Long before Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt gave Kurt Warner another late-career shot at leading the Cardinals, Warner had already picked himself: that is, Warner believed he could still play at the level that took him to two Super Bowls with the Rams. That is to say, even when the pundits and many fans had given up on him, Warner worked hard to maintain the skills that made him a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player.
Every sports fan loves the story of the athlete who continues to believe when everyone else has moved on. But it's highly unlikely that Warner's positive attitude alone would have prompted Whisenhunt to take a chance on an old quarterback, because the NFL is an exquisitely competitive and unforgiving arena. There were two other qualities the coach had to see, two things leaders in other organizations should consider when looking over their own practice fields.
First, Warner didn't rest on his reputation or talk about how he had earned a starting job in 2008 because he was the MVP in 2001. The quarterback with the salt-and-pepper hair worked as hard or harder than players ten to twelve years younger (star receiver Larry Fitzgerald was six years old when Warner started playing college football).
Second, once he stepped in for the injured Matt Leinart, Warner produced results. That's not to say that every game was a model performance. There were times when his completion percentage dipped into the low fifties, but he also produced numbers that have done nothing but solidify his position as a future Hall of Famer.
The final piece of the puzzle belongs to Coach Whisenhunt. Once he picked Warner as his QB, that was the end of the discussion (at least in the coach's public discourse). We've all seen leaders withdraw their support for team members a little at a time, pulling the rug out inch by inch. Sometimes this is because the leader doesn't have the courage to make the hard call, to say, "It's time for the organization to move on." This spineless approach is sabotage and telegraphs the message, "I want you to fail." In turn, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the leader gets to say, "I saw that coming."
I'm a Pittsburgh fan by marriage, but on Sunday part of me will cheer for the quarterback with the gray hair who has been written off more than once. We rightly admire his perseverance; or as one sign-toting fan put it on national TV, "Old Guys Rock."
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