NFL Nation: Kurt Warner

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Not many people know what might have been going through Aaron Rodgers' mind Saturday night, when the Green Bay Packers quarterback accepted his second NFL Most Valuable Player award at the annual NFL Honors on the eve of the Super Bowl in Phoenix.

But Brett Favre probably had the best idea.

Favre and Rodgers are among a short list of NFL players who won multiple MVP awards. Favre, who preceded Rogers as the Packers' quarterback for 16 years, won three of them. He was the league MVP for the 1995, 1996 and 1997 seasons (though he shared the third with Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders).

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesOn Saturday night, Aaron Rodgers became the ninth NFL player to win multiple league MVP awards.
Three years after he won it for the first time, Rodgers collected his second MVP on Saturday.

"I think every guy who's had a chance to win even one, for that matter, you can never take that for granted," Favre said in telephone interview this weekend. "I think Aaron is well-deserving. I see no reason why he shouldn't win more. But I think the second and the third one were equally as gratifying."

Regardless of what Rodgers does the rest of his career, his place in history was secured when he became just the ninth player to win multiple MVPs.

Rodgers joined five-time winner Peyton Manning, three-time winners Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas and Favre, and two-time winners Joe Montana, Steve Young, Kurt Warner and Tom Brady as the only players to win multiple MVP awards.

"It's a great list. To be mentioned with those guys is an honor," Rodgers said after accepting the award, which was presented by Manning. "Like I said up there, Peyton, he set the gold standard -- him and Tom Brady, as far as quarterback play in my generation. And Peyton's won it five times -- that's incredible. But twice is nice. It just means that there's been some consistent play, and that's what I've prided myself on, and a consistent approach every week and good preparation and making the plays that my teammates expect me to make."

The Packers are only the second team with two players who won multiple MVPs. The San Francisco 49ers -- with Montana and Young -- are the other.

There's reason to think Favre is right: Rodgers could win more.

At 31, he has said several times he believes he can play between seven and nine more seasons. He has five more seasons on his current contract. He's the age Unitas was when he won his second of three MVPs. Only four of the multiple winners won their second MVP at a younger age than Rodgers. Those were Brown (22), Favre (27), Manning (28) and Warner (30).

Manning won his third, fourth and fifth MVPs at ages 32, 33 and 37.

Rodgers said that if he wins the award next year, he hopes he's not at the ceremony to accept it, but rather, in the team hotel preparing for the Super Bowl.

"Maybe I'm sending in a video message," Rodgers said.
The Greatest Show on Turf will have to wait another year to get its second member (and possibly more) into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The five modern-era finalists were announced Saturday night with former St. Louis Rams tackle Orlando Pace and quarterback Kurt Warner on the outside looking in.

Pace
Pace
Warner
The five modern-era players headed to Canton this year are running back Jerome Bettis, linebacker Junior Seau, defensive end Charles Haley, guard Will Shields and receiver Tim Brown. Contributors Bill Polian and Ron Wolf and senior nominee Mick Tingelhoff will join those five.

Warner and Pace were among 15 finalists for the award and both players made the cut to 10 before falling short of making the final five. In what was described by some voters as an incredibly close proceeding, Pace and Warner will now have to wait at least another year.

Pace's omission was probably the biggest surprise of those not making it but with Shields going in, it's reasonable to assume that voters viewed it as Shields' time to get in and they didn't want to double down on offensive linemen. Pace figures to be one of the strongest candidates next year, though guard Alan Faneca will be on the ballot for the first time then.

Warner's absence is less surprising though his path figures to get more muddled next year when former Green Bay Packers legend Brett Favre is added to the ballot. That's not to say two quarterbacks can't make it in one year but it might make things more difficult. Former Rams pass-rusher Kevin Greene was shut out again after being named a finalist for the fourth consecutive year.

For Rams fans hoping for some good news from this Hall of Fame class, the road to Canton might have removed a couple of road blocks for a few of those still trying to get in. With Shields going in, Pace moves to the head of the class among offensive linemen and Haley's entrance should help Greene's cause.

Receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt didn't make the list of finalists this year but the voters continue to put a receiver in every year which could help with the anticipated backlog. Brown going in still leaves Marvin Harrison waiting his turn but Terrell Owens will join Holt and Bruce next year, so it seems likely that duo will have to keep waiting.

Running back Marshall Faulk was the first Ram of the St. Louis edition of the franchise to make it, getting his call in 2011.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2015 class will be announced Jan. 31. The St. Louis Rams' Kurt Warner is one of 15 modern-era finalists.

Warner's Hall of Fame case doesn't come with the longevity of others, but what he did in a short window combined with the romanticism of his professional football journey will almost certainly make him an appealing candidate.

First and foremost, Warner is one of only three quarterbacks in league history to start a Super Bowl for two teams. In Warner's case, that's the Rams and the Arizona Cardinals, two moribund franchises when he took over and world champion contenders by the time he left. What Warner did in those Super Bowls also makes him a viable Hall of Fame contender.

Warner holds the three most productive passing days in Super Bowl history, in terms of yards, with 414 against Tennessee, 377 against Pittsburgh (as a Cardinal) and 365 against New England. In 13 postseason games, Warner posted 31 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for a passer rating of 102.8, and his completion percentage (66.5) and yards per attempt (8.55) stand as the highest in postseason history, among qualified passers.

In six years in St. Louis, Warner threw 14,447 yards and 102 touchdowns for a passer rating of 97.2. Along the way, he won two MVPs, which makes him one of eight players in league history to win the award multiple times. Had Warner’s career ended there, his best chance to make the Hall of Fame would have rested more on the mythology of his story than the cold, hard numbers.

But in five years in Arizona, Warner’s statistics matched up pretty well to his five seasons as a starter in St. Louis. He threw for 15,843 yards and 100 touchdowns for a passer rating of 91.9 while starting 57 games -- seven more than he did with the Rams.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Former St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner made the rounds at radio row at the Super Bowl earlier this week and discussed several topics.

Warner, of course, is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and will find out Saturday night whether he's going to be enshrined this year. Here in St. Louis, there's more concern over the future of the team Warner once led to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV.

[+] EnlargeOrlando Pace, Kurt Warner
John G. Mabanglo/AFP/Getty ImagesKurt Warner considers himself a St. Louis Ram, so he would like to see the franchise stay in St. Louis.
The Rams are now officially year-to-year on their lease at the Edward Jones Dome and the train is moving fast down the tracks on owner Stan Kroenke's stadium plan in Los Angeles. St. Louis is attempting to make an effort to keep the Rams with a stadium plan of its own, but there are significant hurdles -- especially getting Kroenke to agree to pay for a big chunk of it -- that exist.

Asked about the future of the team in the city in which he first made his name, Warner made it clear that he would like to see the Rams remain in St. Louis.

"I'm a St. Louis guy, so I want the Rams to stay there in St. Louis," Warner told reporters. "That's where my heart is and I'll always think of the Rams as a part of St. Louis. But I hear the rumors and I understand the logic of the natural fit with the Rams back in L.A. But I'm a St. Louis guy, so my hope is that they stay there."

It shouldn't be surprising that Warner would want the team to stay where it was when he played for the organization. Others, such as Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, have expressed similar sentiments. But it's also worth recognizing that there are plenty of former Los Angeles Rams, including Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson, who have made it clear they'd like to see the Rams return to the place of their own glory.

Much like the fans on both sides of this scenario, the former players have their stances on where they'd like to see the team play in the future. It's a completely understandable viewpoint from all angles.

But the reality remains that it's Kroenke who will ultimately make the call.
Much ado was made of Colin Kaepernick working with two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner this offseason in Arizona. Especially with the San Francisco 49ers quarterback having such a different skillset than that of Warner.

Kaepernick is the hybrid, the cannon-armed quarterback with the nimble feet of a deer, while Warner, a Hall of Fame finalist in his first year eligible, was more of a lead-footed technician in the pocket.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuColin Kaepernick regressed in many passing categories last season as the 49ers tried to make him more of a pocket passer.
And when the Niners attempted to make Kaepernick more of a pure pocket passer after he signed a seven-year, $126 million contract last summer that was fully guaranteed in the event of injury, the results made you look the other way.

Sure, his completion percentage was better than the previous season (60.5 versus 58.4) and his 3,369 passing yards were a career high, and he did rush for 115 more yards than in 2013. But he never looked comfortable as his touchdown passes were down (from 21 to 19) while his interceptions were up (from 8 to 10).

Oh, and his Total QBR plummeted from 68.6 (sixth in the NFL in 2013) to 55.9 (17th).

"There's always things you can tighten up," Kaepernick said late in the season.

"It's hard to break habits in season. You don't want to completely try to change something because it can throw off everything else you're doing."

So with his old position coach, Geep Chryst, now in line to become the Niners' offensive coordinator and his new position coach, Steve Logan, having last worked in the NFL in 2011 as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' running backs coach, what, exactly, is Kaepernick working on with Warner?

"We're early in the process," Warner told the Bay Area News Group this week in Arizona. "We've only worked together a few days so far. But it's a full process. To play quarterback, there's a lot of different things.

"Start with the physical part of it," Warner added. "We're trying to teach him ... what 'normal' looks like for a quarterback. Not an athletic quarterback. Not a guy that you've thrown in there and allowed to live on his athletic ability. It's about getting balanced and being in a situation where your technique is so good, that it drives how you throw the football. So we're starting there."

Sounds like Warner believes Kaepernick is still a major work in progress.

"Then the second part is going to be seeing how far we can push him from a mental standpoint, to understand the whole game," Warner said. "And I've been very impressed so far with what he knows mentally. We've been on the [chalk] board and we've talked about it. Been very pleased with where he is at. But you know, the whole thing is, you have to be able to decipher what 22 guys are doing, or at least 11 guys on the other side, in three seconds, know where to go with the football, know how to get there and technique-wise, be able to get it there. So we're going to push the envelope in all those areas and see how far we can get him."

With Kaepernick, though, as with every other quarterback, it begins with technique.

"Because if you don't have technique, you'll never have consistency," Warner said. "And then from there, we'll go to the mental side of it and see how far we can push the envelope and how good he can be."

The Bay Area News Group also asked Warner how long he figured to work with Kaepernick.

"From my understanding, he's going to be here until April," Warner said. "I'm not working with him exclusively, so I'm not sure how many sessions there will be but I want to work with him as much as I possibly can. My hope is to get two or three days a week whenever he's here and hopefully that's through April."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The dream of sending four St. Louis Rams to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the same year on the first ballot died when the 15 modern-era finalists were revealed earlier this month. But for tackle Orlando Pace and quarterback Kurt Warner, the chances of getting a dynamic duo in still exists.

Pace and Warner are among the 15 modern-era finalists on the ballot when the Hall of Fame voting panel meets on Saturday to select the five modern candidates to join the 2015 Hall of Fame class. Nothing is guaranteed for either, and both would prefer to have receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt in the mix with them, but both figure to have a solid chance to land in Canton on the first try.

"I think all of those guys that are on the ballot are deserving of being in the Hall of Fame," Warner said. "Even if we don’t make it, if one or two of the other guys make it, being able to celebrate all of that with them. They are all so deserving of it. We’re going to enjoy the process, and we’ll see how it plays out."

[+] EnlargeOrlando Pace, Kurt Warner
John G. Mabanglo/AFP/Getty ImagesThe Rams hope to get quarterback Kurt Warner and offensive tackle Orlando Pace in the Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Without question, Warner enters the proceedings with the best "story" of all the candidates, even if he doesn't have the large sample size of production of the Hall of Famers who preceded him. Warner's rise from stocking shelves at a grocery store to Arena League star to two-time Most Valuable Player and Super Bowl XXXIV champion and MVP is one that will stand the test of time and is an important piece of the NFL's historical narrative.

Warner cranked out the three most prolific Super Bowl passing performances of all time on his way to becoming one of just three quarterbacks to lead multiple franchises to the Super Bowl.

As the conductor of the "Greatest Show on Turf," Warner helped redefine the idea of what a passing attack can be in the NFL.

"I had come from Arena Football, so that’s what you did there," Warner said. "You scored 50 to 60 points a game. You threw the ball every snap, and I wanted the ball in my hands. It had kind of become the norm for me just throwing the football, and it’s kind of what I had always done. So even though we were in the NFL doing it, I don’t think it ever really resonated what we were doing and doing something different, because it was so familiar to me.

"I hadn’t played in the NFL. I think where I came to really, truly understand how special it was was when I left St. Louis and went to New York and I saw what many teams [were doing] and the conventional '3 yards and a cloud of dust' and throw on third down -- what that football was all about -- and came to realize how different we really were."

How different the Rams really were probably wouldn't have been possible without the presence of Pace. As Warner's blindside protector, Pace was the man tasked with holding up in pass protection long enough for coordinator turned coach Mike Martz's elaborate route combinations to develop downfield while keeping Warner upright.

While Warner, Bruce, Holt and running back Marshall Faulk tallied the numbers, they all knew it was Pace who made it all possible.

"A lot of us on the perimeter -- quarterbacks, running backs -- sometimes we could be replaced for a game or two," Bruce said. "But there was a guy like Orlando Pace, there’s no replacing him. How do you do what you do without him there? He was the one guy we didn’t want to lose to a knee injury or for two or three games. Oh, no, that changes everything. So to me, he’s the guy. He’s the guy that you didn’t want to have to replace. Thank god we didn’t have to."

Pace was the bedrock of the offensive line for 12 seasons, earning seven Pro Bowl trips, five All-Pro honors and landing a spot on the second team of the NFL's 2000s All-Decade team.

With Pace on the blindside, the Rams finished in the top 10 of total offense seven times and led the league in total yards, passing yards and points three straight seasons (1999-2001). Additionally, Pace was the left tackle for an offense that finished in the top five of passing yards for eight consecutive seasons.

Now Pace stands a good chance of joining fellow dominant tackles Walter Jones, Jonathan Ogden and Willie Roaf in Canton.

"For me, I think Kurt Warner said it best: it’s really icing on the cake," Pace said. "For me to play 13 years in this league and be successful in this league and fulfill my dreams, that’s great enough for me. To play in the NFL is a privilege, and to play well and at a high level and be mentioned or nominated for the Hall of Fame is really just icing on the cake. It will put that cherry right on top of the ice cream on that. To be at the pinnacle and known as one of the elite and have an opportunity to be in that group would be truly an honor."
The Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2015 class will be announced on Jan. 31. The St. Louis Rams' Kurt Warner is one of 18 finalists.

[+] EnlargeKurt Warner
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceKurt Warner led the Rams to the Super Bowl XXXIV title.
Aside from some of the greatest baseball Cardinals, there might not be a more beloved athlete in St. Louis history than Warner. With a story ripped straight from a fairytale, Warner was not only the conductor of the "Greatest Show on Turf" but also the face of it.

His candidacy for the Hall of Fame is an interesting one because he falls in line with others who didn't have the long, sustained history of greatness that many already in Canton have but his star burned so bright when he was playing that it is impossible to ignore him.

By the time Warner’s six years in St. Louis were through, he’d thrown for 14,447 yards and 102 touchdowns for a passer rating of 97.2. Along the way, Warner won two MVPs and led the Rams to a win in Super Bowl XXXIV and a trip to Super Bowl XXXVI. Had Warner’s career ended there, his best chance to make the Hall of Fame would have rested more on the mythology of his story than the cold, hard numbers.

But in five years in Arizona, Warner’s statistics match up pretty evenly to his five seasons as a starter in St. Louis. He threw for 15,843 yards and 100 touchdowns for a passer rating of 91.9 while starting 57 games, seven more than he did with the Rams.

On the surface, many of Warner’s numbers may still fall short of some of the game’s greats. But the guess here is that Warner’s immense production in a relatively short period combined with the romanticism of his story will be enough to get him in on the first try.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- There's still a long way to go but for the four members of the Greatest Show on Turf Rams, the hope of going into the Hall of Fame together on the first ballot remains alive.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced 26 semifinalists for the 2015 induction class on Tuesday night (26 instead of 25 because of a tie) and the four most prominent remaining members of the 1999, early 2000s St. Louis Rams offense all made that cut. That includes quarterback Kurt Warner, left tackle Orlando Pace and wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.

[+] EnlargeTorry Holt and Isaac Bruce
Elsa/Getty ImagesTorry Holt and Isaac Bruce combined for 28,590 yards and 165 receiving TDs in their careers.
Another pair of former Rams, pass-rusher Kevin Greene and running back Jerome Bettis, also made the cut. Greene did plenty of damage as a Ram but Bettis is still more known for his work as a Pittsburgh Steeler. Greene and Bettis both made the cut to 15 a year ago but missed out on induction.

Regardless, the names that most Rams fans will be rooting for this election cycle are Warner, Pace, Bruce and Holt. All four are on the ballot for the first time and all have mentioned how much they'd love to go in as a quartet. The always-optimistic Bruce even believes there's a chance it could happen.

"That would mean we’d have to spend less money on the caravan bus," Bruce said. "We could just pack them all up and just go up together. Honestly, I don’t think I would be shocked. I played with that core of guys for five-plus, six years. That’s rare. That normally doesn’t happen because guys leave for free agency or other issues but I wouldn’t be surprised. I saw these guys' body of work. I saw these guys put in work. I saw these guys excel at their jobs and perfect their crafts every day, on a daily basis.

"The things they did and things they accomplished, I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys go in as first ballot Hall of Famers because that’s the path they were on. Just to see it happen, which I believe I will see it happen, it would be great. It would be an awesome time not only for myself but for my teammates, the city of St. Louis. It would be big, it would be huge in more ways than one."

It's generally believed that Warner and Pace have the best chance among the four new Rams on the ballot. That's nothing against the accomplishments of Bruce and Holt but more of a nod to the competition they face at the wide receiver position where the likes of Tim Brown and Marvin Harrison are also on the slate. But this might be a good year to get at least one of them in before even more receivers such as Randy Moss and Terrell Owens enter the fray.

Earlier this year, I offered a closer look at the candidacy of each of the four new Rams on the ballot. Here's the case for Bruce, Holt, Pace and Warner.

Greatest Show on Turf's legacy lives on

October, 13, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Whether it's Kurt Warner at his home in Arizona or in studio with Marshall Faulk at NFL Network, Isaac Bruce in Florida, Torry Holt in North Carolina, Orlando Pace in St. Louis, Mike Martz in California or really any other St. Louis Ram from the 1999 Super Bowl XXXIV champions, the average Sunday afternoon rarely offers much in the way of surprises.

In the 15 years since the birth of the Greatest Show on Turf, many elements of the dynamic offense that was so unique have become commonplace in stadiums all over the NFL. The Rams will celebrate that legacy on "Monday Night Football" against San Francisco when they remember the 15th anniversary of the championship season in a halftime ceremony. Most of that team is expected to attend, and the Rams will wear their 1999 throwback uniforms in homage.

Throwback uniforms aren't needed to see the lasting impact of that Rams offense. Turn on just about any game and you will see supposedly high-tech passing games with route combinations, protection schemes and athletes the likes of which have never been seen before.

[+] EnlargeKurt Warner
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceKurt Warner on playing QB for the Rams' passing offense and how new NFL rules have made it easier to pass: "I look at it like we were the first ones to do it. We did it just like that in an era where it wasn't popular or wasn't the norm."
But that is not really the case.

"All around the league you can see the innovation, the things that sprang from what we did as a group," Bruce said. "I see combinations we ran, I think just about every position coach, wide receiver coach, some offensive coordinators, guys that have been position coaches that are now coordinators or head coaches now that I’ve run into, they’ll tell me that they show their players our film, the way I ran routes, the way I came off the football, the way I blocked down the field, certain things like that. That was everything we learned in our meeting room. We really hammered that in every week as a unit to block for each other, be the fastest group, the most explosive group. I think we had the best group with the most creativity. So you see a lot of it just floating around the league. Not only in the NFL, but college as well."

The Rams were doing it in 1999, long before the league made rule changes that encouraged more passing and more scoring. Today, the NFL is viewed as a passing league, the next cycle in the evolution of the game. But , it's a cycle that started in part because of the 1999 Rams and in the years since, the "Greatest Show on Turf" has taken on a life beyond one championship season.

It was after the Rams' Super Bowl loss to New England in 2001 that the league began adjusting the rules to allow receivers more time and space to run free and put an emphasis on getting defenders to keep their hands off receivers. Like the rule outlawing the head slap trademarked by Deacon Jones, those rule changes are perhaps the most tangible way in which the Rams' offense changed the game.

"The thing you look at now is because of all the rule changes, it’s made it easier," Warner said. "What we did at a time where you could still grab and hold guys and you could still hit guys over the middle and all of those different things, now when you look at it, I think there’s a degree of success allowed in the NFL that has become a lot easier. I’m not really surprised by what guys are doing. I look at it like we were the first ones to do it. We did it just like that in an era where it wasn’t popular or wasn’t the norm."

Indeed, there was nothing conventional about how the Rams' offense went about its business. Rooted in the principles first wrought by Sid Gillman and Francis Schmidt, the Rams' vertical passing offense that sprang from the mind of Martz was a direct descendant of Don Coryell. Coryell's coaching tree would eventually include names like Joe Gibbs, Norv Turner, Ernie Zampese, Jim Hanifan and, of course, Martz.

At its core, the "Air Coryell" offense operates under simple ideals intended to create open spaces and favorable matchups. The offense supplied an endless array of motions, formations and personnel groupings that would allow the Rams to spread out defenses and mix deep and intermediate passes with power running. But the passes always came first.

"I think you get exposed when you start moving guys around in matchups and you can take control of the tempo of the game," Martz said. "When you do that, you force defenses into doing something they don’t want to be. Once you find out the rules a defense has and the more complicated a defense, the more you can take advantage."

Having superior talents like Holt, Bruce, Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl on the outside combined with Faulk's unique route-running ability at the running back spot nearly guaranteed Martz could get a matchup he liked on every play. Having a talented offensive line capable of allowing time to push the ball down the field and a fearless quarterback in Warner unafraid to stand in the pocket and deliver accurate passes made for the perfect mix of personnel and scheme.

"In terms of the depth of which we ran routes, the speed with which we ran routes, the creativity in how we ran routes, the kind of formations we posed to teams week in and week out, I feel strongly that we were a springboard to a lot of teams now and how coordinators now run the offense," Holt said. "A lot of teams don’t run full pumps and squirrel routes and running an out route then running up and running a comeback route. A lot of teams weren’t doing that, but myself and Isaac and Az and Ricky, our ability to run any route on the route tree gave coach Martz the flexibility to call anything."

And call anything Martz did. After working as quarterbacks coach in Washington in 1998 when the Redskins started 0-7, Martz realized his offense wasn't taking advantage of the best plays it had in its arsenal in a given game plan. Plays that were working well on third and long would go unused because there simply weren't enough opportunities to use them in a game.

"We’ve got these great third downs we don’t use, we started using them on first down, too," Martz said. "If we like them that much, why don’t we throw a 20-yard pass on first down, too? When we got going, the more success we had, the more fun we had, it was like throwing logs on the fire then."

The fire turned into a towering inferno as the Rams actually put up numbers more commonly seen in video games set to 'rookie' level.

That team finished first in the NFL in total yards per game (400.8), passing yards per game (272.1), scoring (32.9 points per game), and its 526 points was then the third-highest output in league history. Warner earned Most Valuable Player with Faulk finishing second in the voting and taking home the Offensive Player of the Year award.

To most members of the 'Greatest Show,' the circus ended too early, and that one championship wasn't enough to really cement the legacy that could have been built. But nobody can ever take away the title the 1999 Rams won, and if they need a reminder of their place in history, they need only to turn on the television on Sunday afternoons.

"I see a lot of plays, routes, schemes and protections offensively being run now that we ran then," Holt said. "That in itself shows you how people respected and admired what we were doing on the football field. I think our legacy is that. I think we were a springboard to this new era of offense that is now being played. The Greatest Show on Turf was the kickstarter for that."
Kurt WarnerChris Morrison/USA TODAY SportsDuring his time with the Arizona Cardinals, quarterback Kurt Warner not only revived his career but changed expectations inside the organization.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Kurt Warner had heard the stories about playing for the Arizona Cardinals.

How tough it was to win in the desert, where careers, like snowbirds, went for retirement. He also heard about team owner Bill Bidwill’s frugality. Tough, actually, might have been an understatement even for one of the most famous overachievers in NFL history. Wins in Arizona were almost as rare as rain. Before Warner arrived in Arizona in 2005, the Cardinals’ last winning season was 1998. The one before that was 1984.

Warner was three years removed from his last Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams and had won five games in that span, with the New York Giants, before he signed with Arizona. At 34, the optimist in him wasn’t ready to retire. Two NFL MVP awards, two Super Bowls that produced one title and success in the Arena Football League and college affirmed his belief he could change the fortunes of another franchise.

“You have success very quickly and very early and you kinda assume, ‘We can do that wherever we go,’” said Warner, who after leading the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl in 2009, will be inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime of Monday night’s game against San Diego. “So, I kinda had that mentality that I thought when I got there, ‘You know, maybe this is a match made in heaven. Everyone thinks I’m out and nobody expects anything from the Cardinals, so together we could do something special.’”

Warner I kinda had that mentality that I thought when I got there, 'You know, maybe this is a match made in heaven. Everyone thinks I'm out and nobody expects anything from the Cardinals, so together we could do something special.

-- Kurt Warner, former Cardinals quarterback
It sounded good but Warner realized early in 2005 it wasn’t going to be that easy. Warner joined a locker room that didn’t have an identity, said wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who was in his second year when Warner came on board.

Warner learned quickly the Cardinals didn’t believe they could win. It went deeper, however. The organization and the community didn’t believe it either. Arizona’s current general manager, Steve Keim, who was part of the Cardinals’ scouting department when Warner was signed, said Warner’s early teams hoped to win, instead of expecting to win.

Mediocrity was the norm. Nobody, Warner said, expected to be the one to make a game-winning play.

“I just don’t think they understood what greatness looked like,” he said. “Those first couple years were struggles because you just felt it. You’d feel the air go out of a team when certain things would happen.”

With Warner, the Cardinals finally had a stabilizing presence, Fitzgerald said. He was someone who demanded excellence, Keim added. His burning desire to win was infectious, said center Lyle Sendlein, who joined the team in 2007. But to pull Arizona out of the mire of mediocrity, Warner needed to play. It was a battle he’d fight through the beginning of 2008, when he led Arizona to Super Bowl XLIII.

He made the Cardinals the best passing offense in the NFL in 2005 despite winning just five games. Warner said there was progress, but Arizona needed to win for the locker room to buy into what he was selling.

In 2006, the franchise drafted Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinart out of USC. Warner sensed he was being looked at as another washed-up, past-his-prime quarterback. When he was benched by former Cardinals coach Dennis Green four games into 2006 after going 1-3, Warner contemplated retirement.

“It wore me out,” he said. “It was frustrating. There were moments when I got benched for Matt that I was like, ‘Is this even worth it? Maybe I should retire now. I am so frustrated.’ You come into the situation feeling like you’re invincible, that you can turn any organization around.

“I wanted it to be more of an overnight fix than something that would’ve taken three years.”

When Ken Whisenhunt took over in 2007, he inherited a frustrated Warner. But a new coach with a new plan was what Warner needed.

“I think they already moved on [from Warner],” said Whisenhunt, now the head coach of the Tennessee Titans. “Matt was our guy and Kurt was just there. That was the feeling I had.”

Besides bringing in his own coaching staff, Whisenhunt brought a proven blueprint for winning from the Pittsburgh Steelers. After all, he had helped Pittsburgh win a Super Bowl as its offensive coordinator in 2006.

Whisenhunt implemented a dress code on road trips, outlawed food during meetings and started holding players accountable for being on time. That was enough for Warner to want to hitch his wagon to Whisenhunt.

[+] EnlargeKurt Warner
Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesKurt Warner led the Cardinals to the franchise's only Super Bowl appearance.
“We had a chance to kinda start anew,” Warner said. “I felt like if I can get in at that point with the pieces we had, that there was going to be a chance to salvage this thing.”

Whisenhunt could see Warner wasn’t done, but in order to earn snaps, Warner had to do two things: Put two hands on the ball because he had been fumbling and move in the pocket to cut down on sacks.

Warner and Leinart platooned in 2007, with Warner taking the no-huddle offense. It allowed him to flourish and earn respect without being responsible for wins and losses. The turning point of Warner’s career in Arizona came during Week 3, three games before he became the full-time starter. Down 23-6 at Baltimore heading into the fourth quarter, Warner led Arizona on 17-0 run to tie the game before the Ravens won in the final seconds. The outcome didn’t matter as much as Warner’s performance.

“That was the first game where I think everybody’s eyes kinda perked up,” Warner said. “We’ve never done that since I’ve been here.

“That was the first time that people in that organization had ever been around that. I think that’s what really sparked what was able to happen the next three years.”

Warner became the starter in Week 6, after Leinart got hurt, and led Arizona to an 8-8 record.

“I firmly believe if we would’ve rolled with him in 2007, Whiz’s first year, we would’ve definitely made the playoffs that year,” Fitzgerald said.

Warner, who called the last half of 2007 some of the best football he HAs ever played, sensed there was a newfound belief because of consistency. He walked into Whisenhunt’s office after the season and said he wanted the job. Whisenhunt hesitated to hand it over and another preseason quarterback battle awaited Warner. This time he won the job.

Warner said the Cardinals didn’t enter the 2008 season thinking they would win the Super Bowl but they knew they could play with any team in the league.

“All the expectations were there,” Warner said. “That was a step up from what we believed before that.”

Arizona won the NFC West for the first time and got into the playoffs because of a 7-3 start, but Warner wasn’t convinced his teammates knew how to win. He thought they could be headed to a one-and-done showing in the playoffs.

“We’re going to lose the first game because nobody has any bigger expectations for our team,” he said.

Fitzgerald, who estimated 10 Cardinals had playoff experience, said Warner took it upon himself to get the Cardinals ready for the playoffs. He told them how to prepare, how different the atmosphere would be and how manage the roller coaster of emotions.

Arizona went on one of the most surprising playoff runs in NFL history, punctuated by a 20-point win at second-seeded Carolina in the divisional round, after which Warner gave his famous “Let’s shock the world” speech.

At the Super Bowl three weeks later, Warner sat back and watched his teammates. To him, it was old hat. But to them, and to the organization, the Super Bowl had been a mythical place.

“I think getting there, it sunk in as they were enjoying the Super Bowl and taking it all in,” he said. “This is what it’s all about. This is what greatness looks like.”

Arizona came back the next year poised to make another Super Bowl run and had the team to do it, going 10-6 and winning the division for a second straight year. Defensive end Calais Campbell, who was a rookie on the Super Bowl team, said the 2009 team believed it could win every game. But a loss to New Orleans in the divisional round ended Arizona’s run and Warner’s career. He retired less than two weeks later.

His work was done. Warner had transformed the Cardinals from an organization that accepted mediocrity to one that expected winning. It took five seasons and two head coaches to do it, but Warner left a legacy of high expectations and a belief in winning.

Arizona returned to mediocrity for the three years following Warner’s retirement, going 5-11, 8-8 and 5-11 before Whisenhunt was fired. But Warner passed his winning mindset to Fitzgerald, Sendlein, Campbell and Dockett, who are passing it along to the current crop of Cardinals, hopefully leading to “sustainable success” as Keim put it.

“Once I left, there was great frustration in being mediocre and that wasn’t there before, at least from an entire organization, an entire team standpoint,” Warner said. “It was just accepted. It wasn’t accepted after the run that we made and I think that was the coolest part.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- This year's Hall of Fame festivities wrapped up over the weekend with the annual preseason opener between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills.

For St. Louis Rams fans, the most memorable part of the weekend was the stirring Saturday night speech from former Ram Aeneas Williams. Williams has a close bond to St. Louis, where he still keeps a home and is pastor at a local church. Still, Williams is generally best remembered for his time with the Arizona Cardinals.

[+] EnlargeKurt Warner
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceKurt Warner and three of his 'Greatest Show on Turf' teammates will appear on the Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year.
But if things break the right way, the next few years could provide plenty of opportunities for Rams fans to celebrate and reminisce about the glory days. That's because four of the primary stars of the "Greatest Show on Turf" will first appear on the ballot beginning this year. Quarterback Kurt Warner, receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce and left tackle Orlando Pace are first-time nominees this year.

I spoke to a handful of voters on each player's chances. While it's a small sample size, here's the impressions I came away with and a link to the case for each player:

Warner -- The one thing that apparently could hold Warner back is there still seems to be some trepidation about his body of work, or lack thereof. But it sounds like Warner is going to get in, probably sooner than later and might even end up as a first-ballot entry. One thing that works heavily in his favor, aside from the prolific numbers he put up in a short time, is the fact he took two previously moribund franchises to the Super Bowl and won one in St. Louis. Of the four players here, he and Pace sound like the two most likely to go in first.

Hall of Fame look ahead: Warner

Pace -- Pace was one of the first big names of the golden era of offensive tackles in the NFL. Although I get the sense that voters don't see him as being quite as dominant as the likes of Jonathan Ogden or Walter Jones, there's still seemingly little doubt that he's going to go into the Hall of Fame. Some late-career injuries kept Pace from tacking on additional Pro Bowl appearances, but he's still remembered for his part in changing the idea of what a left tackle could be. It sounds like it might be a bit of a stretch for him to get in on the first try, but it seems like it will happen within his first two or three years on the ballot.

Hall of Fame look ahead: Pace

Bruce -- Like so many other receivers, there's clearly a question about when and how Bruce can break through with a projected logjam of candidates at the position. While that has cleared up a but in recent years with the additions of Andre Reed and Cris Carter, the list of viable wideout candidates is only going to grow. Names like Marvin Harrison and Tim Brown are still waiting and other statistical monsters like Randy Moss and Terrell Owens will be added soon. Bruce is likely going to have to wait a bit before he makes it, though the general thought seems to be that he will eventually get in.

Hall of Fame look ahead: Bruce

Holt -- Much of the opinion on Holt is similar to that of Bruce, especially when it comes to the logjam of wideouts who are angling for induction. However, Holt's consistency and dominance over a decade seem to resonate a bit more than some of the others. Even if his resume isn't as long as Bruce's or someone like Jerry Rice, a legitimate argument could be made that Holt was the best receiver in the league over the first decade of the 2000s. It sounds unlikely that Holt will go in right away and, like Bruce, will have to wait a bit but should get in at some point.

Hall of Fame look ahead: Holt
Kevin DysonAP Photo/Michael Conroy
We have a winner. The voters picked Mike Jones' game-saving tackle as time expired in Super Bowl XXXIV as the Rams' most memorable play.

While I can certainly understand why The Tackle emerged victorious, I would cast my vote in a different direction. To me, the most memorable play in franchise history came moments before Jones brought Tennessee receiver Kevin Dyson down at the 1-yard line. Wide receiver Isaac Bruce's 73-yard touchdown catch to give the Rams the lead in that game is my choice for the top play in Rams history, narrowly edging Jones' tackle and Ricky Proehl's 30-yard touchdown in the NFC Championship Game.

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Really, you can't go wrong with any of the three plays that were nominated here. All of them were integral in the Rams' pursuit of a Super Bowl title. To differentiate is difficult, but I would argue for Bruce's catch because it's the one play of the three where I can argue that without it, the Rams wouldn't have won the world title.

Proehl's catch, as great as it was, came with the Rams in reasonable field goal range. If Proehl doesn't make the play, the Rams can line up for a 47-yard field goal and still take the lead. That's no chip shot or guarantee, but there was still a way for the Rams to win the game. And while Jones' tackle saved the victory for the Rams, many forget that if Dyson had slipped past him, the Titans would have had to kick an extra point to tie the game (or if coach Jeff Fisher wanted to get crazy, go for two and the win). Theoretically, the Rams still could have won the game in overtime, though momentum clearly was swinging in the Titans' direction.

But ultimately, Bruce's play stands above the rest to me because it most properly defines the greatest era in team history. The "Greatest Show on Turf" was known for its quick-strike ability to score from anywhere on the field at any moment.

After blowing a 16-point lead in the second half, the Rams were on the ropes. The personality of that team came directly from its no-fear approach to offense and coordinator Mike Martz's propensity for keeping the gas pedal pressed down for 60 minutes.

With the Rams reeling, it was fitting that Kurt Warner, the supernova quarterback who came from nowhere, connected with Bruce, the mainstay superstar who had been through all the bad times, to give the Rams a lead they would not relinquish and a championship they'd forever cherish.
Kurt WarnerAl Pereira/Getty ImagesKurt Warner won two league MVPs and a Super Bowl title with the Rams.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- On Wednesday afternoon, the Arizona Cardinals announced that quarterback Kurt Warner's name will be added to the team's Ring of Honor at halftime of the team's Sept. 8 game against San Diego. Warner will be the 14th player to receive the honor for the Cardinals, a franchise that, of course, once made its home in St. Louis.

Though Warner retired as a Cardinal, the St. Louis Rams should follow suit and do something similar for the quarterback who made his name in the NFL as the trigger man for the most successful era in the organization's history.

Like the Cardinals, there is no better time for the Rams to make the move than this season.

This year is the 15th anniversary of the Warner-led Rams team that surged to a victory in Super Bowl XXXIV. By now, most of the world knows Warner's rags to riches story from former grocery bagger to league MVP. But it's not just Warner's story that makes him worthy of receiving a similar honor with the Rams, be it in their version of a Ring of Fame or even going the step further to retire his No. 13 jersey.

Warner gave St. Louis football fans a reason to love the game, a reason to believe that just about anything could happen on a football field. His story is absolutely integral in any re-telling of the team's history.

I've been told the Rams plan to celebrate the 15th anniversary of that 1999 team this year and hope to have Warner back in town to be feted as part of the group, but as of now there aren't any apparent plans for anything Warner-specific. The quarterback has made his way back to St. Louis the past two seasons for the team's "Thursday Night Football" appearances.

Asked Wednesday about where his loyalties lie between his time in Arizona and his time in St. Louis, Warner again emphasized that it's a battle that need not take place.

"People are always asking me 'well if you were going to go in the Hall of Fame would you be a Cardinal or would you be a Ram?'" Warner said. "My only answer is I wouldn’t be going in the Hall of Fame, if I get in, without both parts. Both parts to me are equally as important, equally special. And probably the thing I'm most proud of in my career was being able to help two organizations go someplace that they’d never been before. Not many people get that opportunity to do it with one.

"To have the chance to do it with two, that to me was fun. To me, I take great pride in that and being a part of that."

It's only natural for both fan bases to want to claim Warner as their own and, frankly, both can make good arguments for it. But as Warner points out, the part of his story that makes it complete is that he was able to elevate two franchises to the game's biggest stage.

More to the point, the question of whether Warner would go into the Hall of Fame as a Cardinal or Ram doesn't matter. The NFL isn't like Major League Baseball where a player can be inducted wearing the hat (or in this case helmet) of the team he chooses.

Warner's accomplishments in St. Louis are certainly every bit as deserving of being honored as what he did in Arizona. He led the Rams to a pair of Super Bowls, including a victory in Super Bowl XXXIV. He won two league MVPs. He was the leader for one of the most dangerous and entertaining offenses in league history.

Like Arizona, the Rams have a Ring of Fame of their own. It includes 11 former greats such as Eric Dickerson and Deacon Jones. They even have a separate section for former St. Louis football Cardinals, a list that includes the quartet of Dan Dierdorf, Roger Wehrli, Jackie Smith and Larry Wilson. All are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is apparently a requirement to earn the honor.

But the Rams have made past exceptions to honor former greats, honoring some coaches and executives who haven't made it to Canton. Receiver Isaac Bruce had his No. 80 retired by the team and, like Warner, will be first-time eligible for induction this year. Perhaps the Rams are waiting for Warner to land in Canton before he joins the ranks, but why wait?

It can be hard to draw the line between players for honors such as these. Setting a hard and fast standard for having a jersey retired or landing in a ring of honor makes sense. I'm sure Warner will someday have his name amongst the other Rams legends. But Warner's legacy in St. Louis will always supersede any award that can be bestowed upon him elsewhere. And because of that, there is no reason to wait any longer.

Hall of Fame look ahead: Kurt Warner

February, 5, 2014
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Kurt WarnerAl Pereira/Getty ImagesKurt Warner is a two-time MVP and a Super Bowl champion. Is that enough to get him into the Hall of Fame on his first try?

ST. LOUIS -- On Saturday night, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced that former St. Louis Rams safety Aeneas Williams is part of this year's class of inductees. Williams isn't likely to be remembered as much for his time with the Rams as he was with the Arizona Cardinals, but for those wanting a player with a longer track record of playing for the Rams to get in, the time is coming soon.

The Greatest Show on Turf version of the Rams had no shortage of Hall of Fame candidates. Running back Marshall Faulk was the first to go in, but now the rest of the group is coming eligible. That should make for some tough decisions for the committee in the next couple of years but there are multiple Rams with a legitimate case to get in.

On Tuesday, we took a look at the case for left tackle Orlando Pace. Now it’s time for maybe the ultimate St. Louis fan favorite, quarterback Kurt Warner:

Amongst the many legends to play in the NFL over the years, there have been many great stories. Some of the game’s true greats overcame incredible hardships and obstacles to reach the pinnacle of the sport. But it’s not overstating it to assert that St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner’s rags to riches story is the greatest of them all.

Before the 1999 NFL season, the Rams signed quarterback Trent Green to a lucrative contract, hoping to install him as the starter of a revamped offense that featured running back Marshall Faulk, left tackle Orlando Pace and receiver Isaac Bruce.

When Green suffered a torn ACL in the preseason, then Rams coach Dick Vermeil uttered the now famous line ‘We will rally around Kurt Warner and we will play good football’ with his trademark tears streaming down his face.

The reaction of most was to ask ‘Who’s Kurt Warner?’ Rams fans and football fans alike found out pretty quickly who Warner was and soon his story became something of a legend.

By now, you’ve heard the story about the grocery shelf stocker turned NFL and Super Bowl MVP so we won’t recount it again here. By the time Warner’s six years in St. Louis were through, he’d thrown for 14,447 yards and 102 touchdowns for a passer rating of 97.2. Along the way, Warner won two MVPs and led the Rams to a win in Super Bowl XXXIV and a trip to Super Bowl XXXVI.

When Warner’s time in St. Louis ended in 2003, his magical run with the Rams almost certainly would have left him as one of the most hotly debated Hall of Fame candidates of all time. His numbers were spectacular but the sample size was small and overall, his body of work didn’t compare to many others.

Had Warner’s career ended there, his best chance to make the Hall of Fame would have rested more on the mythology of his story than the cold, hard numbers.

That was all before Warner’s desert revival in Arizona where he turned a maybe into a yes. That Warner added a final dominant chapter to his career with the moribund Cardinals should be more than enough to ensure him induction into the Hall of Fame.

Warner spent a lone season with the Giants in New York and just as all seemed lost, got another chance in Arizona. He promptly led the Cardinals; yes the Cardinals, to a Super Bowl appearance in 2008 behind one of his greatest seasons.

In five years in Arizona, Warner’s statistics match up pretty evenly to his five seasons as a starter in St. Louis. He threw for 15,843 yards and 100 touchdowns for a passer rating of 91.9 while starting 57 games, seven more than he did with the Rams.

All told, Warner ranks 33rd in league history with 32,344 passing yards, 31st in touchdown passes with 208 and eighth in passer rating at 93.7. He also led two teams to Super Bowl appearances, winning one with the Rams.

On the surface, many of Warner’s numbers may still fall short of some of the game’s greats. However, his second act in Arizona should more than enough to earn him enshrinement in Canton.

Whether Warner makes it next year when he’s eligible for the first time remains to be seen. But the guess here is that Warner’s immense production in a relatively short period combined with the romanticism of his story will be enough to get him in on the first try right next to the man who protected his blindside in St. Louis.

Welcome to the 30s, Aaron Rodgers

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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Brett Favre won all three of his NFL Most Valuable Player awards before the age of 30.

The former Green Bay Packers quarterback was 26 when he won the first one in January of 1996. He won his three MVPs in consecutive years, meaning his last one came at the age of 28.

Aaron Rodgers was 28 he was named the NFL’s MVP on Feb. 4, 2012.

The Packers' current quarterback turned 30 today. So does that mean his best years are behind him?

Probably not.

That Favre’s MVP seasons all came in his 20s has not been the norm for award-winning quarterbacks in recent years.

Dating to the 2001 season, for which St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner was the MVP, 10 quarterbacks have won the award. Seven of them, including Warner, were in their 30s.

Rodgers is under contract through the 2019 season thanks to the extension he signed in April. He will be 36 years old when that deal expires.

How many more MVP-type seasons would be it reasonable to expect? This season, even if Rodgers returns this week from his broken collarbone -- which is still a big if -- is lost in terms of his MVP candidacy. However, based on the past winners, the answer to that question would seem to be several.

An NFL scout told me last week he thought Rodgers had four more “great seasons” in him.

Three non-quarterbacks have won the MVP since 2001. All were running backs, and all were in their 20s -- Shaun Alexander (28), LaDainian Tomlinson (27) and Adrian Peterson (27). That’s not surprising considering the shelf life for running backs is much shorter than for quarterbacks.

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