Last Friday, quarterback Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals called it quits, ending one of the most celebrated journeyman careers in all of sports. From bagging groceries for $5.50/hour all the way to becoming one of the league's elite quarterbacks, Warner's career was one huge roller coaster ride.
I'll never forget when with the St. Louis Rams in 1999, Warner was thrust into the role of starting quarterback after Trent Green suffered a season-ending ACL tear. Nobody would have then predicted the Rams' Super Bowl run, with Warner leading the "Greatest Show on Turf" to their first of three consecutive 500 point seasons, an NFL record.
Warner was named league MVP in his first year starting behind center for the Rams and led them to their first championship, culminating in Warner's touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce that gave the Rams the lead for good with under two minutes left to play.
His performance on that night against Steve McNair and the Tennessee Titans was one of the great performances in NFL and the Super Bowl's history. Warner racked up 414 yards passing and two touchdowns and became the 6th player to win both league and Super Bowl MVP's in the same season.
Warner was a great clutch player evidenced by him owning the top three passing performances in terms of yardage in the history of the Super Bowl. He also has the highest completion percentage in playoff history (66.5%), most touchdowns in a single postseason (11), most yards passing in a single playoff (1,147) and most yards passing in Super Bowl history (1,156).
He also has the second highest passer rating in the playoffs at 102.8 behind Bart Starr and is the only quarterback in NFL history to never be shutout in a game.
As great a player as Warner was on the field, he is as good a person off of it. He started the First Things First Foundation, which has worked on projects for causes such as children's hospitals, people with developmental disabilities and assisting single parents. He has received many awards for his off the field work like the NFL's Walton Payton Man of the Year Award in 2008, the Muhammad Ali Sports Leadership Award in 2009 and topped a poll of NFL players in Sports Illustrated naming the best role model on and off the field in the NFL.
All in all, Warner's left the game with the respect of fellow NFL players and analysts alike. His numbers bear out his excellence and his ability to perform under pressure is second to none in the history of the league. While many of his peers like Favre, Manning and Brady have received most of the media attention, Warner has quietly gone about and carved himself a first ballot, Hall of Fame career that stacks up against the game's all-time greats.