It came to a satisfying end on Friday, January 29, 2010 during a press conference held in Arizona. His career was 12 years old and included stops with the St. Louis Rams, New York Jets, and Arizona Cardinals. In two of those three stops, he had the magic touch to help make everyone around him better, and in one of them, he had the ability to help teach a rookie how to play the game at the highest level.
But, the story doesn’t necessarily start there. The Kurt Warner story starts in Northern Iowa, where he waited three years to get his start and making the most of that wait. He led the Panthers to an 8-4 record, falling to Boston University in the 1993 playoffs. His next stop was the Green Bay Packers, but this was in the beginnings of the Brett Favre era, and he didn’t make it through preseason.
He then spent time stocking shelves at a grocery store before deciding to give the Arena Football League a shot. Playing with the Iowa Barnstormers, he led them to a 12-2 record his first season, and an 11-3 record his second one. That was good enough for them to get to the Arena Bowl, falling to the Tampa Bay Storm in ’96 and the Arizona Rattlers in ’97. He wasn’t there long, but he did leave an impression; he is ranked #12 in the Top 20 Arena Football players of all time. From there, he went to the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe for a season before landing in St. Louis to backup Tony Banks and Steve Bono.
In ’99, Tony Banks and Steve Bono were released, and Trent Green came in to be the starter. However, after tearing a PCL in a preseason game, the Trent Green era ended and the Greatest Show on Turf era began. Kurt Warner threw three touchdowns in his first three games as a starter – a record that hasn’t been broken yet, and he lit up the NFL. Sports Illustrated even ran a cover of him asking, “Who IS this guy?”
At the end of the season, everyone knew who he was.
Warner was voted the NFL MVP and then he went off in the playoffs and led the team to victory in Super Bowl XXIV against the Tennessee Titans. His performance in the Super Bowl garnered him the Super Bowl MVP award, and only six people to date have won the Super Bowl MVP and the NFL MVP: Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Emmett Smith, Steve Young, and Kurt Warner.
He played with the Rams until the end of the 2003 season, where he was benched in favor of Marc Bulger. He would sign with the New York Giants to start their ’04 campaign, but after taking a bell-ringing shot that he never truly recovered from, he was benched in favor of Eli Manning. The Giants released him at the end of the season, and he ended up in Arizona.
His first two seasons in Arizona were lackluster, to say the least. He spent time backing up Josh McCown and – more famously – Matt Leinart before Leinart went down with an injury in the 2007 season. Warner took the starting position and didn’t let go. The 2008 season saw him pass for more yards than he had ever passed for in his career, and he led the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII, where they fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The 2009 season saw Warner lead the Cardinals back to the playoffs, but his defense gave up 45 points in their two playoff games. They won the first game over the Green Bay Packers – which was the best game that week, and lost the second one to the eventual NFC Champion New Orleans Saints.
It would turn out that this would be Warner’s last game.
If he does indeed stay retired, then he will leave with the following statline:
2,666/4,070, 32,344 yds, 208 TDs, 128 INTs, 65.5% completion rating, 93.7 QB rating
Those are impressive numbers, but they’re not the thing that will stand out to me. The thing that will stand out to me is that he has strong ties in the Christian faith, and that never wavered throughout his entire career. He is also a humanitarian, starting the First Things First Foundation. This allows him to help give back to the community by helping to build children’s hospitals, people with developmental disabilities, and struggling single parents.
In Warner’s case, his playing career may be over, but his philanthropic life has just begun, and who knows where that will lead him. I do know this, though; wherever it takes him, he’ll go there with a never-ending smile on his face.
Good luck, Kurt.