Kurt Warner was the miracle man in 1999 and the NFL MVP in 1999 and 2001. He is ranked number 3 of all time in career passing rating in the entire NFL. So it is really no surprise to see him back at the top despite the inability of management to recognize the timeless talent in this champion.
Warner was a mere backup quarterback for the Rams in 1998, having entered the NFL from the Canadian Football League, but came on to lead his team in the 1999 season, when an injury of the starting quarterback put him in the driver’s seat. According to Wikipedia, he shocked the NFL. “Warner completed one of the top seasons by a quarterback in NFL history by throwing for 4,353 yards with 41 touchdown passes and a completion rate of 65.1%”.
He led a basically unknown team to a stellar season and a superbowl title, making the Rams a Cinderella team in only their fourth year in Saint Louis. The Saint Louis Rams defeated Tennessee to take the Superbowl and prove they were indeed the best team in the NFL.
Kurt had a problem. How do you repeat? It isn’t easy, and the Rams were not made up of the same committed talent of the dynasty teams of the Steelers and Patriots. The defense failed them in future years, and their management did not have the commitment to win. After two years of being in the hunt but not winning, the Rams blundered away their talent and eventually became the pathetic Saint Louis Team we see today.
Was Warner at fault? In 2002, Warner appeared to lose heart. The Rams went 0-3 and Kurt looked to have lost his spark. Warner broke a finger and was forced to sit out much of that season giving way to the youthful and promising Marc Bulger. Marc was indeed a great talent, but he proved that it was not Kurt that was at fault for the Rams’ failures. Despite great play, Marc has yet to lead the Rams anywhere but to mediocity and more recently, total embarrassment. Marc has proven that talent alone is not what leads a team.
Warner, in 2003 ended up with the Giants, and he started off winning five of seven games, but the Giants that year were rather pathetic overall. Despite switching quarterbacks to Eli Manning in place of Warner, the team played out the rest of the season losing 6 out of 7 games. A change in quarterbacks was not the answer for this team, and great coaching and team building is what brought the Giants to the Superbowl. Eli played well, but could Warner have once again led a superbowl team had they fixed their problems before discarding him? We will never know.
Kurt was flipped once again, but stuck in there, signing with one of the most hopeless teams in the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals. This was not where a great player goes to recover his greatness, this is a team a player goes to die quietly in obscurity.
And so it seemed. Warner did not rise immediately to greatness. Injuries and questionable choices by coaches in Arizona kept Warner out of the hunt until 2007. Then, a miracle. According to Wikipedia, “In the third game of the 2007 season against the Baltimore Ravens, Warner came off the bench to relieve an ineffective Matt Leinart during the 2nd and 4th quarters (the Ravens were leading 23-6 at the beginning of the 4th quarter). He led a furious comeback as he completed 15 passes out of 20 attempted for 258 yds and 2 TDs. This brought them to a tie game (23–23), but after a Ravens last second field goal, Arizona lost the game 26–23.” A heartbreaker for Warner, but a sign that great things were to come for this champion.
Still, no one showed true faith in Kurt. Everyone wrote him off. No way this old man (age ) could win for the Cardinals, the Cardinals don’t win on their own, how could they win with a has been? Seattle would win the west and Arizona would make a brave, but hapless, showing.
Under Kurt’s leadership and with incredibly talented players such as Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Kenmile Boldin on offense and a defense that rose to the occasion many times during the season and shut down great teams in the playoffs when it had to be done, the Cardinals won the West with a 9-7 record and have won three straight in the playoffs against the best the NFC could muster. They beat Atlanta and then destroyed Carolina on Carolina’s home turf, 33-13. But the Championship would certainly be a different story, right?
In the first half, Kurt and the Cardinals picked apart the Eagles. The Eagles showed championship heart in the second half, but still fell to a Cardinal drive near the end of the fourth quarter. After his team’s victory, Kurt said “We don’t care if others believed in us… what mattered was that we believed in ourselves!” Kurt can still lead a winning team, and it was a huge error in Saint Louis to discard him due to management’s continuous flubs. Bulger cannot lead that team, and even in his prime best years, could not muster playoff quality. In all due respect, Kurt has grit and you can’t find that easily. He reminds us of Ken Stabler, another great player into his later years.
First Championship in Cardinal History
Now, the master is in the Superbowl again, and ironically, it is with the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals abandoned Saint Louis for Arizona right as the Rams stepped in. Saint Louis felt vindicated, but their owners had no clue how to maintain a strong NFL team and traded youth for experience and courage. Now, the team that was Saint Louis’ heritage, a team with a mascot that could not even survive in Arizona, wins the NFL Championship!! The Cardinals are no longer from Saint Louis, and Saint Louis once again has one of the worst teams in the NFL.
This is the first Championship for the Cardinals in their history. The very first time they are stepping into the Superbowl despite being the oldest franchise in the NFL. It is also the very first time they may just win it all. But it isn’t without the experience of a leader that has been there before. A man with courage and commitment that knows how to win and how to lead. A man Saint Louis, 5 years ago, was much too anxious to replace.
We have heard many cliches about sports over the years, but this one plays with us to the end. Defense does not win championships. Offense does not win championships. Heart wins championships. The Cardinals have heart, and it is our hope that it leads them to Superbowl history.