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News » SUPER COMEBACK


SUPER COMEBACK


SUPER COMEBACK
Tampa, Fla. - For those who want to believe the NFL set up the 1999 ex-


pansion Browns to fail, how do you explain Kurt Warner?

Ten years ago this week, the list of 150 players made available to the Browns in their inaugural expansion draft was revealed. Warner was on the list, courtesy of the St. Louis Rams.

"We took a foolish gamble," said Charley Armey, who was the Rams vice president of player personnel at the time. "We were lucky they didn't do their homework."

Warner, of course, went on to quarterback the Rams to the Super Bowl following the 1999 and 2001 seasons, earning the game's MVP award in the first one won by St. Louis.

Now he is back on the sport's biggest stage as the inspirational leader of the Arizona Cardinals. Warner is the second quarterback in history, after Craig Morton, to take two different teams to the Super Bowl.

"Unbelievable," said Chris Palmer, the expansion Browns first coach. "Unbelievable."

It's unfair to lay the blame on Palmer for one of the greatest oversights in Cleveland sports history. He was hired 19 days before the expansion draft and was preoccupied with assembling a coaching staff.

Months earlier, however, a scouting operation was put in place by the NFL to lay the groundwork for both the expansion draft and college draft to assist the eventual Browns organization. The NFL scouting staff actually signed a dozen or so free agents and was preparing for the Feb. 9 expansion draft when the Browns organized under the leadership of owner Al Lerner, President Carmen Policy and General Manager Dwight Clark.

The head of the operation was Joe Mack, who formerly worked with the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers. Contacted in Charlotte, N.C., Mack lamented there wasn't a lot of accessible video on Warner.

At the time, Warner was hardly a household name, of course. But he was 27, strong-armed and perfectly healthy, and would have cost only a $10,000 bonus to bring him on for a longer look.

"I was a little worried, a little uncomfortable, a little nervous," Armey said.

Warner wasn't drafted out of Northern Iowa and spent a couple of weeks in the Green Bay training camp in 1994. Needing to feed his family, Warner played three years in the Arena Football League and posted incredible statistics. The Rams signed him in 1998 and then allocated him to Amsterdam in NFL Europe as a favor to its coach. Warner lit up the Europe League, too.

In the NFL, Warner played only one quarter in the final game of the Rams' 1998 season.

"From what we'd seen, we thought he was fairly accurate, had some good ball sense," Mack recalled. "What happened, though, was Carmen came in and brought Dwight in. I had gone out and [done reports on] all the top quarterbacks [in the college draft] and we prepared for the expansion draft. Dwight essentially told us that Tim Couch would be the quarterback and they didn't want to muddy the waters by bringing in too many quarterbacks. That kind of took most of the quarterback situation off the table."

The Rams saw Warner as a potential backup to Trent Green, whom they signed to a $16 million contract in Free Agency. Armey also figured that Palmer, with whom he had worked in New England, would favor signing a quarterback with NFL experience to pair with the one he would take in the draft.

Behind the scenes, Policy was working a deal with the San Francisco 49ers to deliver Ty Detmer to Palmer.

"There were some circumstances that we felt were in our favor [for exposing Warner]," Armey said.

"I didn't blame the team when that happened," Warner said on Wednesday. "I knew the situation. So many guys on your team had to be put in the expansion draft. Obviously, where I was and where I came from, it didn't surprise me that I was on it. And it didn't surprise me that I wasn't picked in the expansion draft."

Each team had the right to "pull back" one player from its expansion list if the Browns took one. As it happened, none of the Rams' five players was among the Browns' 37 selections. The Browns did select a quarterback from Tampa Bay, Scott Milanovich, who was cut before training camp.

"Nobody knew," Palmer said of Warner. "Not even the Rams.

"They can make a movie out of this guy's career," continued Palmer, who earned a Super Bowl ring last year as quarterbacks coach of the New York Giants.

Warner left the Rams in Free Agency in 2004 and signed with the Giants as a transition to Eli Manning. He joined the Cardinals the following year and then was re-signed to be a mentor to Matt Leinart.

Now 37, Warner can make history by being the first quarterback to win Super Bowls with two different teams.

Don't count him out.

"You cannot appreciate the toughness this guy brings," Palmer said. "We had a lot of the Arizona film in crossover because we played the NFC West this year and saw him on video. This guy gets hit, and I would say 95 out of 100 quarterbacks get hit like that and they wouldn't last the season. He has remarkable toughness."

Armey, retired and living in Arizona, has followed Warner every step of the way since he made Armey and then-coach Dick Vermeil look like geniuses. It was Vermeil who promised his team after Green went down with a season-ending injury in preseason, "We will rally around Kurt Warner, and Kurt Warner will play well for us."

Armey said: "It's like watching one of your children. It's rewarding. First, he's a fantastic kid. Secondly, he's got a world of confidence in his own ability and he processes information better than anybody I've been around.

"The only guy I ever watched on film that could get the ball out and to the right person on time like him is Otto Graham. I saw him as a kid and I went back and watched film of Graham when I got in the business. Kurt may be the best quarterback in the world from the shoulders up because of the way he processes information."

But would he have survived, physically, behind a patchwork offensive line on an expansion team?

"It's hard to say what would have happened," Armey said.

"I don't know that you can fault the Cleveland Browns for not taking him," Palmer said. "But I might still be in Cleveland if they did."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: tgrossi@plaind.com, 216-999-4670



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 30, 2009

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AJ Davis Name: AJ Davis
#37
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Age: 25
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College: North Carolina State
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