By the end of the 2014 NFL season, former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner will be eligible for the Hall of Fame. And while some of his colleagues in the Greatest Show on Turf – Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Orlando Pace – will be shoe-ins when their time comes (with Marshall Faulk already having cemented his place at the Hall), there is still some debate on whether Warner’s admission will be so clear-cut. His is an interesting case that will re-address the criteria used to gain entry into Canton’s hallowed grounds.
An examination of how Hall-worthy Warner’s career was requires looking at issues of longevity, efficiency and mythology. It is easy to forget that Warner only played 124 games, significantly less than many Hall of Fame candidates at the quarterback position. Current players such as Arizona’s Carson Palmer and San Diego’s Philip Rivers easily exceed this total, with the figure comparable to another former Ram, Trent Green, who played 120. Green is unlikely to make it to the Hall of Fame, but, then again, he did achieve considerably less than his successor.
And this is where the main difference lies. While Warner may not have played as much as some of his peers, it was what he did when he was on the field that made a difference. Warner is 33rd in career passing yardage (and there are many Hall of Fame quarterbacks with less…and vice-versa) and 31st in career touchdown passes, but he is fourth in quarterback completion percentage (second only to Chad Pennington if you exclude active players) and eighth in passer rating (again, second among those retired). Warner was highly accurate and effective with the ball, and the statistics of the receivers he threw the ball to reflect a symbiotic relationship between them. Testament to this is the fact that Warner has the three highest single-game passing performances in Super Bowl history, evidence that he could produce the goods when it counted. His status as a two-time NFL MVP is even more evidence of what a productive player Warner was.
When his tenure as a Ram ended, however, it seemed that Warner’s career – and his Canton hopes – were well and truly over. Struggling with injury and inconsistency, Warner found himself largely playing backup to quarterbacks such as Eli Manning (New York Giants) and Josh McCown and Matt Leinart (Arizona Cardinals) and, in the space of five seasons, including his last one as a Ram, Warner threw a total of 27 touchdown passes, the same amount he threw in the 2007 season when he solidified his position as starting quarterback in Arizona. Incredibly, Warner recovered his career, with 83 touchdown passes in his last three seasons and, incredibly, leading the once-lowly Cardinals to his third Super Bowl as an NFL quarterback.
This second chapter of Warner’s career may seal the deal on his Hall of Fame prospects as it adds to the mythology that surrounds the man. Warner’s story is the classic tale of the American Dream. Through hard work and some good fortune, Warner went from stacking shelves to winning the 1999 Super Bowl via the Arena Football League and NFL Europe. Warner took the reins from Green following the latter’s injury – as Marc Bulger would do from him some years later, albeit with less success – and went on to become a cult legend in St Louis. It is the stuff that dreams of Canton are made on.
So, at the end of this next season, when it comes to Hall of Fame selection, it is up to all Rams – and Cardinals – fans to, as Coach Vermeil once famously said, “rally around Kurt Warner” and solidify his place among football’s greats, where he will eventually find himself in the familiar company of the team-mates that with him formed one of the most formidable offenses in NFL history.