Kurt and Brenda Warner (Getty)
Kurt Warner's victory lap around University of Phoenix Stadium after one of the most entertaining playoff games ever played would ultimately be his last. His celebratory kiss with his wife Brenda in the stands 10 years ago is the way many of us met Warner. Despite a different NFC West team, a blonde Brenda, an older Kurt and more records, we'll remember him the same way.
Kurt Warner announced his retirement on Friday, in what was an expected and humble goodbye. The 12-year veteran decided to hang up his helmet, cleats and gloves in order to spend more time with his family and see what God has for him next.
He said it's been 12 unbelievable years, but is just as excited about the next 12. His press conference included thanks to God, his family, three organizations (Rams, Giants and Cardinals), coaches such as Mike Martz, Denny Green and Coach Ken Whisenhunt, his teammates, his fans and the media. His main message was that anything is possible through faith in yourself and faith in God.
Warner's retirement seemed inevitable. The faith and family-first man texted his wife his retirement plans last season when teammate Anquan Boldin was pancaked in the end zone against the Jets in the final 30 seconds of the game. Warner changed his mind and played to see a lucrative two-year contract that offseason after taking the historically dismal Cardinals to a Super Bowl appearance, only to lose in the final two minutes to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Warner is proud of the mark that he left with the Rams and Cardinals. He is leaving the Cardinals in better shape than when he arrived in the desert. But he is most proud of taking the Rams and the Cardinals to the Super Bowl.
Warner's retirement decision seemed to make itself when Warner himself was laid out in the Cardinals 45-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round of this year's playoffs. After his pass was intercepted, he attempted to become a defensive play maker but was grounded instead. As his wife closed her eyes and said a prayer, we had to know Warner's career was over. The two-time league MVP also suffered a concussion in the regular season.
Warner's pounding in the Saints game sidelined him. He watched Matt Leinart finish out the game. Warner ended his career the same way he started it, on the bench. Leinart is expected to take the starting role this season, but the Cardinals will work behind the scenes for some elbow room to secure either a free agent quarterback or a rookie. Leinart's future with Arizona is more of an audition than anything else.
Warner knows a thing or two about people doubting him. But at the end of a decade-plus career he's in the driver's seat. While most NFL players are handed their fate, Warner had the rare opportunity to take himself out of the game. But it wasn't easy to leave with gas still left in the tank.
"I pray that God takes away the desire in me to play this game," Warner said following the Saints loss.
Warner has a career he can hang his helmet on. Perhaps one of the greatest comeback stories in NFL history, the former undrafted player holds many regular season and playoff records. Warner's spoke softly and carried big records, especially in the playoffs. His accomplishments speak for themselves and should have a big voice in Hall of Fame voting.
Warner has been the quarterback of two of the teams that have played in two of the three highest scoring games in playoff history (Arizona, 2009 and St. Louis, 1999). Warner posted a 51-45 win over the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card Round of this year's playoffs. His 379 yards in that game marked his sixth career postseason game with more than 300 yards, which ties Peyton Manning and Joe Montana for the NFL postseason record.
He's also third all-time in passer rating of quarterbacks with at least 1,500 attempts (behind Manning and Steve Young). Warner is second all-time in most yards gained during a season with 4,830 in 2001, behind Dan Marino. He's tied with Young and Rich Gannon for a league-leading six consecutive games with 300 or more yards passing and the list goes on.
But Warner's legacy is much more than what's on paper. His character, leadership, toughness, perseverance, accuracy and love for the game puts in the category of all-time greats.