TEMPE, Ariz. – Kurt Warner has called an end to one of the great storybook careers in NFL history.
The 38-year-old quarterback announced his retirement from the game on Friday after a dozen years in a league that at first rejected him, then revered him as he came from nowhere to lead the lowly St. Louis Rams to two Super Bowls, winning the first of them.
Written off as a has-been, he rose again to lead the long-suffering Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl a year ago.
Warner walked away with a year left on a two-year, $23 million contract, knowing he still had the skills to play at the highest level.
He had one of the greatest postseason performances ever in Arizona's 51-45 overtime wild card victory over Green Bay on Jan. 10, but sustained a brutal hit in the Cardinals' 45-14 divisional round loss at New Orleans six days later.
Warner leaves the game with a legacy that could land him in the Hall of Fame even though he didn't start his first game until he was 28.
In a comparison with the 14 quarterbacks to make the Hall of Fame in the last 25 years, Warner has a better career completion percentage, yards per pass attempt and yards per game. Only Dan Marino had more career 300-yard passing games.
In 124 regular-season games, Warner completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 32,344 yards and 208 touchdowns. He and Fran Tarkenton are the only NFL quarterbacks to throw for 100 touchdowns and 14,000 yards for two teams.
Warner, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and played collegiately at Northern Iowa, ranks among the career leaders in a variety of passing statistics.
He was also the fastest player in NFL history to 10,000 yards passing and tied Dan Marino as fastest to reach 30,000.
He has the top three passing performances in Super Bowl history. His 1,156 yards passing in the 2008 playoffs broke the NFL record of 1,063 he set with St. Louis in 1999.
Warner's rise from obscurity seems the stuff of sports fiction.
He played three seasons in the Arena Football League and one in NFL Europe, mixed in with a sting stocking grocery shelves back in Iowa.
Warner made the Rams as a backup in 1998, then was thrust into the starting role in 1999 when Trent Green was injured.
What followed was a masterful and wholly unexpected season, when he led the Rams to a 13-3 regular-season record, then a Super Bowl triumph over Tennessee. He was named the league and Super Bowl MVP.
St. Louis was upset in the first round of the playoffs the following season, but Warner had them back in the big game in 2001, where "The Greatest Show on Turf" lost a squeaker to New England. The season earned him a second NFL MVP award.
But after an injury-plagued 2002 season, he was sacked six times and suffered a concussion in a 2003 season-opening loss to the New York Giants. He never started for St. Louis again.
He signed a free agent contract with the Giants for 2004, but was replaced by rookie Eli Manning after nine games. Warner came to the Cardinals in 2005 and was an off-and-on starter before replacing the injured Matt Leinart part way through the 2007 season.
Warner had to beat out Leinart the following spring, then led the Cardinals to the NFC West crown and playoff victories over Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia before the narrow loss to Pittsburgh in last year's Super Bowl, where he threw for 377 yards.
Off the field, Warner has been just as impressive.
He and his wife operate the First Things First Christian charitable foundation. Last year, he was named the NFL's Man of the Year for his off-field and onfield accomplishments.
Warner's departure leaves Leinart the presumed replacement. The former Heisman Trophy winner has started 17 games for Arizona but only one in the last two years.