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Warner deserves his place in Cards' history

6/18/2014

As early as Tuesday afternoon the tweets started trickling in.

All we knew was that a news conference was scheduled with Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwill and former quarterback Kurt Warner. Guesses as to the topic were pretty unanimous: Warner was going to be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor. A few even thought Arizona may retire his No. 13. The Ring of Honor guess seemed like a safe bet that turned out to be true.

But there were a few stray tweets that caught my eye. Some people -- fans, I think -- didn't believe Warner deserved the distinction. There were other Cardinals more deserving than him, some said. He didn't accomplish anything but go to a Super Bowl, others added.

That got me thinking. Does Warner truly deserve enshrinement in University of Phoenix Stadium?

He answered my question Wednesday afternoon, sitting next to Bidwill with his red tie with navy stripes tucked into his navy vest. The irony of him wearing the primary colors of the two teams he led to a Super Bowl wasn't lost on me.

"Part of my enjoyment was watching everybody else 'cause I honestly think there were so many people in this organization that didn't know if they'd ever get there," Warner said. "[To] watch players who've been in the league for a number of years, to watch people in the organization that hadn't been close to that before ... that to me was fun."

It was then that I knew why he was worthy of the honor.

To this franchise, he's a hero. No other quarterback in team history has led them to a Super Bowl. No other quarterback got close. He deserved being named to the Ring of Honor based on that alone. The Cardinals were mired in mediocrity for so long that when they finally had a player change the fortunes of the franchise in just a few years it was a reason to celebrate him. He didn't do it alone. Warner will be the first to say that -- and he did Wednesday-- but coupled with Ken Whisenhunt's coaching and Larry Fitzgerald's ability, he helped brew the perfect storm.

Whisenhunt won't end up in the Ring of Honor but Fitzgerald will because he had the type of impact -- maybe even larger in a different way -- than Warner.

I won't say Warner changed the trajectory of this franchise, but his worth was evident after he left. In the three seasons following Warner's last in 2009, Arizona 's records were 5-11, 8-8 and 5-11. The magic was gone because Warner was gone.

I had a hunch his No. 13 wasn't going to be retired Wednesday. That type of honor is usually saved for something greater. Had Warner led the Cards to a Super Bowl win over the Steelers then, yes, I think there's a good chance No. 13 wouldn't be worn again.

But what Warner did for this franchise was still worthwhile, especially if you consider how bad the Cardinals were historically. In the 20 years before he signed with the Cardinals in 2005, Arizona had just one winning season. Make that one in 22 years if you're counting Warner's first two seasons in the desert.

Being inducted in the Cardinals' Ring of Honor isn't a testimony to what Warner did throughout his career, it's just a statement on what he did with the Cardinals. And that statement made on Feb. 1, 2009 in Tampa, Florida, was loud and clear, and can still be heard echoing through the halls in south Tempe.