The knee-jerk reaction to Kurt Warner's Hall of Fame chances is: Of course he belongs in Canton when he'll be eligible in 2015. The 38-year-old Warner announced his retirement last Friday, 13 days after his Arizona Cardinals were eliminated in the NFC divisional playoffs by the New Orleans Saints. He changed the fortunes of two moribund franchises, taking the Rams to the Super Bowl twice and the Cardinals to their first. He won two Most Valuable Player trophies, in 1999 and 2001, and he has the three most prolific passing games in Super Bowl history.
But elevating Warner to Canton is not so easy. As one of the 44 voters from the news media who will convene on Saturday in Fort Lauderdale to select the class of 2010, I've said to the scores of people who have besieged me on Warner's behalf: This is why I'm glad there's a five-year cooling-off period—to put players' careers in perspective.
The two smudges on Warner's ledger are major ones. Only four times in 12 seasons did Warner start more than 12 games. Injuries played a role in his absences, but so did coaches' decisions that there was a better quarterback available. And Warner has what I would call a five-year doughnut hole: From 2002 to '06—with the Rams, Giants and Cardinals—he started a total of 31 games and went a gosh-awful 8--23.
Make no mistake, Warner is one of the best quarterbacks I've ever seen. A decade ago the Rams never would have become the Greatest Show on Turf if he had not been at the controls, and had Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt not picked Warner to start over Matt Leinart in August 2008, there's no way Arizona would have made the Super Bowl last season. I'm like most football fans who've been awed by the arm and the moxie of Warner. I think he'll probably be selected to the Hall. I'd just like some time to judge his career against those of his contemporaries, with emotion eliminated from the equation.
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
The German Bundesliga team Hamburg is building a soccer-themed cemetery with a goal-shaped entrance and tiered plots sculpted to resemble stadium seating.
MATT YORK/AP (WARNER)
FINE FINISH Warner's years in Arizona restored his luster and credentials.