Warner walks away on his terms

Quarterback Kurt Warner retired from the NFL on Friday after 12 seasons. Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire

Kurt Warner leaves the Arizona Cardinals following their first 10-win season since the 1970s.

He leaves at the peak of his powers, on his terms, health apparently intact, less than three weeks after throwing five touchdown passes in a playoff game.

Warner will go down in NFL history as the owner of a remarkable legacy, having gone from supermarket shelf-stocker to the leading figure in the restoration of two inept franchises. It's an upset if Warner doesn't land in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"It's been an amazing ride," Warner said at his retirement news conference Friday. "I don't think I could have dreamed that it would play out the way it has."

Warner retires with two league MVP awards, one Super Bowl MVP award, four Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl title and a legacy that extends far beyond the field.

"I want people to remember that anything is possible," Warner said.

Hey, if the Rams and Cardinals could become Super Bowl teams and an undrafted quarterback from Northern Iowa could lead them there ...

"Wow, man," Warner's former Rams teammate, Aeneas Williams, said Friday morning. "I don’t know how to put in words having an individual be a part of historically changing the fortunes of two franchises. But when I think of Kurt, I can’t think of any other player that has the potential to impact you just as much off the field as they do on the field. His philanthropy and what he does in community, to be able to say that it is parallel to what he does on the field, I believe is a rarity."

Williams, three years older than Warner, had six Pro Bowls on his NFL résumé when the Cardinals traded him to the Rams. It wasn't long before Williams, himself a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate, came to view Warner as a mentor. He also quickly came to view Warner as a great quarterback.

"When I was traded here (to the Rams), our first practice, and I’ll never forget this, we’re playing the Cover 2 defense in practice and I am the rollup corner, so my coverage area would be the flat and I would also have to alter if they ran a deep corner route behind me," Williams said. "Prior to me coming here, I could tell whether quarterbacks were throwing in the flat or throwing behind me. I can remember the first day of practice and it took me a little while to realize, I could not tell and it was very difficult to stop the route behind me because I had no idea initially of seeing any distinction of the level of his shoulders. Typically, when a ball is thrown deeper, the quarterback's shoulders are tilted. With Kurt, that wasn’t the case. That was when I began understanding the difference between the average and great quarterbacks."

Warner clearly could have played at least one more season at a high level.

The hit he took against the Rams in St. Louis left Warner with a concussion and another reminder that the timing for retirement might be right.

"I won't say that was a determining factor," Warner said. "But all those things go into it."

Warner expects to spend more time with his family, get more involved in Christian ministry efforts and find a way to remain involved in football as well.

It was clear in listening to him Friday that Warner was at peace with this decision, and that the decision had been a long time in the making. I highly doubt he would ever consider returning.

"There is something to be said for being able to leave on your terms and playing at the level that you want to play at," Warner said.