Consider Kurt Warner a born-again MVP candidate.
He burst onto the scene unexpectedly once before: the former supermarket stock boy turned into a Super Bowl champ in 1999, writing one of the most improbable football fairy tales ever told. He earned league MVP honors that year, and again in 2001.
He's unexpectedly putting up world-class numbers here in 2008, too, after wandering the desert of NFL sidelines for much of the past six seasons, often playing the veteran caretaker role for newbies like Eli Manning in New York and Matt Leinart in Arizona.
But if you're looking for a candidate poised to capture MVP honors here at the halfway pole of 2008, the laser-sharp, record-setting 37-year-old passer is the clear choice.
He's fresh off a classic Warner performance in Arizona's 34-13 win over St. Louis, a team that, in a tender bit of irony, probably prays for a QB of his caliber each Sunday. Warner completed 23 of 34 passes for 342 yards, two TDs, zero INTs and a 120.0 passer rating.
He's on pace to pass for 4,862 yards, and if he maintains that clip it would be second only to Dan Marino's 5,048-yard season in 1984. Interestingly, Warner currently holds the No. 2 spot, with his 4,830 yards in 2001. (We should note that Saints QB Drew Brees is on pace for 5,126 passing yards this year.)
Warner is also:
• Second in the NFL in TD passes (16)
• Second in passer rating (104.2)
• First in completion percentage (69.9), a mark that puts him in position to challenge the single-season record set by Ken Anderson in 1982 (70.6 percent).
More important than the individual numbers, though, is that Warner has achieved the near impossible: He's brought a touch of respectability to a Cardinals organization that's been the worst in North American sports by any objective measure.
How bad has it been for the Cardinals?
Consider this: the Cardinals are one of two teams that have been in the NFL since its inception in 1920 (the other is the Bears), and over the 88 seasons since then, the Cardinals have won just two playoff games.
That's not a misprint: Two playoff victories in 88 years of NFL football. They won the 1947 NFL championship game and added a wildcard win over the Cowboys in 1998. That's about one postseason victory nearly every half century. The Giants won four playoff games last year alone.
The organization has been a black hole for virtually everyone involved with it. Great coaches such as Joe Stydahar, Curly Lambeau, Don Coryell, Bud Wilkinson and Gene Stallings led the team at one point. All found great success elsewhere. All were failures with the Cardinals.
Yet today Arizona is 5-3, in clear control of the otherwise abysmal NFC West. If the playoffs started today, the Cardinals would host a wild-card game against Washington or Tampa.
Warner deserves a large part of the credit for Arizona's rare competitive season. So, too, does head coach Ken Whisenhunt. He made one of the smartest moves of the offseason when he rejected Leinart, the former No. 1 pick, in favor of the more seasoned Warner.
As the Cold, Hard Football Facts noted at the start of the season, Warner was the obvious choice. In fact, Warner vs. Leinart never should have been a debate. While Leinart has struggled in his brief career, Warner has been one of the most prolific players in the history of the game.
His career passer rating of 94.2 is second only to Steve Young's record 96.8. He surpassed the struggling Peyton Manning (94.1) at No. 2 on the all-time passer rating list last week.
Warner's career average of 8.12 yards per attempt is the NFL's best mark since Norm Van Brocklin retired in 1960 with an average of 8.16 yards per attempt.
His 342-yard game against St. Louis on Sunday also marks a place in history. It was his 45th 300-yard passing performance in just 101 career games. Nobody has cranked out 300 yards games at such a prolific clip. Marino holds the record, with 63 300-yard performances. But it took him 242 games to get there.
It all adds up to a very MVP-worthy season for Warner here in 2008. If he does win it, he'd join Brett Favre as the only players in league history to claim the title three times.
It sounds like Warner deserves more than just MVP honors. It sounds like he deserves a bronze bust in Canton, too.