I have now covered 10 NFL games in St. Louis in which Kurt Warner played. His record in those is 10-0.
Here’s my column for Monday’s Gazette column on the latest Warner triumph here, his Arizona Cardinals’ 34-13 rout of the St. Louis Rams Sunday.
ST. LOUIS — Downtown St. Louis was draped in deja vu Sunday.
Inside the Edward Jones Dome, more people wore St. Louis Rams blue-and-gold jerseys with the number 13 and the name “Warner” on the back than those of any other player. Which was interesting, since Warner hasn’t played for the Rams since the end of the 2003 season.
But Warner’s Arizona Cardinals were in town, and abused the Rams, 34-13. It not only felt like old times, it looked like them on the playing field. The Cardinals racked up 510 yards, 342 of them from the 37-year-old throwing arm of Cedar Rapids native son Warner.
It was a performance of a quarterback and an offense similar to the kind Warner and the Rams gave so often from 1999 through 2001. That’s when he was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player twice, threw 98 regular-season touchdown passes, reached two Super Bowls, and won the 1999 world title.
Adding to the reminiscing, at halftime the Rams inducted former coach Dick Vermeil into their Ring of Honor. It was Vermeil who made Warner his starter in 1999 when Trent Green was injured late in the preseason. An Iowa guy became a national phenomenon within a few weeks, and the Rams quickly became known as The Greatest Show on Turf.
Some star players are quickly forgotten once they move on to another team. But certain others leave with permanent residences in fans’ hearts. That’s how it is here with Warner.
Erik Kocher grew up on Park Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids, not too many doors down from Warner and his family. He moved to St. Louis in 1984 after graduating from Grinnell College, and has been an architect here ever since. He bought a personal seat license to Rams games when they moved here from Anaheim, Calif., in 1995.
Kocher wore a Warner jersey Sunday, as did three others in his tailgating group in a parking lot for PSL owners a block from the stadium.
The Rams haven’t been to the playoffs since 2004, and sure aren’t headed there this year based on their 2-6 record and the way 5-3 Arizona owned them. What Rams fans cling to was something that basically ended with a Super Bowl loss to New England seven seasons ago.
“That three-year run was just phenomenal,” Kocher said. “It was the most-prolific three years of scoring a team ever had. It was a blast to watch.
“Most of the die-hards still wear the Warner jerseys. I’ll wear mine until some other quarterback takes the Rams to the Super Bowl.”
Still, the trip down Memory Lane wasn’t something St. Louis fans entirely enjoyed. Unlike the wall of happy roaring that rocketed around the Dome in Warner’s heyday here, the dominant sound Sunday was the booing of Rams coaches and players.
The ease with which Warner picked apart the St. Louis defense for two TDs — including a 56-yarder to a reserve named Jerheme Urban — didn’t sit well with the PSL-holders or the folks in the upper deck. The seats were 95 percent empty in the game’s final few minutes, fitting since their red color was that of the day’s bosses, the Cardinals.
Those who did stay to the end gave Warner a resounding ovation as he left the field and headed to the visitors’ dressing room.
“A great day,” Warner said. “Seeing lots of friends and acquaintances from over the years — I always love to come back to this place. It was really a good day all the way around for me.”
The Cardinals have been a poor rushing team this season, but amassed 177 yards on the ground Sunday. That was reminiscent of the old Rams days, too, when Warner had Marshall Faulk rushing for huge chunks of yards to complement Warner and his two stellar wide receivers, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.
Arizona receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin may be the equals of what Bruce and Holt were, and rookie running back Tim Hightower had a Faulkian 109 yards on 22 carries. Any quarterback on earth will tell you it helps to be surrounded by talent.
The Cardinals may not be The Greatest Show on Turf, but they may be better than anything Arizona fans have seen from their NFL team since it moved to Phoenix from St. Louis in 1988. They have had just one winning season since relocating to Arizona, and that was a 9-7 mark in 1998.
So Phoenix isn’t rushing to proclaim its club a potential champion. Nor is fourth-year Cardinal Warner.
“We’ve got a long ways to go to get to where we were with the Rams in those three seasons where we were really flying high,” he said. “But there’s times when there’s some glimpses that remind me of what we did here.
“All I’ve been trying to do since I left here was recapture just a little of that specialness that we had. We’ve had moments.”
Talk of leading Arizona opening a 3-game lead in the NFC West with half the season gone only makes Warner turn up his nose.
“There’s one goal when you start every season,” he said, “and that goal is to win the championship. The division, that’s all great and that’s goal number one. But we’ve got to keep pushing and we’ve got to keep building, because we’re not anywhere close to where we need to be.”
Still, the Cardinals are nearer to being very good than many of their rivals. The quarterback with some gray in his beard is a major reason.
In his last 16 games, dating to the halfway point of the 2007 season, he has 37 touchdown throws. That’s six more than anyone else in the NFL. Warner has 4,793 passing yards in that stretch, just 18 fewer than New Orleans’ Drew Brees and over 1,000 more than any other league quarterback.
“Kurt does a very good job,” Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhut said after Sunday’s game. “Kurt is very efficient. He does a great job with the offense. He is playing at a high level.”
With his gift for understatement, Whisenhut also could have said parts of Arizona are dry.
After he was done talking to reporters following the win, Warner shared handshake after handshake and hug after hug with old friends as he walked toward a side exit of the Dome.
“I thought the election was Tuesday,” Whisenhut teased him as they left the building together. “I didn’t know you were running for office.”
Over four years since the Rams released him, Warner could still carry most precincts in St. Louis.