Kurt Warner has called an end to one of the great storybook careers in NFL history. The 38-year-old quarterback announced his retirement from the game on Friday after a dozen years in a league that at first rejected him, then revered him as he came from nowhere to lead the lowly St Louis Rams to two Super Bowls, winning the first of them.
Written off as a has-been, Warner rose again to lead the long-suffering Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl a year ago. Warner walked away with a year left on a two-year, US$23 million (Dh84.1m) contract. "It's been an amazing ride," he said. "I don't think I could have dreamt it would have played out like it has, but I've been humbled every day that I woke up the last 12 years." Warner had one of the greatest play-off performances ever in Arizona's 51-45 overtime victory over Green Bay on January 10, but took a brutal hit in the 45-14 divisional round loss at New Orleans six days later.
Warner signed a one-year contract with the Cardinals in 2005, largely because no other team would give him a chance to be a starter. His opportunities over the next two years were scattered, but when Matt Leinart went down with an injury five games into the 2007 season, Warner got his chance and started 48 of the remaining 49 games of his career. He leaves the game with a legacy that could put him in the NFL Hall of Fame even though he did not get his first start in the league until he was 28.
In a comparison with the 14 quarterbacks to make the Hall of Fame in the last 25 years, Warner has a better career completion percentage, yards per pass attempt and yards per game. Only Dan Marino had more career 300-yard passing games. In 124 regular-season games, Warner completed 65.5 per cent of his passes for 32,344 yards and 208 touchdowns. He and Fran Tarkenton are the only NFL quarterbacks to throw for 100 touchdowns and 14,000 yards for two teams.
He has the top three passing performances in Super Bowl history, and his 1,156 yards passing in the 2008 play-offs broke the NFL record of 1,063 he set with St Louis in 1999. Warner's rise from obscurity was the stuff of sports fiction. He played three seasons in the Arena Football League and one in NFL Europe, mixed in with a stint stocking grocery shelves in Iowa, where he grew up. Warner made the Rams as a backup back-up in 1998, and was thrust into the starting role in 1999. He stunned everyone by leading the Rams to a 13-3 regular-season record, then a Super Bowl triumph over Tennessee, and was named the league and Super Bowl MVP.
Warner had the Rams back in the big game in 2001, and although they lost narrowly to New England he took a second NFL MVP award. But he was plagued by injuries, and within two years he was let go by the Rams. He joined the New York Giants but was replaced mid-season, and then joined Arizona. * AP