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Super Bowl Xliii: Pittsburgh Vs. Arizona

Within Reach

Super Bowl quarterbacks: Great stories, diverse styles, same results

February 01, 2009|Andrea Adelson

TAMPA, FLA. — If there was ever one guy to root for, it would have to be Kurt Warner.

That story of his is pretty incredible. Grocery bagger turned league MVP turned washed-up old guy turned potential Hall of Famer.

What's that? You disagree?

If there was ever one guy to root for, it would have to be Ben Roethlisberger, you say.

That story of his is pretty incredible. Small-school quarterback turned Super Bowl winner turned reckless rebel turned indestructible leader.

Both quarterbacks take their incredible stories into the Super Bowl on Sunday, and though both are worthy of cheers, you can only root for one.

Who do you choose? Do you want to see Warner complete his storybook comeback for the storybook Cardinals? Or do you want to see Roethlisberger help the Steelers make history?

Here are cases for both.

Warner, 37, has had a career renaissance this season, reinventing himself and the Cardinals. The two-time league MVP led the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis, winning two Most Valuable Player Awards and playing in two Super Bowls, winning one following the 1999 season.

But injuries derailed his last few seasons with the Rams. The Giants signed him in 2004 to keep Eli Manning's seat warm. Then it was off to Arizona in 2005 to a franchise nobody ever associated with winning football.

"I think the perception around the league about me was that I couldn't play anymore," Warner said. "[They thought] the Cardinals won't win, Kurt Warner can't really play, so I guess it's a fine mix. I knew that I could still play, given the right opportunity. So that's been one of the neat parts of the story: they took a chance, I took a chance, and together we've made something special happen." It wasn't until this season that something special happened. Injuries hampered Warner his first three seasons with the team. After the Cardinals drafted Matt Leinart in 2006, nobody thought this would be Warner's team right now.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt stayed up all night last August trying to figure out whether he should go with Warner or Leinart to lead his team. He decided Warner gave his Cardinals the best chance to win. No arguing with that decision.

Warner has started every game this season, throwing for 4,583 yards and 30 touchdowns. This is his first 4,000-yard season since 2001. In the playoffs, Warner has been virtually unstoppable, throwing for 770 yards and keying the game-winning drive against the Eagles.

If he throws for 294 yards against the Steelers, he would break the NFL record he set with the Rams in 1999 for most passing yards in the playoffs.

"He's playing at an MVP-caliber level," Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.

Everyone loves a comeback story, and everyone loves an underdog. Warner trumps Roethlisberger in both categories. But everyone also loves the hard-nosed, gritty guy who plays through pain. That is Roethlisberger.

A first-round pick out of Miami (Ohio), Roethlisberger played immediately for the Steelers and made an impact fast. In his second season, Roethlisberger became the youngest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl when the Steelers beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL in February 2006.

Trouble soon followed. Roethlisberger was involved in a motorcycle accident just before the start of the 2006 season. He wasn't wearing a helmet and nearly died. It was hard to understand how someone in the prime of his career could make such a reckless decision.

He struggled that season, and so did the Steelers, going 8-8 and failing to make the playoffs. But Roethlisberger matured as a person and a player. The accident helped put his life in perspective.

"It just makes me appreciate life and take every day one day at a time and enjoy the things that I have and am blessed with," Roethlisberger said. "It's a trophy to be alive every day."

This season he put the team on his back and now the Steelers have a chance to become the first NFL team to win six Super Bowls.

It wasn't easy. Roethlisberger played through shoulder and hand injuries, and sustained a concussion in the regular-season finale in which he stayed on the ground for 15 minutes. Yet he never missed a start.

His stats are never gaudy, but he wins. Roethlisberger is 51-20 as a starter, and his .718 winning percentage is second-best in the NFL among all active quarterbacks, behind Tom Brady.

"If you look at his stats, he is not up there with the top five guys, but he is a winner," Steelers receiver Hines Ward said. "You can't knock what he's done in the postseason and what he has done throughout his career. For me, that is all I really worry about. I like playing with winners and Ben is definitely a winner." Both Warner and Roethlisberger have impressive postseason records -- Warner is 8-2 in the playoffs; Roethlisberger is 7-2. Though they have different styles -- Warner is the classic pocket passer while Roethlisberger is the mad scrambler -- they are fun to watch. They are universally regarded as good guys, too.

So who do you root for? Can't go wrong either way.

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aadelson@orlandosentinel.com

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