL. Sure, he won a Super Bowl, but so did Mark Rypien and Trent Dilfer. He has the highest QB rating of all time, but Chad Pennington is ahead of Dan Marino on that list.

Before this season began there was plenty of room on the Kurt Warner HOF bandwagon, but good luck finding a seat now. In a stunning NFC Championship performance, Warner completed 75 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and no picks against the NFC's top-ranked defense.

If he beats the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, he likely gets in. If he loses, then what? Warner has had some eye-popping statistical years, but does he have a career that's worthy of induction?

From 1999-2001, Kurt Warner was simply the best quarterback in football. His St. Louis Rams won a Super Bowl, lost to the Patriots in another, and Warner threw 98 touchdowns while completing more than 66 percent of his passes. In 2007 and 2008 with Arizona, he threw for 8,000 yards and 57 touchdowns.

The problem is the middle. Kurt Warner's career is an Oreo cookie without the cream filling. A jelly donut without the jelly. The Watergate tapes only had an 18 ½ minute gap; Warner has a five-year gap.

From 2002 thru 2006, Kurt Warner was a below-average NFL quarterback. Maybe it was injuries, maybe it was coaching, maybe his teams weren't as talented, but his statistics in those five years were mediocre at best.

With the Rams in 2002 and 2003, he played only nine games and threw four touchdowns with 12 interceptions.

In 2004, he joined the New York Giants, where the quarterback trio was more like the cast of a reality show: The Survivor (Warner), The Apprentice (Eli Manning), and The Bachelor (Jesse Palmer). But after nine starts and only six touchdowns, Tom Coughlin voted him off the island.

The desert was equally unkind in 2005 and 2006: In 15 total starts, he only threw three more touchdowns than interceptions. But in 2007, The Whizard of Glendale arrived.

Since Ken Whisenhunt took over the Cardinals, Kurt Warner is playing like a new man (or maybe like the old Kurt Warner). Most people credit his renaissance to either Whisenhunt's system or the incomparable hands of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Perhaps it's the hands -- but not Fitzgerald's.

Any good surgeon wears gloves in the operating room, and now, so does Kurt Warner. And that's why he's back to dissecting defenses the way he did from 1999 to 2001. Myriad thumb injuries made it difficult to grip the ball, so in Week 16 of 2006 he took the field with gloves on both hands. Since then, Kurt Warner 2.0 has looked exactly like the original St. Louis version.

Which means Hall of Fame voters have a choice to make -- can they ignore the lean years in the middle of a brilliantly bookended career? Super Bowl XLIII might be the deciding factor. If Kurt Warner and the Cardinals beat Pittsburgh, then a bust in Canton would fit like a glove.

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