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Warner and Roethlisberger Are Back for Seconds at Super Bowl

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By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 28, 2009

TAMPA, Jan. 27 -- The Super Bowl always is, to some degree, about the quarterbacks. And in some years, if it's John Elway trying to break through or Tom Brady attempting to win another or one Manning vying to outdo the other, it can be all about the guy playing the sport's glamour position.

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This Super Bowl isn't quite all about the quarterbacks, with the Arizona Cardinals serving as party crashers and the Pittsburgh Steelers going for a sixth championship. There are coaching connections and personal relationships and a recent sideline quarrel to serve as subplots. The NFL's top defense and its most dynamic wide receiver at the moment will be on the field Sunday.

But the quarterbacks are among the major story lines, as either the Cardinals' Kurt Warner or the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger will emerge as a two-time Super Bowl winner. They received plenty of attention at Tuesday's media day, with each surrounded by a large crowd of reporters during his team's session at Raymond James Stadium.

"Being here, doing it again, understanding all this -- it isn't so overwhelming as it was the first time," Roethlisberger said. "I'm just having fun. I'm enjoying it."

It's debatable which quarterback has more to gain with a triumph. Some observers believe Warner, the former Super Bowl winner and two-time league most valuable player for the St. Louis Rams, could ensure himself of a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with a second Super Bowl victory in his third appearance.

Warner first went to the Super Bowl with the Rams as an improbable success story, a former grocery bagger and a graduate of NFL Europe and the Arena Football League who'd gotten a starting chance in St. Louis because of an injury to Trent Green. He returns to the Super Bowl with the Cardinals at age 37 as perhaps even more improbable reclamation project.

"There were plenty of [times] when I wondered if I would ever start again," Warner said Tuesday. "There were moments when you were just thinking about starting and getting back in and playing and playing well. The Super Bowl kind of gets pushed to the back burner."

The fairy tale for Warner appeared to be ending when he played in only nine games for the Rams over the 2002 and 2003 seasons. He left St. Louis and played one season for the New York Giants, starting nine games in 2004 before the job was handed to Eli Manning, that year's top overall draft pick. Then it was on to Arizona in 2005, and it seemed the dreadful Cardinals might be reenacting their failed addition of running back Emmitt Smith at the end of his storied career.

"I think the perception around the league about me was that I couldn't play anymore, anyways, that there was no more football left in him, and he's basically just trying to survive," Warner said. "And Arizona, being a situation that hasn't won [and] brought in a guy like Emmitt Smith, they bring this guy in because of his name. But it's probably going to be just like everything else. The Cardinals won't win, and Kurt Warner can't really play, so I guess it's a fine mix.

"And I think [the Cardinals] knew something that a lot of people didn't know and took a chance on something that a lot of people wouldn't. And I knew personally that I could still play, given the right opportunity. That's been one of the neat parts of the story: They took a chance. I took a chance. And together we've made something special happen."

Warner said he thinks he showed his new teammates from his first practice with the team he still had something left in his arm. But he had to prove himself to a new coaching staff when the Cardinals fired Dennis Green and hired Ken Whisenhunt before the 2007 season. The club had drafted Matt Leinart in the first round in 2006 to be its quarterback of the future. But Cardinals offensive line coach Russ Grimm said Tuesday that the new staff had an open mind about Warner when it took charge, and Whisenhunt ended up going with Warner as the full-time starter after Leinart broke his collarbone in the fifth game of the 2007 season.

"Kurt has always been a great player," Grimm said. "He was the MVP in St. Louis, so you know he's a good quarterback. When you get around him, you realize what type of person he is. He's a great person. He works at it. He's a great leader for a lot of young players. The experience factor is there. He'll get on the young guys if they're not going their job."


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