At 37, Return to Super Bowl Is ‘Sweet' for Cardinals' Warner

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 19, 2009

GLENDALE, Ariz., Jan. 18 -- His "Greatest Show on Turf" days with the St. Louis Rams are a fading memory, and he now plays in a place that for so long was a pro football wasteland.

But Kurt Warner is back in the Super Bowl.

At 37, he got there by quarterbacking the Arizona Cardinals to a 32-25 triumph here Sunday over the Philadelphia Eagles in the first NFC title game in franchise history.

"Arizona Cardinals and Super Bowl in the same sentence -- I like the way that sounds," Warner said.

Warner made two Super Bowl appearances with the Rams back in the days when he was crafting one of the most unlikely success stories in NFL history, as a former grocery bagger and journeyman quarterback turned two-time league most valuable player. Now he's back after rejuvenating his career with a team not exactly known for its championship tradition.

"I know how long it's been since my last one, and you never know if you're going to get another one," Warner said. "I'm going to enjoy this one because it is really, really sweet."

Warner wasn't even the Cardinals' starter at quarterback when training camp began. But Coach Ken Whisenhunt picked Warner over Matt Leinart shortly before the regular season. Warner put up big numbers, but the ride to the NFC West title was a bumpy one for the Cardinals, with five losses on the East Coast during the regular season by an average margin of 20 points.

Even Sunday, there was some turbulence for the Cardinals, with some sideline venting by wide receiver Anquan Boldin at offensive coordinator Todd Haley during the game. But Warner's four touchdown passes kept the Cardinals on a roll through the postseason that began with a home triumph over the Atlanta Falcons, then continued with a lopsided road win at Carolina.

"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," Warner said.

Said Whisenhunt: "I think for a veteran who played the way that he played last season, to not be named the starter for this season had to be very difficult. But there was never any complaint. All he said was he wanted an opportunity, and he got that and he took advantage of it. To see the way that he has played this entire year has been great for the game.

"To have a veteran player, who is probably one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, have success in a situation where nobody thought he could, with some ups and downs, is really why you play this game. The biggest thing I'll say is that Kurt really worked on a lot of things with his game from moving in the pocket, which we saw today, to protecting the football. A lot of times, he does things a lot of older quarterbacks don't want to do. And that's a credit to his humility, his competitive drive, and the reason we are here today."

Warner beat the Eagles for the second time in an NFC title game, having done so once while with the Rams. It was the Eagles' fourth defeat in their five appearances in the NFC championship game during the 10-year tenure of Coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb.

"To end this way, it's tough when you're that close to making it to the Super Bowl," McNabb said after passing for 375 yards and three touchdowns. "This team has really pulled together and it was the type of nucleus that you definitely want. It's tough to see the guys and know how they're feeling."

The Eagles advanced to the conference championship game as a sixth seed, but fell a win shy of a second Super Bowl appearance for Reid and McNabb.

"You say 'next time' but you can't really do that with this," Reid said. "That's not how this works. You want to take care of opportunities when they are given to you, and that's what makes this so sudden and disappointing."

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