"She asked me to do it, but I prefer the stubble," Warner said.
|Kurt Warner learned key new tricks as an old dog, improving his footwork in the pocket. (US Presswire)|
"Yeah, as I get older I might need to keep the stubble off," Warner said. "As the years come, it helps to look younger I guess."
Or play younger. That's what Warner is doing now. As the 37-year-old quarterback of the 6-3 Cardinals, Warner is having an MVP season, not unlike those he had in St. Louis when he was the quarterback of the Rams in the late 1990s and early this decade.
Warner was twice an MVP with the Rams. If he can win one this season -- he's definitely in the mix, maybe in the lead -- he would join Brett Favre as the only three-time MVP since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
If that happens, here's something else that should: induction in Canton.
"It's nice to be in that conversation because it means we're playing well as a team," Warner said of MVP speculation. "But that stuff doesn't drive me. I want to win. That's the most important thing. I understand that that talk comes if we're having a good season, so that's why I appreciate it."
This was supposed to be the year Matt Leinart took over as the quarterback of the Cardinals. Warner, despite playing well last season, was expected to be the backup, maybe his days starting in the league coming to an end.
But Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt made the decision the week before the opener to go with Warner, a decision challenged by many. It's always challenging when you bench the perceived franchise passer for the aging gunslinger.
"Kurt player well for us last year, so I expected him to play well again," Whisenhunt said.
"Well, maybe not this good," Whisenhunt said.
Here's how well Warner is playing: He is tops in the league in passer rating (106.4) and completion percentage (70.6) and is second in yards (2,760) and touchdown passes thrown with 19. That completion percentage would break the NFL record of 70.55, set by Ken Anderson in 1982 in a strike-shortened, nine-game season.
"I was resigned before the season that I might not be the starter," Warner said. "As difficult as that would have been, I would have been supportive of the decision. But I am glad that I was given the chance. I knew I could still play at a high level. The confidence was always there."
Warner's story is a great one. We all know by now how he wasn't drafted, got his chance when Trent Green was hurt in St. Louis, led the Rams to a Super Bowl victory and won those two MVPs. He was the grocery-store worker turned superstar.
All the while, he stayed humble. That made Warner one of the most-likeable players in the NFL. He's gracious. He's kind. He's accommodating. He remembers names.
He's the kind of player who people, including teammates and coaches, root for to succeed. There is no I-am-bigger-than-the-game from Warner. When it appeared Leinart was going to be the man last season, Warner wasn't all that happy but he still helped the young passer. There was none of that frosty Brett Favre-type of treatment for the young teammate.
Despite his good-guy ways, Warner seems to still have to defend himself all the time. He's careless with the ball, they say. He holds it too long, they insist.
What the critics don't realize is that holding the ball is the reason he has been able to make all those throws and rack up all that yardage. Standing in against the rush, scanning the field from left to right or right to left or deep to short takes time. It takes courage, too. Warner is one of the best in the league at scanning the field, making reads and making the throws, but that sometimes comes with shots, which can lead to turnovers.
To help cut down on the turnovers -- and the hits -- the Cardinals have worked on Warner's footwork the past two seasons. The result is he's more nimble in the pocket, less of a sitting target.
"That's what all those drills have done," Whisenhunt said. "It shows up on Sundays."
The Cardinals have also streamlined the offense some to tailor it to Warner's strengths. The use his favorite plays more. They allow him to run the no-huddle offense, which he did Monday night in the Cardinals' victory over San Francisco, and he calls some plays.
That's an oddity in this era of coach-is-king football.
"We go through what he likes and what he doesn't," Whisenhunt said. "We tailor things to what packages work best with him and Larry and Anquan."
He's good, some say, but he has those receivers.
Anyone ever think Warner helps make them who they are?
Whoever makes it go, it's a treat to watch. In a time when gimmick football is making its way into the NFL -- see Wildcat formation -- Warner and the Cardinals are a pure pocket-passing team, playing it the way the game is meant to be played.
"That's what we do," Warner said. "There are other guys still doing it that way, but I do think it's the right way to succeed."
How much longer it goes on nobody knows. Warner would like to play a couple of more years, and he prefers to play in Arizona since he wouldn't have to uproot his family. But he can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. There have been reports that the Cardinals and Warner have talked contract extension, but Warner said he was unaware of that.
"I would prefer to stay here. We like it here. But I am open to listening to other teams if things don't get worked out," Warner said.
If he leads the Cardinals to their first division title since moving to Arizona and the first for the franchise since 1975, how could the Cardinals possibly let him leave? Leinart will simply have to wait.
There are still a lot of good throws left in that right arm.
His resurgence is a great story. They thought his career was done in St. Louis and again in New York with the Giants, and then again in Arizona. But he just keeps coming back.
"I got my career started late so, even though I'm getting older, I don't have as much wear and tear on my arm," Warner said. "I feel good. I really do.
That perseverance just might earn him a Pro Football Hall of Fame induction.