By Gilbert Garcia
Kurt Warner has had a better career than Brett Favre.
Sounds absurd, doesn't it? So absurd, in fact, that I'm not sure I believe it myself. But you might be surprised to find what those pesky facts tell us about these two veteran NFL quarterbacks. And given Warner's improbable Super Bowl run with the Cardinals, and how grating the Favre Worship Society -- led by ESPN2's narcissistic blowhard Skip Bayless -- can be, it's too tempting not to make the comparison.
As recently as a month ago, if you asked any football fan about these two guys, you could almost count on a response along these lines: Favre is the ultimate gunslinger, an iron man who ranks among the top three quarterbacks in the history of the game (if not at the very top), while Warner is the Roger Maris of football, a player who inexplicably got hot for a couple of years and then swiftly settled back into his journeyman ghetto.
The numbers, however, don't tell that story. Over his 18 seasons, Favre has a respectable, if unspectacular passer rating of 85.4. Warner has a much more impressive rating of 93.8. Favre has completed 61.6 percent of his passes, while Warner has completed 65.4 percent. Favre averages 7.0 yards per attempt, Warner 8.0 per attempt. Even touchdown passes, supposedly Favre's biggest claim to greatness, favor Warner. Sure, Favre's 464 touchdowns put him at the top of the NFL's all-time list, but he's also thrown more passes than anyone else in the history of the game. The best measuring stick for this category is number of pass attempts per touchdown, and Warner edges Favre out here with one touchdown pass per 19.5 attempts, compared to Favre's one touchdown pass per 20 attempts.
If individual statistics leave you cold, let's look at team accomplishments. I'm not one who buys the line that quarterbacks should be judged primarily on the basis of how much Super Bowl jewelry they've accumulated. No one will ever convince me that Trent Dilfer and Jeff Hostetler were better quarterbacks than Dan Marino, simply because they rode imposing defenses and ball-control ground games to Super Bowl glory, while Marino consistently came up empty.
But if we're going to apply this standard to Warner and Favre, how do you make a case for Brett? In 18 seasons, he's made it to two Super Bowls, winning one. In 11 seasons, Warner has now made it to three Super Bowls, winning one, with an imminent chance at a second. This month alone, he's won as many playoff games as Favre has over the last 11 years. And while Warner might not have Favre's Mr. Clutch reputation, he -- unlike Favre -- has never thrown six interceptions in a playoff game. He -- unlike Favre -- has not made a habit of killing his team's playoff hopes with bone-headed, late-game picks. And Warner deserves tremendous credit for making it to the Super Bowl with his second franchise, something none of the game's other greats can claim.
Even the party line that Warner finally found his groove again this season, after several years in the wildnerness, crumbles upon closer inspection. Over the last five seasons, when given the opportunity, he's consistently played well. In every one of those seasons he posted a passer rating higher than Favre's career average.
So what accounts for the blindly loyal Cult of Favre? His charisma, old-school recklessness, and gusto for the game are intoxicating for any sports pundit who came of age in the era of go-for-broke bombers such as Johnny Unitas, Sonny Jurgensen, Daryle Lamonica, and Joe Namath. While Warner has been every bit the gunslinger that Favre is (with fewer interceptions), he's too pious and polite to ever compete with Favre's unshaven outlaw appeal.
What the numbers tell us, however, is that if you throw out the three-year stretch from 1995-97, when Favre was undisputedly the best QB in the game, he's basically been Cal Ripken: a very good player whose greatest attribute was his tenacity and willingness to suit up for every game, no matter how beat-up he was. Better yet, he's Pete Rose: a player whose career was so long that he ended up with more hits than anyone else in MLB history, even though no one in his right mind would say that Rose was a better hitter than Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Hank Aaron, or Tony Gwynn, to name just a few.
Warner's return to prominence this season may not spur sportswriters to reevaluate his place vis-a-vis Favre, but it should.