Kurt Warner, The Great Unknowable Freak Of The NFL

Illustration for article titled Kurt Warner, The Great Unknowable Freak Of The NFL

Explaining their aversion to the epic, ridiculous Cardinals-Packers game Sunday, Free Darko wrote: "Warner scores don't move me. I know what he's thinking." I do not understand this. I have no idea what Warner's ever thinking. It scares me.


I think this is what makes him great, and incomprehensible.

I have joked before about my favorite Kurt Warner moment. It was last year, after the Cardinals-49ers MNF game (this night, actually), when the 49ers failed to convert on a goal-line stand that would have won the game. Afterwards, an exchange:

Michelle Tafoya: What were you thinking on that last drive?
Kurt Warner: I was thinking of how great God is.

This passage sums up everything about Warner, and nothing. I wonder if this is exactly what he was thinking, what he's thinking all the time, really, whether he's pumping gas, pouring milk on his breakfast cereal, clipping his toenails. "God is great, God is great, I like chicken teriyaki, God is great, I should watch for that blitz package, God is great." Is that really it? Is that how he does it? Has he figured it all out? Is it God? Or his version of God? (Or, as Craggs, put it: "a sort of willful, self-imposed ignorance that allows a guy to both believe in an invisible man on a cloud AND play a really violent game in a perpetual state of calm"?)

In a world in which Brett Favre continues to exist, and continues to capture the attention of those who hate him, it is sad how few recognize Warner as his spiritual opposite. Let's look at the circumstances of Sunday's game. Beforehand, word leaks that Warner might retire after the season, which really shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone who has followed his career, and his season. (All told, I suspect he wanted to retire after last year.) So, we realize, walking into the Pink Taco, that this is very well the last time we'll ever watch Kurt Warner play football. The Kurt Warner who exploded into the public consciousness more than a decade ago, the most cliched and therefore most true of unlikely stories, then essentially disappeared for seven years, before re-emerging to lead the NFL's worst franchise to the Super Bowl. Whatever your thoughts on the man, it is impossible that he exists. He has no comparables: He is his own species.

And we were watching his last game, and it was perfection. No one understands the NFL's efficiency rating — except to know that it's useless — but I can't fathom how someone could play better than Warner did without the ability to physically stop time. Four incompletions, five touchdowns, just utter, cold brilliance. This was his last stand, the final flash of what Drew calls "'99 Warner, who can ejaculate through a Fruit Loop," and it was the best game he'd ever played. And he still almost lost it. In a way, that might have been the ideal ending to the story. Warner plays the game of his life, but he still loses, thanks to a coin flip, Neil Rackers and the emerging genius of Aaron Rodgers. It would have made sense. An unprecedented career ending in an unprecedented way, Warner losing in his last game, but not really, not really losing at all. After Rackers missed the field goal, it's what every single Buzzsaw fan in that stadium was thinking. It was logical.


Not that Warner seemed to notice. I watched the game on television later, and he's standing on the sidelines, passive as ever, at peace, observing the other fallible humans groping for whatever they can, all around him. If this would have been Favre ... lord, I can't imagine. Let's just be glad it wasn't Favre.

As it turned out, Karlos Dansby "intercepted" the pass via a Michael Adams facemask-that-wasn't-a-facemask-for-some-reason, and it wasn't over. Warner gets to do this again. It's almost like he knew.


It's difficult to describe Warner, when he's on, when he's '99 Warner, as anything other than bionic. He is a robotically constructed quarterback machine, showing no emotion, no fear, no joy, no panic: He throws the ball exactly where it's supposed to go because that's where it's supposed to go. It's not the chaos of Favre, or the nerdy precision of Manning, or the All-American faux heroism of Brady. There's nothing to it at all: Warner just hits exactly his spot and then jogs down the field to do it again. It's unnerving. It's inhuman. It does not compute.

Kurt Warner plays football like most people take out the mail, or pour milk on their cereal, or pump gas. He just happens to be brilliant at it. There is no mess. He is a reasonable, removed man playing a savage game, and he barely seems to notice. I've seen Kurt Warner get angry on the field, I've seen him frustrated, I've seen him in pain ... but I've never seen him nervous. I don't mean nervous in a Neil Rackers pants-pissing way: I mean nervous in an existential way. Warner plays like he knows how this story ends. Kurt Warner makes me want to be a better person. He makes me want to try to figure it all out. And he makes me want him to win, win, win, before it's over, before the mystery vanishes, in a wisp, gone.