Kurt Warner thanked God, hugged his children and wife and said goodbye to an NFL career that seems the stuff of sports fiction.
The 38-year-old quarterback announced his retirement 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.
Then, as if going from stocking groceries to winning NFL MVP awards wasn’t improbable enough, Warner was written off as a has-been and rose again to lead the long-suffering Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl.
A man of deep faith who carried a Bible to each post-game news conference, Warned walked away with a year left on a two-year, $23 million contract, knowing he still had the skills to play at the highest level.
“It’s been an amazing ride,” Warner 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 and amazed that God would choose to use me to do what he’s given me the opportunity to do.”
Warner had one of the greatest postseason performances ever in Arizona’s 51-45 overtime wild card victory over Green Bay on Jan. 10, but sustained a brutal hit in the Cardinals’ 45-14 divisional round loss at New Orleans six days later.
“He has had a dominant career,” Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “He’s got to do what’s best for his family. He played long enough. He took us to the Super Bowl last year.
“If you’re going to go out, go out on top.”
The Cardinals signed Warner to a one-year contract 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 and even when coach Ken Whisenhunt took over in 2007, Warner was the backup to Matt Leinart.
But when Leinart went down with an injury five games into the season, Warner got his chance. He started 48 of the remaining 49 games of his career.
“I’ve played 12 years, I’m a 38 years old and I believe I was playing at as high a level now and over the last two years as I was playing when I first got into the league,” he said. “That’s something I’m proud of.”
Blessed with an uncanny throwing accuracy and a knack for reading defenses, Warner leaves the game with a legacy that could land him in the Hall of Fame even though he didn’t get his first start 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, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning have more career 300-yard passing games.
In 124 regular-season games, Warner completed 65.5 percent 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.
Cardinals general manager Rod Graves called it an emotional day “because I realize once again how extraordinary he was.”
“I’ve only had the privilege of being around one other person that I can say was close to him and that was Walter Payton,” Graves said. “I think when you have an extraordinary player and one who is just as extraordinary off the field, then you realize you were in the presence of someone special.”
Whisenhunt said Warner ranked “at the top” of players he had coached.
“He’s one of the best quarterbacks in this league,” he said, “and I think it’s well noted that he’s one of the best people I’ve been around.”
Warner brought his wife, Brenda, and their seven children to the podium, hugging each one of them. He choked up as he thanked them.
“Every day I come home and it doesn’t matter if you won or lost or have thrown touchdowns or interceptions, the one thing that I always knew is that when I entered that door, when I stepped in our house, that none of that mattered to these guys,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much of a blessing that is.”
Warner, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and played at the University of Northern Iowa, ranks among the career leaders in a variety of passing statistics.
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PFT Daily: A look at Warner's career
Jan. 28: Mike Florio looks back at Kurt Warner's career and discusses whether he will be Hall of Fame bound.
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