Kurt Warner Arizona Cardinals

By Kenneth Lassiter

Age: 37
Born: 6/22/71 in Burlington, IA
Height: 6-2 Weight:220

Kurt Warner is a study in perseverance. He was unheralded out of Regis High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after growing up in a split household, even though he lettered in three sports and was all-state in football his senior year. He played backup QB at Northern Iowa, a DI-AA college, before getting the starting job his senior year and being named the conference player of the year. Warner got a brief shot with the Packers in 1994 before getting cut in training camp. From there he went back home to Iowa, where he waited for another chance and was stuck doing whatever jobs he could find. He worked in a Hy-Vee grocery store to get by until he got a shot in the Arena Football League with the Iowa Barnstormers.

Warner found mild success with the Barnstormers as he led them to two Arena Bowls and passed for more than 10,000 yards and 180 TDs in three seasons. A tryout with the Chicago Bears fell through in 1997 as Warner had received a spider bite on his honeymoon with new wife, Brenda, who he met while at Northern Iowa in 1992. He got a second chance with the St. Louis Rams and played one season for the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe. He was a hit in the ’98 NFLE season in leading the league in yards, completions and TDs, but when the NFL season started later that year, he again took a backseat to Rams starter Tony Banks and aging backup Steve Romo. He finally got a shot in the would-be 4-12 Rams’ final game of the season versus the Niners, but his talent remained hidden to most of the nation.

That changed in 1999 when, in a preseason game, new Rams starter Trent Green took a hit on the knee from Chargers safety Rodney Harrison and was knocked out for the season. Warner had won the backup job in camp and got the backing of coach Dick Vermeil. Warner responded by leading the Rams on an improbable path to a Super Bowl victory with a season total of 4,353 passing yards, 41 TDs with only 13 INTs, and a 109.2 passer rating. Warner finished the season in style by being named Super Bowl MVP and set a SB record with 414 passing yards. Warner posted another good season in 2000 as the Rams again made the playoffs, but he was as good as ever in 2001 with a 101.4 passer rating, 4,830 passing yards that put him second all-time in the season rolls to Dan Marino, and 36 TDs as the “Greatest Show on Turf” offense kept rolling. Only a cinderella Patriots team and a late drive in the Super Bowl could keep Warner from a second Super Bowl ring. As in 1999, he was the regular season MVP.

Warner encountered more adversity as a hand injury shortened his 2002 season and, after a bad start to the 2003 season in St. Louis, he saw Marc Bulger take over as starter and lead the team to the playoffs. The writing was on the wall in the short-memory NFL and the Rams released him in June 2004. He caught on with the Giants, who had just drafted Eli Manning, but Warner wouldn’t settle being a backup. He started 9 games for the Giants before fumbleitis and some inconsistent play led coach Tom Coughlin to give the job to Manning for good. His career path got slightly more unlucky as he landed with the Arizona Cardinals for the 2005 season, but he did get a chance to start and a chance to throw to a cadre of young receivers. He continued to struggle somewhat with fumbles and a groin injury and lost some time to Josh McCown as the Cardinals finished 5-11. In 2006 Arizona coach Dennis Green brought in USC former Heisman winner Matt Leinart via the NFL Draft so Warner again got pushed to the sidelines. He would play in only 7 games and looked to be finished as a headliner QB in the NFL.

In 2007, Leinart got off to a slow start under new coach Ken Whisenhunt, who had no ties to the USC QB, and Warner got another chance at redemption. He led the Cardinals to an 8-8 record with an 89.8 passer rating that was his best such mark since 2001. His 27 TD passes were also his best in that stat since 2001. Leinart was given a chance to take the job from Warner in the 2008 preseason and couldn’t do it. Warner has responded by throwing for 3,500 yards and 21 TDs in 11 games thus far and leading the Cards to a stranglehold on the NFC West division. His 102.4 passer rating, if it holds, would be the second best of his career as he is on pace to potentially eclipse his 2001 numbers.

Basically, Warner is my favorite player because no matter what life has handed him, he has done his best without complaining. He married a woman with a son with major disabilities and never looked back. His wife’s parents were killed in a 1996 tornado and he has done what he can to help victims of other such tragedies ever since. He was stuck stocking shelves in an Iowa grocery store and still had hopes and dreams of what could be, and has seen those dreams come to pass. He stood on the sidelines while other guys got the snaps and hasn’t complained to the press. He has suffered through injuries and questions of his abilities and has proved the doubters wrong. He has had a career like no other in my lifetime. His strength of character shows out in a landscape of me-first attitude among pro athletes.

Kurt Warner’s Top 5 Football Cards

1. 1999 Playoff Contenders SSD AU RC (Search Ebay) — his best RC

1999 Playoff Contenders Kurt Warner

2. 2000 Donruss Elite Passing the Torch auto w/ Dan Marino (Search Ebay) — combo auto with one of his heroes

3. 2000 Quantum Leaf MVP AU/100 (Search Ebay) — a great card marking a phenomenal debut

4. 1995 Iowa Barnstormers team issue (Search Ebay) — where it all started

1995 Iowa Barnstormers Team Kurt Warner

5. 1999 Pacific RC (Search Ebay) — the first of his RCs to take the hobby by storm

1999 Pacific Kurt Warner Card

Best value: the 1999 Pacific RC. It’s a nice RC, and books only $12. It also has Tony Horne on it, and is a good example of how he came out of nowhere to hobby stardom in a very short time. Other candidates are his ’99 UD Encore RC, which is his only Upper Deck rookie and is valued at $12, and his ’00 Fleer Tradition Autographics autograph, which books only $40.