Wednesday, September 14, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

By the time Kurt Warner’s time as the starting quarterback for the Rams was done, he had set the bar so high for the next person in line that it would have taken the world’s largest ladder to reach.

Marc Bulger was the unfortunate next person in line charged with the task of following in the footsteps of the man who, from a statistical standpoint, had the single greatest three-year run of any quarterback ever to play in the NFL.

But Bulger wasn’t the only one who was being asked to live up to those expectations. It was easy to forget that the reason Warner’s time in St. Louis was done was because he too could no longer reach the standard he had set.

To this day, Bulger still hears criticism with every interception, every fumble and every loss. And so does Warner.

“It’s the same way in my situation that I know Marc’s dealing with,” Warner said. “You have that standard whether it was me ahead of him or even in my situation that every year every time you step on the football field they expect you to perform at that type of level. It’s hard to do. It was a great run that we had. We had everything going, we had everything clicking, we were together for a long period and it was one of those special, special periods.”

Warner’s time with the Rams included a pair of Super Bowl appearances with one championship and two MVPs mixed in. Fair or not, he set the bar that high for himself and anyone who would play the position for St. Louis in the coming years.

So while Warner does feel for Bulger’s situation, he doesn’t feel too bad for the quarterback who was good enough to win the job and has proven to be an excellent quarterback in his own right.

“Yea, I feel for him, but at the same time I don’t feel too bad for him,” Warner said. “The guy has done nothing but had success in the league. You can’t get caught up with what the media says or what the fans want, the guy has played good football and that’s why he is the starting quarterback there, that’s why he has been to the Pro Bowl. He is an excellent quarterback and has proven it year in, year out. I don’t look at it like he hasn’t lived up to the standard. I think he has played very good football and played very well.”

Bulger is the first to say that a big reason for his success since taking over as the starter can be directly attributed to Warner. Although coach Mike Martz’s ability to develop and recognize quarterback talent is ultimately the main reason for the success of both players, Warner never wavered in his support of Bulger, even when the two were in direct competition for the job.

Because of Warner’s approach to helping Bulger understand the nuances of the offense and adjusting to the speed of an NFL game, Bulger and Warner forged a friendship that has managed to withstand the test of time and controversy.

“He helped me out a whole lot,” Bulger said. “He was here and knew the system when I was third. When I started to play he was great. When I took over he was great. Nothing has changed in the past year. He just taught me pretty much how to become a quarterback in this league and what it takes, the dedication and how much you have to study.”

Bulger and Warner still talk about once a month, whether it’s just about life in general or football. Bulger doesn’t know if he will talk to Warner before the two meet up in Arizona this weekend, but he isn’t worried about it.

“It’s not like we are going to call each other just to make it a good story,” Bulger said. “I’m sure we might talk, we might not. We’ll see.”

Whether the two talk or not, one thing is for sure when they do see each other at Sun Devil Stadium; both are going to want to win.

Bulger and Warner both posted solid passing numbers in week one, but neither was able to do enough to lead their team to a victory. With their teams at 0-1 heading into a week two showdown, neither wants to walk off the field at 0-2, nevermind the added incentive both have in playing against one another.

Obviously this is a game that has been circled on the calendars of Rams’ fans since Warner elected to sign with the Cardinals on March 6. Warner signed with the Giants after being granted his release from the Rams after the 2003 season.

But Warner wasn’t able to fend off No. 1 pick Eli Manning for too long and was relegated to the backup job nine games into the season. With the knowledge that he wasn’t going to be the starter in New York, Warner went searching for an opportunity to be a starter somewhere.

When Arizona coach Dennis Green made his pitch, Warner jumped at the chance to take a one-year deal throwing to the likes of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. When the NFL schedule for this season was released, it appeared to be a coincidence that Warner would start the year with a trip to New York followed by a game against the Rams.

Warner says that’s not the case.

“I don’t think that its coincidence, by any means,” Warner said. “I think that they knew what they were doing. I think it adds something to it. It brings a little more national attention, little more excitement between the teams that are involved. So I don’t think that it’s a coincidence at all. I’m just hoping that we fare a little better against this team than we did the last one.”

And Bulger would also like his team to fare better than the last game. It’s that common mentality that has Warner and Bulger with a better understanding of what they need to do.

Neither quarterback expects to throw for 4,800 yards or 40 touchdowns, but both know that the only statistic that matters is wins.

“I think always trying to uphold the standard you set is always difficult because that takes a level of consistency year in and year out,” Warner said. “You get in there and you have success, that’s great. There’s a lot of guys that can have success for a year, but sustaining that level of success year in and year out in my opinion is no question the most difficult thing. That’s why you have got the Hall of Fame. It’s for guys that not only have done it once or twice but have done it over the length of their career. That’s what makes those guys so special.”