Kurt Warner Does Right by the Cardinals. The St. Louis Cardinals.

By SportsNerd February 4, 2009

I hate the Arizona Cardinals. I love Kurt Warner.

The Arizona Cardinals are my Oklahoma City Thunder. I grew up in St. Louis, and when I was a kid, the NFL's  St. Louis Cardinals—we also had a Major League Baseball team named the St. Louis Cardinals—were uprooted by their owner and dragged to Arizona so he could be closer to his retirement home.   

I love Kurt Warner. When I was a senior in high school, Warner resurrected NFL football in St. Louis by leading our new team, the St. Louis Rams, to the Super bowl. 

This past Sunday, because of Kurt Warner, who is one of the greatest Super bowl quarterbacks in NFL history—fact— I found myself rooting for the evil Arizona Cardinals. 

When the Los Angeles Rams relocated to St. Louis in 1995, they were a terrible team. But I was excited to have an NFL team to root for. 

It wasn't until the 1999 off-season, after having finished the previous year 4-12, that the Rams finally picked up some big name free agents.  The most exciting addition being quarterback Trent Green.   

Then it all came to an end before it even started. Late one Saturday night in the summer of 1999, I walked into my friend Anthony's house.  Rams head coach Dick Vermeil was on the TV, and he was crying.  Trent Green had blown out his knee in a pre-season game that night on an illegal and late hit.  My friends and I declared the season over right then and there. Going into the first game of the season the starting quarterback was a complete unknown who had most recently played in the Arena Football League and in NFL Europe.  His name was Kurt Warner. 

I remember during the 4th game of the season, I was sitting on the loveseat in the living room while my older brother was on the couch.  Kurt Warner was leading the Rams to a 4th straight win and throwing touchdown passes seemingly at will.  Not only were the Rams winning, but they were dominating their opponents. My brother turned to me and said, "This is really happening right?"    

That year the Rams finished the regular season 13-3.  Prior to the 1999 season, Warner had appeared in only a single NFL game and threw just 11 passes.  In the 1999 season, as an NFL starter, he posted one of the best seasons of all time: He finished with a 109.2 passer rating.  He completed 65.1% of his passes for a total of 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns to only 13 interceptions on his way to his first league MVP award.  The touchdown pass total, at the time, was the second highest single season total in NFL history. 

The super bowl that year—my St. Louis Rams vs. the Tennessee Titans— was epic.  The game was tied with just over 2 minutes left in the 4th quarter and the Rams had the ball deep in their own territory. Then the unthinkable happened as Kurt Warner connected with Issac Bruce for a 73-yard touchdown pass to take the lead 23-16    

The Titans came up short on their last drive (with a dramatic stop by the Rams) and St. Louis won the super bowl. Warner's dream season was topped of with the Super Bowl XXXIV MVP award on a Super Bowl record 414 yards, including two touchdowns. Can you blame me for falling for the guy?   

Two years later, when I was in college, and 1,000 miles away from St. Louis, the Rams returned to the Super Bowl to face the New England Patriots.  During the regular season Kurt Warner was once again named the league, MVP as he passed for 4,830 yards and 36 touchdowns.    

Heading into the 4th quarter of the title game, the Patriots were up 17-3.  With 6 minutes and 47 seconds remaining, Warner ran for a touchdown to cut the Rams' deficit in half.  The Rams defense forced a 3 and out, and Kurt Warner took over completing 3 straight passes including a 26-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl which tied the game with 1 minute and 30 seconds remaining.  

Unfortunately Kurt Warner doesn't play defense, so he was only able to watch as the Patriots' next drive ended with a 53-yard game winning field goal as time expired. I felt like I was punched in the gut.  During that game, Kurt Warner passed for 365 yards and one touchdown.  The 365 yards was the second highest total in a Super Bowl game, second only to Warner's own performance from two years earlier.   

Kurt Warner left St. Louis in 2004.  He went on to be the starting quarterback in New Jersey until Eli Manning took the job away halfway through Warner's first season. 

Warner ended up in Arizona to serve as the mentor and placeholder for the eventual Cardinals "quarterback of the future" Matt Leinart.  It seemed that Kurt Warner's days as a legitimate NFL starting quarterback were over, but Leinart stumbled and Warner took over, making the Pro Bowl this year as well as making a return trip to the super bowl as a starter.

This is why, despite the scars, I was rooting for the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

The referees were Pittsburgh Steelers fans. As the first half was coming to an end Warner marched the Cardinal’s down to the two-yard line.  But he was intercepted at the goal line, and in a remarkable play— Steelers linebacker James Harrison ran it back 100 yards for a touchdown. But maybe it was too remarkable. There was a flag on the play, and the replay showed an illegal block from behind by the Steelers on Harrison’s run back. The referee stepped forward to announce the penalty, but called unsportsmanlike conduct against the Cardinals.  The first half was over with Kurt Warner’s team down 17-7. 

Then in the 4th quarter Warner went off.  He threw for a 4th quarter record 220 yards.  And with less than 3 minutes remaining in the game, he found Larry Fitzgerald for a 67-yard touchdown pass to give the Cardinals a 4-point lead.  Unfortunately, Warner still can't lead the defense, and the Steelers scored a touchdown and won.

My all-time favorite quarterback finished the day with 3 touchdown passes, and 377 passing yards.  The passing yard total is second to only his victorious Super Bowl performance 9 years earlier.  It was a stunning performance for any quarterback, let alone for one who was signed by his current team to be a backup, sorta like he was for Trent Green and the St. Louis Rams in 1995.  

He didn't get the big win, but I love what really happened on Sunday. Warner played an amazing game and now has the best playoffs-per-game passing yard average of any quarterback in NFL history. He did right by St. Louis fans, who still feel like he’s ours, but despite his magic numbers, Phoenix didn’t win. It’s a juxtaposition that this kid from St. Louis loves. And makes me love Warner even more.

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