By now, it's probably sunk in that the Arizona Cardinals (yes, those Arizona Cardinals) are going to the Super Bowl. As far as unlucky/just plain bad franchises go, the Cards were right up there with the Cubs in terms of not only championship droughts, but even getting to the final round of competition in their league. Really, Anquan Boldin's recent antics aside, there's no reason not to like the Cardinals. They don't have any players that are giant douchebags, their coaches are nice enough, and hell, it's been so long for them that you kind of have to pull for them at least a little, right? Even the presence of Matt Leinart can't tarnish their role as Destiny's Darlings.
If you're wondering if I brought up Leinfart just for the sake of linking to that picture, the answer is 'Yes'.)
With this recent wave of euphoria for Arizona fans, there has been talk of Kurt Warner cementing his place as a sure-fire Hall of Fame player.
Now let's just hold up for a second here.
Maybe Arizona fans, and football fans in general, are just getting caught up in the feel-good story. Kurt Warner's been a fantastic role model, a damn good teammate, and a great quarterback. But it's not called the Hall of Great. The Hall of Fame is meant for the best of the best, people that dominated year in and year out, and I just don't think Kurt Warner is quite there yet.
Let me just start by saying that I have a ton of respect for Warner. He could have retired years ago or accepted life as a backup and just show up to collect a paycheck. But he didn't. And when he's been good, he's been really good. The first year I played fantasy football was in 1999, the year Warner became the ringleader of the Greatest Show on Turf. From 1999-2001, Warner and the Rams were a nightmare for secondaries, breaking records and taking names. He led the Rams to 2 Super Bowls, winning one of them, as well as picking up 2 MVP trophies.
Warner burned corners and safeties. He burned their kids, he burned their wives, he burned their parents and their parents' friends. He burns the houses they live in and the stores they work in. He burns people that owe them money.
And like that (poof)...he's gone. Underground. Nobody saw him for 5 years. He became a myth, a spook story that secondary coaches tell their players at night. "Take a play off, and Kurt Warner will burn you on a deep slant."
Then Warner materializes in Arizona, has one good year and one great year, and all of the sudden he's one of the best ever? Sorry, but something about that doesn't sit right with me.
So let's get down to it. Why doesn't Kurt Warner belong in the Hall of Fame?
The first point I want to make is that I am going to completely throw out the supporting cast argument. It would be easy for me to say that a lot of Kurt Warner's numbers were inflated because of the offenses he played in and the players that surrounded him, but that's just pure speculation. For all I know, Warner would have been just as good in St. Louis and Arizona this past season with average receivers. Did the offensive personnel around Warner make him better, or did he make them all better? Are his stats inflated because he's played with some bad defenses in the past and has always had to chuck the ball in the 4th quarter? Would he have been better some years with a legit offensive line? There are too many speculations about who made who better that we could argue all day and get nowhere, so I'll just ignore it.
Let's start with the statistics. The one that sticks out the most is that Kurt Warner is fourth all-time in quarterback rating with a career mark of 93.8, right behind Peyton Manning, Tony Romo (?) and Steve Young. Right below Kurt is Tom Brady. When you're looking to make the Hall of Fame, those are some pretty good guys to be stacked up next to, right?
But if you look down the list just a bit, you see Chad Pennington at #8. Clearly, Chad is no Hall of Fame quarterback at this point in his career. And yet, Pennington sits there with a career rating of 90.6, which means that Warner is just as close to Pennington as he is to Steve Young. Now I'm not saying that QB rating means nothing, and I'm certainly not saying that everyone ranked near or below Pennington is not HoF worthy. I'm just saying that when one of the main stats you point to for your Hall candidacy is one that can be cracked by someone as 'good, but not really great' as Pennington, you'd better have some other gaudy numbers to back it up.
The other Warner stats that jump out as much better than those of his peers are Passing Yards Per Game (1st all-time), Yards Per Pass Attempt (5th), and passing Completion % (2nd). They all seem pretty impressive, but if you look at those first two stats, you also have to keep in mind that Warner ranks in the top 10 all-time in Pass Attempts Per Game, meaning that Kurt had much more of a chance to rack up those passing yards per game than most quarterbacks. And yes, in terms of completion percentage, Warner is the second most accurate passer of all time. Who's #1? Good old Chad Pennington! And while the rest of the top 10 in accuracy include HoF-worthy names like Brady, Young, Montana and Manning, names like Carson Palmer and Daunte Culpepper are also nestled in there too.
So it's true, Warner does rank right up there in some categories with Steve Young, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Joe Montana. But those guys also brought the numbers in the bigger categories as well
I'd consider the biggest passing categories to be touchdown passes, passing yards and completions. Warner doesn't crack the top 20 in any of those career categories. He doesn't even crack the top 30. He just squeaks into each of those categories if you look at the top 40.
One of the biggest concerns for me is the fact that Kurt Warner dropped off the face of the Earth for about 5 consecutive seasons in the middle of his career. So if you're one of those people that takes that kind of thing into account, Warner's most likely lost your vote. Some believe that to get into the Hall, you need to show sustained excellence over a prolonged period of time, and Kurt Warner fails this test. I just don't feel comfortable putting someone into the Hall who pulled a disappearing act like that during what should have been some of the prime years of his career. And if you take a look at this dark period in his career, you'll see that after Warner's 3 years of excellence, he was either really bad or hurt. Or both.
After 2001, he's only played in 16 games in a season once, which was this past season (He's only played a full season 3 times in his entire career). From 2002 to 2006, he had 27 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. Over that same period of time, he fumbled the ball 45 times and lost 17 of them. Over that time period, he was also sacked 123 times (3.5 times per game) and had a record of 8-23.
So really, Kurt Warner had 2 ungodly seasons where he put up video-game type numbers (1999 and 2001), 2 fantastic seasons (2000 and 2008) and one really good season (2007). That means that half the seasons of Kurt Warner's career were positive. This also means that half of his career has been made up of average to below-average seasons. There's another player I'm thinking of that had 1 really good season, 2 dominating seasons, 1 ungodly 'Warner in 1999' season, and 3 clunkers mostly because of injury. That man is Terrell Davis, and you don't see him in the Hall of Fame.
Now, is Warner really close to being a Hall of Fame worthy? Yes, I'll agree with that. He's led 2 different teams to the Super Bowl and could be the first QB ever to win with 2 different teams. And a lot of his 'major' numbers are hurt because he hasn't been playing for as long as some other players due to a late career start and injuries. So if Warner can keep playing at the same level for another 2-3 years, I think he'll stamp his ticket to Canton. Hell, even another Super Bowl win would at least make the debate more interesting.
But as of right now, at this very day, I don't think Kurt Warner is a Hall of Famer. Sure, most quarterbacks will come up short in some categories and statistics, but I think a lot of the major holes in Warner's resume can't quite be covered up by the phenomenal seasons he had to start his career.
Kurt Warner: Great guy.
Man of God.
Hall of Famer? Not right now.