Warnerâ€™s career as a starter began in 1999, when he quarterbacked â€œThe Greatest Show on Turfâ€ in St. Louis to the Super Bowl crown. Along the way that season he racked up 4,353 yards, 41 TDs, and both an NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP trophy. In many ways, considering the complete obscurity from which Warner came, it is one of the great single-season performances by an individual in not just NFL history, but in sports history.
In 2001, Warner brought the Rams to another Super Bowl (which they lost to New England) and won his second regular season MVP Award. He was not as dominant, throwing â€œonlyâ€ 36 TDs against 22 INTs, but he set a personal record with 4,830 passing yards and still finished with a passer rating over 100 (101.4).
The next five years, however, were lost years for Warner. He battled injuries and ineffectiveness as he bounced from St. Louis to an infamously bad one year in New York and then to Arizona in 2005. While he was never truly terrible (Warner has never had a passer rating below 85.8 in any season in which he has started 10 or more games), Warner fell sharply off the radar screen from his days as the MVP in St. Louis.
This season, however, Kurt Warner has rocketed back to prominence. His regular season numbers were outstanding: 4,583 yards, a completion percentage of 67.1%, 30 TDs, and a passer rating of 96.9. And donâ€™t give me the whole â€œwell he has Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldinâ€ argument. Joe Montana had Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, and John Taylor, plus Bill Walsh crafting the offense; and I donâ€™t hear that argument when people extol the greatness of Montana.
Warnerâ€™s true greatness, however, can best be viewed through his performance in the 10 biggest games in which he has played: the playoffs. Heading into Super Bowl 43, Warner has a career playoff passer rating of 97.3. This is good for second all-time as the immortal Bart Starr has a rating of 104.8. Joe Montana is third with a rating of 95.6. Additionally, Warner has a 9-1 record as a QB in the playoffs, with his only loss thus far coming to the Patriots in Super Bowl 36. Of all quarterbacks with 10 or more playoff starts, Warnerâ€™s winning percentage is the highest.
Sunday night, Kurt Warner can further bolster his Hall of Fame resume. Not only does Warner have a chance to join Joe Montana, Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, and Tom Brady as the only two-time Super Bowl MVPs â€“ Montana actually won it three times â€“ but there is a significant Super Bowl record within Warnerâ€™s reach:
Kurt Warner needs 364 passing yards to break Joe Montanaâ€™s record of 1,142 career passing yards in the Super Bowl, which Montana accumulated in four games. Incidentally, 364 yards would be Kurt Warnerâ€™s lowest total in a Super Bowl as he threw for 414 and 365 yards in his previous Super Bowl appearances (good for 1st and 2nd on the single-game Super Bowl record list).
So letâ€™s be hypothetical for a moment, and letâ€™s say the Cardinals and Kurt Warner overcome the odds (literally, as Pittsburgh is a 7-point favorite) to win the Super Bowl and Warner is named MVP. This would be Kurt Warnerâ€™s Hall of Fame resume:
- 10-1 record in the postseason (best playoff winning percentage ever)
- 2-time NFL MVP
- 2-time Super Bowl MVP
- Only QB to be named Super Bowl MVP for two different teams
- Second-highest career completion percentage
- Highest career average passing yards per game
- Second-highest career playoff passer rating
- Most career yards in Super Bowl (you have to assume heâ€™ll be throwing for a lot of yards if the Cardinals are to win)
- Intangible: the greatest rags-to-riches story in NFL history
Do the cumulative numbers stack up against the greatest QBs in NFL history? No, and they never will. Kurt Warner is already 37 years old and has maybe a couple more seasons left in him. He can move up the charts for wins, passing yards, TDs, etc., but his career numbers will never stack up against the greats.
What Warner will possess, if the Cardinals win and he plays great, is one of the greatest playoff and Super Bowl resumes of any player in NFL history. With as much emphasis as is placed on getting a Super Bowl ring and coming up big in clutch spots, Warnerâ€™s playoff resume will give him a tremendous boost when his name is called for HOF voting. Additionally, Warner will have done what no one thought possible: deliver a Super Bowl championship to the long-suffering Cardinals franchise.
If the Cardinals lose, even if Warner plays amazing, his candidacy will take a huge hit. Despite the two NFL MVP awards, Warner simply does not have a substantial enough regular season career to merit Hall consideration. He needs the incredible quality of his playoff resume to compensate for the fact that he has really only had 3 spectacular regular seasons. A 1-2 Super Bowl record and only one Super Bowl MVP award is a significant step back from a 2-1 Super Bowl record and two Super Bowl MVP awards. The rarified air that another Super Bowl win would place him in immediately vaults him into serious Hall of Fame consideration.
Kurt Warner would go into the Hall of Fame as one of the best playoff QBs of all-time â€“ a player who was at his best on the grandest stage when his team needed him the most. His Hall of Fame candidacy will be built upon this clutch dominance. To merit legitimate Hall of Fame consideration, Kurt Warner needs to lead the Arizona Cardinals to a Super Bowl title on Sunday.
If he does, at least in my book, Kurt Warner will make himself a Hall of Famer.
What do you think?
And, for the record, Jason Whitlock has a post today covering the same subject. He thinks even the question is “ridiculous”. If Namath is in the HOF, says Whitlock, then Warner has to be. And with a win Sunday, Whitlock places Warner among the top 10 QBs of all-time.