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Cardinals' Warner proves he's still an impossible dreamer

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Reprint Courtesy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Cardinals' Warner proves he's still an impossible dreamer

By CHAREAN WILLIAMS / FORT WORTH STAR TELEGRAM

TEMPE, ARIZONA - Once upon a time, there was a grocery stocker who became an NFL MVP and a Super Bowl MVP. He was benched four times after that, and, just when his career appeared finished, he rewrote the ending.

Kurt Warner's fairy tale now appears destined to end happily ever after.

After taking the downtrodden St. Louis Rams to their first Super Bowl title, Warner has the Arizona Cardinals - who last won an NFL championship 61 years ago - in their first Super Bowl.

He has become Arizona's biggest postseason hero, topping Luis Gonzalez and even Charles Barkley. Fans here wear Warner's jersey, chant his name, even burn his name into Donovan McNabb's lawn.

Warner has done the impossible in Arizona, where the Cardinals are 122-214 since moving to the desert from St. Louis in 1988. Thus, fans here worship the ground he throws on.

"The 1999 season was obviously special for so many different reasons, for me being my first one," Warner said. "I didn't know any better. I really didn't know anything at that time in my career. I was just playing football, riding it as long as it would go. To come back here when everybody counted us out, when everybody counted me out, when everybody told us every single week, 'Well, the Cardinals don't have a chance against Atlanta; they definitely don't have a chance against Carolina; and they really don't have a chance against Philadelphia,' and then you accomplish that, it's really, really special."

Eleven years into an unlikely career, Warner's career completion percentage (65.4) is second only to Chad Pennington; his passer rating (93.8) is fourth to Steve Young, Peyton Manning and Tony Romo; his 48 300-yard passing games are fifth, behind Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Dan Fouts and Warren Moon; and his career yards passing per game (259.9) tops even Manning.

He has two league MVP awards and was a candidate for a third this season after passing for 4,583 yards and a franchise-record 30 touchdowns.

Yet, Warner has made his money, his career and his name in the postseason, where he is 8-2, has been to two Super Bowls and has won a ring. A third trip to the Super Bowl has opened the debate about Warner's Hall of Fame candidacy, one of the few topics on which he refuses to offer his opinion.

"They can debate all they want," Warner said. "I'm just in the Super Bowl again. I like that."

Warner's future after the Super Bowl is undecided.

He is in the final game of the three-year, $18 million contract he signed with the Cardinals before the 2006 season when no other team would give him a chance.

Warner, who turns 38 this summer, has not ruled out retirement. Matt Leinart, a first-round draft choice in 2006 who signed a six-year contract with $14 million in guarantees, is looking over Warner's shoulder. Warner was pushed out of New York after one season by another former first-round draft choice, Eli Manning.

Warner, though, proved this season that he still can play, something even the Cardinals questioned by naming Leinart the starter heading into training camp.

Warner won the job and then turned the Cardinals into winners.

"Kurt bought into what we were selling," Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "When he got the chance to play last year, you could see that he could still play, and he knows he can play, and he knows he can still throw the football. He had to work a little harder at ball security and making a little better decisions at times, but he and I have just really worked hard, going back to last off-season, just talking about it, that we were not going to be denied. We were going to figure out a way to get this done.

"He believes in his abilities. He still has them. He's not afraid to let go of the football, or pull the trigger, and I think he's good. He just happens to be 37 or whatever he is, but he's good, and he's tough."

Online Executive Producer Nate Leding

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