St. Louis set for Warner's return

Sunday, November 20, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- Kurt Warner led the St. Louis Rams to two Super Bowls and won a pair of MVP awards, and legions of fans still have not come to grips with his departure.

Dial up sports talk radio any day during the football season, and invariably the perceived shoddy treatment regarding Warner losing the starting job to Marc Bulger in 2003 -- and his ultimate release before the 2004 season -- will come up. So his return to the city that witnessed his rise to fame could negate some of the Rams' dome-field advantage in today's game against the Arizona Cardinals.

"He did so much for this city when he was here, so much for this organization," Rams wide receiver Torry Holt said. "He never did anything bad in my eyes for them to treat him any other way."

Even if he is 0-5 as the starter for a 2-7 team, the fans will remember the glory days.

"You always want to come back and feel some love from everybody there," Warner said. "But at the same time I'm realistic to know I'm going to be wearing a Cardinals uniform, and I'm going to be the team that's hunted.

"Everything I think about the city isn't going to be dictated on whether I get a great ovation on Sunday or they boo me."

Bulger believes it'll be a hero's welcome. He's not complaining.

"I'm sure if we play each other, it'll always come up," Bulger said. "Who knows? It doesn't bother me. It gets to be a boring story, but you keep talking about it."

Especially if its the best story line by far, considering the Rams are 4-5 after a loss at Seattle that all but clinched the NFC West for the Seahawks, and the Cardinals have dropped three in a row.

The Rams continue to be plagued by injuries. They got Bulger, Holt, Isaac Bruce and Leonard Little back for last week's loss at Seattle, but this week likely will be without guard Adam Timmerman (back) and cornerback Travis Fisher (groin).

The Cardinals expect to get wide receiver Anquan Boldin (knee) back after missing two games.

"It's time for a win, bottom line," Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "We need a win in the worst way, the very worst way."

Warner is trying to become the first Cardinals quarterback to throw for 300 yards in three consecutive games and the attempt will come at the scene of some of his greatest triumphs. In 24 games in the Edward Jones Dome, he has completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 51 touchdowns.

Regardless of how his career has foundered since, Warner said leaving town was a good thing for his career. When the Rams cut him loose, they had concerns about his oft-injured thumb that affected his throws, and a pocket presence that became more jittery.

Warner started nine games for the Giants last year before losing his job to rookie Eli Manning and then landed in Arizona.

"I wasn't going to play in St. Louis, so there's no question that was the best thing for my career," Warner said. "Have I had the success that I had there? No, I haven't. It's hard to find."

Bulger got his first chance to show he could do the job when Warner missed half of the 2002 season with hand injuries. He took the job for good in Week 2 of 2003 after Warner fumbled six times, was sacked six times and threw an interception while sustaining a concussion in a season-opening loss at New York against the Giants.

This will be Warner's first game in St. Louis since 2002, and 20 players on the Rams' roster are former teammates. To others, it's less of a big deal.

Safety Mike Furrey went to Northern Iowa, Warner's school, but spoke of the quarterback in the past tense.

"Obviously, he was one of the best quarterbacks in the league a long time ago," Furrey said, although he hastened to add, "and he still has those qualities in him."

The Warner-Bulger controversy was born in 2002 when Warner missed half of the season with hand injuries and threw only three touchdown passes with 11 interceptions. That gave Bulger his first chance to shine with victories in his first six career starts.

Bulger had a career record of 18-4 when Warner was released in June 2004. The guy that got booted out has no hard feelings.

Warner talked last week with coach Mike Martz, out for the season due to a heart ailment, and also keeps in touch with quarterbacks coach John Ramsdell and other coaches. But he said the player he's closest with is Bulger.

"Probably the guy I talk to more than anybody is Marc," Warner said. "He and I talk every couple of weeks, we keep each other posted on what's going on, and obviously if things are going well we congratulate each other."

Today, they'll be able to communicate on the field.

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