(Photos courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Kurt Warner is a Hall-of-Fame finalist for the second straight year, and while he may not make it in 2016 he will make it eventually … for one compelling reason.
Critics shake their heads and point to a career that is shaped like a doughnut, with a giant hole in the middle. How, they ask, can someone be considered Hall-of-Fame worthy when he was benched during the peak of his career?
It’s a good question. He sat down with the Giants so they could get a look at their first draft pick, Eli Manning. And sat down with the Arizona Cardinals so they could get a gauge on their first draft pick, Matt Leinart.
OK, he was benched. So what? Look what happened at either end of Warner’s career: The guy raised the Titanic.
He put the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl … not once, but twice … winning once and losing on a last-second field goal in the 2001 playoffs. He put the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl, too, rallying them to a late fourth-quarter lead before Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers caught them at the wire.
The Rams haven't been back to the Super Bowl. Neither have the Cardinals.
But let’s dig a little deeper. Before Warner turned in an MVP season in 1999 and won Super Bowl XXXIV, the Rams hadn’t had a winning year since 1989, hadn't won a division title since 1985 and hadn’t been to a Super Bowl since 1979. And before he steered Arizona to its first-ever Super Bowl in 2008 the Cards hadn’t had a winning season since 1998 and hadn’t been to a Super Bowl, period.
“He took two franchises that were down in the dumps,” said Hall-of-Fame finalist, Orlando Pace, who protected Warner’s blind side in St. Louis. “A St. Louis team that won four games the year prior and turned that franchise around. (He) turned them into a winner and took them to a Super Bowl … actually, won the Super Bowl with the team.
“Then, after a few years off, he takes another Arizona team that hadn’t done much to the Super Bowl. They didn’t win it, but still he was the glue. He played well late into his career, and his story is just so wonderful. He’s a better person than he is a player … and he was a pretty good player.”
Pace is right, of course, and while Warner’s character won’t come into play with the Hall-of-Fame process his role as the glue that held clubs together will. Stepping in for the injured Trent Green in 1999, he not only took the Rams to their first 13-win season ever; he broke a 17-game losing streak to once mighty San Francisco. He won an MVP that year. He won an MVP in 2001, too, when he set another franchise record with 14 Rams' victories.
He was a Super Bowl MVP. He owns the three highest single-game passing yardage records in Super Bowl history and has the third highest completion percentage in Super Bowl history. He’s the only quarterback to throw for 14,000 yards with two different franchises. He’s the only quarterback to throw for 400 yards in a Super Bowl.
I think you get the picture. He's Hall-of-Fame material.
So there’s a hole in the middle of Warner’s career. Big deal. That makes his story more compelling. When most guys would have retired or been content to roam the sidelines with a clipboard, he returned to the field and took the lowly Arizona Cardinals to their first … and only … Super Bowl, losing only when the Cards' defense couldn't hold off Pittsburgh in the last two minutes.
Kurt Warner is one of only nine players to be named league MVP multiple times, and four of them were first-ballot Hall of Famers. The three others are Brett Favre, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, and all will be first-ballot Hall of Famers, too.
That leaves Warner.
He wasn't named a year ago, and he might not be named this year. And that's OK. But let's not exclude him because he was sent to the bench. Because he didn't stay there. Let's put him in because he did the improbable, the unimaginable and the supernatural ... and he did it twice.
A smart man once said great players elevate the play of teammates around them. Kurt Warner did that. And he did it with two of the most unlikely Super Bowl teams ever. Put him in the Hall.