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Kurt Warner, Tom Brady

Kurt Warner was out of the NFL and bagging groceries at one point, but within a few years, he was the league MVP and a Super Bowl champion. Warner is now on the NFL Network, analyzing the game that both knocked him down and made him a celebrity. Warner recently spoke with ThePostGame to talk about the longevity of quarterbacks, fighting for starting jobs with Eli Manning and Matt Leinart and making the transition from the Arena Football League to the NFL.

ThePostGame: I'll start with a little personal story for you, Kurt, my first NFL game ever was Nov. 21, 2004. I don't know if you have any idea what the significance of that is, but it was Eli Manning's first start, which meant that you were no longer starting for the New York Football Giants. Eli Manning has started every game since. First of all, it's crazy you were the last person to start for the Giants other than Eli Manning. But right now, with so much talk about potentially replacing him in New York, as someone who has seen that career through, what is your perspective on that situation?
WARNER: My first perspective is simply that they don't have a very good team around him. To put anything on a quarterback when you're dealing with the situation that Eli is dealing with, I think is ridiculous. The guy has given everything for his entire career, has had great success with the team, you always want the quarterback to play better, he needs to play better, but it's really one of those things where as long as Eli wants to play there, he's earned the right to be the starter. I don't have any problem with getting some young guys in and preparing for the future, but to me, what Eli has done, the 'start streak' that he's had, now is not the time to break that. He deserves to be the starter and kind of work through this as they work through this as a team. I guess I'm more disappointed than anything that they are even talking about it, considering everything that he's given for the organization.

TPG: And once upon a time, you signed on knowing that he was a rookie on that 2004 Giants team. Had you spoken to Eli Manning before signing up to be that starter that he'd wait behind or did you just take that job, knowing that you wanted to be a starter in the NFL at the time?
WARNER: For me, it was really just that I was hoping to get 16 games as a starter, knowing that Eli was definitely the future. But I just wanted to get on the field and play. I knew it was an opportunity with the rookie there to have a great chance to start and play and to prove to someone else that I could still play at that level. I knew it wasn't a long term thing when I signed up there. I didn't sign up with the idea that I was going to be the Giants' quarterback for the long term, but I was hoping to become a starter somewhere else. And, it worked out for both of us. I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity with the Cardinals, and he's had a great career for the Giants.

Eli Manning, Kurt Warner

TPG: Everyone talks about the Cinderella story awith you, going from bagging groceries to playing on the "Greatest Show on Turf."  But that second wind of your career, after you were with the Giants and you get replaced by Eli and you go to Arizona, you are going back and forth with Matt Leinart. Before that 2008 season, was there ever a consideration of retiring while in Arizona?
WARNER: Yeah, there were definitely times. When I got benched there for Matt Leinart a couple years in, there was a lot of frustration there because I felt like I could still play. I felt like I was the best quarterback and that's always the hardest part. When I was in New York, I felt like I was the better quarterback when I was replaced by Eli, but you also understand the business side of it, and the part where the organization is trying to build something for the future, but there were definitely some difficult moments there where I contemplated and didn't know if it was worth it to sit there and be on the bench, I just couldn't reserve myself to being a backup. There were moments of frustration, where I considered retirement, but I'm glad that I didn't. I'm glad that I got another opportunity and I'm glad that I was able to have some success at the end of my career.

TPG: How did Ken Whisenhunt contribute to bringing you back to top-notch, Pro Bowl, starter form?
WARNER: I think it was a combination of things. First was the belief. You've always got to have people that believe in you and believe that you can have success. I think you've always got to stay open to coaching. With them continuing to coach me and to see and learn things from those guys, with their ability to work with me and develop a system that fit not only the skill players on the team we had, but also, my skill set. I think that for all players, all quarterbacks, the key is having coaches that understand what you do well and have the willingness and understanding as leaders to think of their team and to think of their players. To me, that's always what makes great coaches great, no matter what level it is, from high school to college to the pros. That's what happened in Arizona. We were able to work together, he was able to learn from me and I was able to learn from him and together. We were able to mesh into something that allowed us as a team, and me as an individual, to have success.

TPG: Tom Brady says he's 40 years old, but I don't know where his birth certificate is. Drew Brees is getting up there too. You played until 38. What adjustments do you make in your late 30s? How are these guys still doing it? What is it about quarterbacks and making that adjustment to still be able to compete at such a high level at such an old age?
WARNER: You're looking at quarterbacks who have played the same way for their entire careers. They're not guys who've had to adjust the way they play as they get older. They've done a great job of keeping themselves in shape, keeping their bodies in shape. They've been fortunate to be in the same system, year in and year out for a long period of time. That's allowed them to have that success and to build off of that, mentally. They play with their mind first and their arm second. To me, your mind is sharper as you get older, you grow mentally as a quarterback, so where you might drop a little bit physically, you make up for it with the ability to mentally be on top of your game and that's what I see with these guys. The real question will be are guys like Russell Wilson and those types of players that early in their career play so much on their athleticism, will they be able to play into their 30s and into their 40s if they continue to play that same way? But I'm not surprised at all by Brady and Brees because they've always played the game mentally first, and have been sharp and have been ahead of the game, although their physical skills don't seem to be diminishing much. You don't really notice because mentally they're so good still.

TPG: In 2001, [Super Bowl XXXVI,] did you have a chance to watch Tom Brady on offense or you were just game planning the whole time that you were off the field?
WARNER: Back in 2001, Tom Brady wasn't "Tom Brady" yet. They weren't an offense that was really designed around throwing the football. Of course, I watched the last drive and what's really become synonymous with Tom Brady is how good he is down the stretch when your team needs somebody to lead you to that final field goal or that final touchdown. I saw that up close in 2001, but you obviously saw his ability to handle those big moments at that time and what was just the start of an incredible, incredible career, who a lot consider the best to ever play.

Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, St. Louis Rams

TPG: A lot of your success was courtesy of being able to play in the Arena Football League and in NFL Europe. It seemed like maybe 10-15 years ago it was easier to make the jump from the AFL to the NFL. Am I crazy to say that or has it become more of a challenge?
WARNER: I don't think it was ever easy. Those leagues were much more established at that time than anything right now. But again, it was so much for me about playing football, and it was about coaches who were willing to give me a chance and that's really what so much of life is about. It's hard to do anything by yourself and football is a microcosm of real life. No matter what you accomplish, it's hard to accomplish good things by yourself. I was fortunate enough to have coaches, especially a guy like Dick Vermeil, who was willing to give me a chance. He put himself out there because he saw something in me and that’s what great coaching is all about, having the ability to recognize talent in a player and get the best out of that player. That's what Dick Vermeil was really all about. He was able to tap into who guys were as players and get the best out of them. I'm just so grateful that he was one of the many who saw [potential] in me and was willing to give me a chance.

TPG: Have you gotten used to the "Los Angeles" Rams?
WARNER: No, I haven't. I still quite haven't figured out how that works. I'm enjoying watching them play. I'm glad that they are having success, but yeah, I want to say St. Louis every time I talk about the Rams.

TPG: When the Rams are playing the Cardinals, who are you rooting for?
WARNER: I try to stay as impartial as I possibly can, being an analyst and being a guy who has played for both teams. But often times I find myself cheering for the team that I believe has the best chance to have the most success that year. Whichever team is having the better year, I hope that they continue to win and make the playoffs and have a little bit of a run.

TPG: You're working on U.S. Cellular's Most Valuable Coach campaign. You've had your fair share of coaches. You mentioned Dick Vermeil before. Who were some of the coaches who you really appreciated, who really believed in you?
WARNER: I'll tell you what, you can go all the way back. I remember my first coach when I played in fourth grade and had passion for the game and how that carried over and that I wanted to be out on the football field and I wanted learn. I had a great basketball coach in high school who saw the potential that was inside of me and would never let me settle for just being average. Guys like Dick Vermeil, the guys who saw something in me, who have given me the opportunity. Mike Martz, a coach that taught me so much about the game. I was fortunate to have so many great coaches along the way that really impacted me. Now, I'm coaching high school and you want to have that same kind impact. Every morning with these young kids, I say to myself, how can I leave a lasting impression upon young men that I’m working with on a daily basis? And, well beyond the football field and more importantly to have success off the field and to understand the importance of lessons and values and how to take that with you in everything that you do. That's why we started the Most Valuable Coach campaign. We wanted to celebrate all of the great coaches that are out there. We’re down to 15 finalists. We're asking everyone to go to the website, and vote for the winner. I just think it's a great way to lift up individuals who give their time, give their energy to impact the lives of our young people. It’s a great campaign and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

TPG: How good of a basketball player were you?
WARNER: I was pretty good. I was an all-state basketball player in high school. I was pretty good at it. That was my first love, but I figured my opportunities were better in football.

TPG: You could have been an Ali Farokhmanesh.
WARNER: I don't know if I would have been nearly that good.

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