Kurt Warner may go down in history as the most improbable superstar quarterback ever to play in the NFL and his retirement has pundits across the country weighing in on his place in the history of the game. Most, if not all, agree that Warner crafted a Hall of Fame worthy career and I certainly agree with that sentiment.
But while I watched the 38-year-old Warner step down with the same kind of cool, composed demeanor in which he stepped into the spotlight, I couldn't help but think of another quarterback who retired at the age of 38, Steve Young.
Now you must be thinking, Steve Young and Kurt Warner? They're nothing alike. And you'd be right.
The left-handed Young was a scrambler, a daredevil and one of the most athletic players to ever play the position. Warner meanwhile was a stationary target, a right-handed pocket passer of the highest order who succeeded by getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers.
But the differences don't end with their playing styles.
Young was a star at BYU and was tabbed for success from the very start, signing a multi-million dollar deal with the USFL that still pays him to this day. Warner on the other hand was an afterthought at Northern Iowa and went undrafted before signing on to play in the Arena League.
Off the field, it's been well documented that Warner bagged groceries to make ends meet in his pre-NFL days. Young meanwhile had a potential career as a lawyer in his back pocket should football have not worked out.
Young sat behind arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, Joe Montana, before taking over as the starter for one of the most storied franchises in all of sports, the San Francisco 49ers.
Warner was pressed into duty for the Rams, who up until that point had never won a Super Bowl, when the unheralded Trent Green was lost to a season-ending injury.
So as you can see, on the surface Young and Warner have very little in common besides the age at which they walked away from the game. But dig a little deeper and you find that these two great quarterbacks were quite similar.
Lets start with the numbers, shall we?
Young finished his career with an all-time best QB rating of 96.8. Warner is not far behind with a 93.7 career QB rating. Young racked up 4,149 passing attempts and a career completion percentage of 64.3%. Warner meanwhile threw the ball 4,070 times and with his retirement became the all-time career completion percentage leader at 65.5%. Number two among retired QBs? You guessed it, Young.
Both Young and Warner passed for over 32,000 yards and 200 touchdowns, with Young just slightly ahead in each category thanks to several more years spent as his team's #1 quarterback. Young and Warner also share the record for most consecutive 300+ yard passing games (6).
Each won a total of eight playoff games as a starter and a single Super Bowl, despite Warner getting two more opportunities than Young to win the big one. Warner holds the record for most passing yards in a Super Bowl (414), while Young holds the record for most touchdowns thrown in a Super Bowl (6).
Both Young and Warner are two-time NFL MVPs, Young in 1992 and 1994, and Warner in 1999 and 2001. Also each are one-time Super Bowl MVPs, Young in 1994 and Warner in 1999.
As noted, each played in leagues other than the NFL. They played a full season only three times each, missing parts of every other season of their careers with injuries, most notably multiple concussions which ultimately led to their respective retirements.
The year Warner took over as the starting quarterback for the Rams, 1999, Young's career came to an end when he was knocked out of a week 3 game with a concussion. His opponent that day? None other than Warner's last team, the Arizona Cardinals.
So as you can see, it's easy to think about Young and Warner as completely different quarterbacks, and in many respects you'd be hard pressed to find two more disparate styles. But greatness is greatness no matter how you slice it, and if there's one thing Young and Warner shared more than anything else it was their ability to perform in the biggest moments.
Young was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2005, and while it remains to be seen what will happen with Warner in terms of the Hall of Fame, one would have to imagine that five years from now he will add to the list of first-ballot inductees.