When the Cardinals signed Kurt Warner back in 2005, he didn’t have a lot of other interest across the NFL and probably had no other chance to start at quarterback.
That was at the forefront of Warner’s memories Wednesday, when team president Michael Bidwill announced alongside Warner that the former Card would be the latest member of the franchise’s Ring of Honor.
“One thing I always said to myself was when a team invested in me, that they get their investment’s worth,” Warner said. “Going into the Ring of Honor, hopefully that shows (the Cardinals) were happy with your investment.”
That goes without saying. When Warner is inducted at halftime of the team’s Sept. 8 regular-season opening Monday night game against the San Diego Chargers, it will be an almost inevitable result of a relatively brief but memorable and successful Cardinals’ stint.
In just five seasons with the club, Warner quarterbacked the team to its lone Super Bowl
appearance, a near-miss loss to the Steelers. He piloted two NFC West division winners and helped compile a 4-2 postseason record. He set the NFL record for completion percentage in a game (in 2009 at Jacksonville).
“He made a lot of great contributions, he’s all over the record book, he won back-to-back division titles, he got us to the Super Bowl,” Bidwill said. “(But) it’s not only the way he performed on the field and the class he performed on the field but also what he did off the field.”
Warner is the 14th Cardinal inducted into the Ring of Honor. Cornerback Aeneas Williams was the last to go in, back in 2008.
Many thought Warner was done as an NFL starter after a one-year stint with the Giants in 2004, long removed from his spectacular and record-setting three-year arc leading the St. Louis Rams. Injuries and age seemingly caught up to him. Then the Cardinals, perpetually struggling, called in 2005.
“I felt it was another awesome spot to go, because a lot of people looked at the organization and said ‘They’ll never get to this point.’ Everybody was looking at me and saying, ‘He’s never getting back to that point,’ ” Warner said. “I thought it would be a great marriage.”
It was. In his five years, Warner played in 61 games for the Cards with 57 starts. He completed 65.1 percent of his passes, threw for 15,853 yards (fourth in team history and more than he threw for while playing in St. Louis for the Rams) with 100 touchdown passes and 59 interceptions.
Warner holds the franchise record for completion percentage (65.1) and passing rating (91.9), as well as 300-yard games (22) and consecutive games with a touchdown pass (22). Warner's 2008 season featured team records in attempts (598), completions (401), completion percentage (67.1), passing rating (96.9) and touchdown passes (30).
In six postseason games, Warner threw for 16 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He authored one of the greatest passing performances in NFL playoff history in his final appearance at University of Phoenix Stadium, with more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four) in the Cardinals’ 51-45 wild card win over the Packers during the 2009 season. Warner was 29-for-33 for 379 yards in the game.
To think, Warner admittedly considered retirement during the 2006 season, after rookie Matt Leinart had taken the starting job for what looked like a permanent change. But Warner rallied back up the depth chart in
2007 to raise the Cardinals to their golden era since moving to Arizona during his final three seasons in the NFL.
“To finish my career at that level doing the things we did, I don’t know if you could write it much better,” Warner said.
Retirement, which came as a disappointment if not a surprise for many when Warner called it quits after the 2009 season, has suited Warner well. He does work for the NFL Network, spends time with his kids and works with a pair of charities – his First Things First Foundation and the supporting living community Treasure House, which Warner hopes will be finished out in Glendale by the end of the year.
There are times, Warner said, he thinks he’d love to come back and he admittedly feels he could still play. But he has no regrets of when he walked away.
“Physically I felt like I could still play,” Warner said of that time in January, 2010. “Mentally, the strain on me, I didn’t feel I could give what I needed to give to this team to keep us where we were.”
Warner, for the first time, is also eligible for the Hall of Fame following this season. He believes what he has done in his career – even if his resume isn’t quite as long as others – is worthy of induction, although Warner said he is “fully content either way.”
He is already going into what serves as the Cardinals’ hall of fame.
“For me, for my father, for the franchise,” Bidwill said, “it’s about making that permanent established Ring of Honor to honor those players who were the best of the best with the Cardinals.”