Kurt Warner has played three fewer seasons than four-time Super Bowl champion Terry Bradshaw, yet has more passing yards.
Warner ranks fourth all-time in passer rating at 93.8, nearly 23 points better than Bradshaw. Warner’s completion percentage is 65.4 percent, 13.5 percent better than the Pittsburgh Steelers great.
Yet Bradshaw walked into the Hall of Fame on his first try in 1989. Warner? Well, it’s hard to tell.
Among the Super Bowl storylines this week is whether Warner, 37, has earned his position among the league’s all-time elites. The former Cedar Rapids prep has perhaps the league’s best rags-to-riches story when he went from stocking shelves at Hy-Vee to Super Bowl MVP. Now he has the redemption story to go with it. But is he Hall of Fame worthy?
The Gazette contacted several Hall of Fame voters, and many remain undecided. Dallas Morning News pro football writer Rick Gosselin called Warner a “miracle worker” in a recent online story. In an e-mail conversation with The Gazette, Gosselin wrote, “Warner is one of the nicest guys in sports.”
Gosselin, a Hall voter, wrote about Warner’s impact on bad teams and how he steered those franchises toward success. Before Warner, the Rams were tied for the NFL’s worst record of the 1990s at 45-99. The Rams finished last six times that decade. Since 2000, Arizona fashioned a 43-85 record before this year.
“If Warner can steer the Cardinals to their first championship since 1947 with a Super Bowl victory over the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers, he could pave the way for his own bust in Canton,” Gosselin wrote. “Two championships with two teams — now that’s the mark of a great quarterback.”
Bob Gretz, a former Kansas City Chiefs radio sideline reporter, holds Kansas City’s Hall of Fame vote. Gretz prefers not to talk about Hall of Fame prospects before a player’s career ends.
“For all we know, Warner could play another five years and make the question moot,” Gretz said. “A victory against Pittsburgh this weekend would make it hard not to vote for Warner. Being a Super Bowl-winning quarterback provides a player with chips at the Hall of Fame table. Winning two, with two teams, some nine years apart, would be a winning hand that’s hard to beat.”
Statistically, Warner has Hall of Fame numbers. He ranks No. 4 all-time in passer rating at 93.8. He’s 38th all-time in yards with 28,591, which is ahead of Hall of Fame, Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Bradshaw, Joe Namath and Bob Griese. Warner ranks 40th in touchdown passes with 182.
Warner has passed for at least 3,400 yards in five seasons. He threw for the third-most passing yards in a season (4,830) in 1999 and the fifth-most touchdowns (41) in a season in 2001. He won the NFL’s MVP award both seasons. Now he joins Craig Morton — a two-time Super Bowl loser — as the only quarterbacks to start the Super Bowl for different teams.
Warner’s statistics are strong when compared with Bradshaw, Namath and Griese. Bradshaw, a three-time Pro Bowler, completed 51.9 percent of his passes but won two Super Bowl MVP awards. Griese completed 14 of 18 passes for 161 yards combined in the Dolphins’ two Super Bowl wins, one of which completed a perfect season. Namath engineered a shocking upset in Super Bowl III, but his stats otherwise hardly are Hall-of-Fame worthy. He threw 170 touchdowns, 220 interceptions and his passer rating is 65.5, nearly five points below Chicago’s embattled Rex Grossman (70.2).
Warner has the top two Super Bowl passing days — 414 yards against Tennessee and 365 against New England. He led the Rams past Tennessee, 23-16, with a game-winning drive and was Super Bowl MVP. Warner launched a game-tying drive against the Patriots in an eventual three-point loss. He led the Cardinals to their game-winning touchdown against Philadelphia in the final two minutes of the NFC title game.
Former teammates feel the question has been answered, even if they don’t have a vote.
“If his numbers and what he’s done isn’t enough, boy,” said former Rams teammate and likely Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. “I’m not lobbying for him. It’s just my honest opinion.”
Still, it’s not about the statistics or the postseason performance. It’s about Warner’s performance gap. Whether it was injuries or other reasons, Warner struggled from 2002 through 2006. He suffered a severe thumb injury in 2002 and was 0-7 as a starter. He started two games in 2003 before leaving for the New York Giants. He was a part-time starter for the next four seasons before claiming the Cardinals’ job last summer.
“It’s a tough call on Warner,” said Paul Domowitch, a Hall of Fame voter from the Philadelphia Daily News. “(He) could be a two-time Super Bowl winner if the Cards win. (He’s) been a two-time league MVP. But he’s really only had three statistically ‘special’ seasons — ’99, when the Rams won the Super Bowl, ’01, when they lost in the Super Bowl to the Patriots, and this season. I just don’t know if that’s enough to warrant a bust in Canton.”
“If I had to make a decision right here, right now, I’d probably say no. But I don’t have to make it for a while, and maybe I’ll feel differently in five or six or seven years, when he’s eligible.”