Big Red Legends: Jackie Smith

(Editor’s Note: This is a reprint of a story written by Howard Balzer on August 3, 1994 about Jackie Smith’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame)

MAKING A HALL by Howard Balzer

Canton, Ohio—Friends, fans and family.

On another sun-splashed Saturday in the city where professional football was born, a new class of the game’s greats was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Friends, fans and families came from far and wide to honor them and show their love. Emotions were high as even the most stone-faced among them broke down. No matter what was said beforehand, the new Hall of Famers become overwhelmed by the moment, by the hospitality of the volunteers, by the fans lined deep on the sidewalks waving during the parade Saturday morning.

For Jackie Smith, the weekend was a whirlwind of non-stop action. He seemed to be operating on adrenaline alone, overcome by what is happening, surrounded by friends, fans and family.

Friends: They came from everywhere, including teammates Charley Johnson, Jim Hart, Larry Stallings, Bill Koman, Terry Miller, Steve Jones, Tim Kearney, Kurt Allerman.

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Big Red Flashback 1962: Cards Hire Wally Lemm

(Editor’s Note: This is a short excerpt from Robert L. Burnes book Big Red: Story of the Football Cardinals, published in 1975 )

To present a picture of Wally Lemm, the best approach perhaps is to indicate what he was not as a coach. He was not, for instance, the bristling, driving type of coach Vince Lombardi was. Nor was he the perfectionist that Paul Brown always has been. Nor the fundamentalist that Tom Landry has been. Nor was he a devotee of the George Allen system which dictates that twenty hours of every working day, seven days a week must be a given over to making the football team a winner.

Wally Lemm with Big Red QB Charley Johnson in 1962

If he resembled any man, in approach to the job if not in flamboyancy, it was probably Jim Conzelman. Jim Conzelman always said “football is supposed to be fun” and Lemm echoed the sentiment. football was a major part of Jim Conzelman’s life, yet he walked away from the game several times and found other pursuits equally rewarding. So did Wally Lemm.

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Big Red Legends: Ernie McMillan

Ernie McMillan grew up in Chicago where he lettered in baseball, basketball and football at DuSable High School. He attended the University of Illinois, but didn’t play much his first three years.

“I had wanted to go to Arizona or some other college far away, but my mother didn’t want me to be too far from home,” Ernie said in a Post Dispatch story in 1969.

McMillan was used primarily as a blocking tight end at Illinois and caught only 7 passes in his college career, but the Cards drafted him in the 13th round of the 1961 NFL draft. The 6-foot-6 McMillan reported to camp at 283 pounds and requested to switch to tackle just a few days into practice. The Big Red agreed and it was a move neither would regret.

Ernie McMillan was a four time Pro Bowl tackle for the Big Red from 1961-1974.

“When Billy Bidwill came to Illinois to sign me, I told him I didn’t think I could make the team,” McMillan told attendees at the annual kickoff luncheon in 1961. “I taught school for six months and I realized there had to be a better and easier way to make a living, so here I am.”

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Big Red Flashback 1965: Why the Cards traded John David Crow

Frustrated about lack of playing time under head coach Wally Lemm, Big Red star running back John David Crow requested a trade after the 1964 season.

Crow won the Heisman trophy at Texas A&M in 1958 and was later the Chicago Cards first pick in the NFL draft. The team moved to St. Louis in 1960 where Crow became a star. His 1,533 total yards and 5.9 yards per carry were tops in the league in 1960 and he scored scored 17 touchdowns in 1962.

However, Crow struggled with injuries during his time in St. Louis. In 1961 he suffered a broken leg. In 1963 a knee operation limited him to just nine carries.

John David Crow was the Cardinals top pick in the 1958 NFL Draft.
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Big Red Draft: All-Time Picks by Round

Most people are aware of the historic struggles the St. Louis Cardinals had when it came to the NFL draft. There were some very good drafts over the years (1979-1983 for example), but more times than not, the Big Red left their fans scratching their heads (“They drafted a girl!”).

I thought it would be fun to go back and rank the all-time Big Red draft picks by round. Many on this list were no-brainers, but there were a few very competitive rounds. I’m sure everyone will agree that some of the greatest names in Cardinals history are on this list, including four Cardiac Cards offensive lineman, and all four Hall of Famers. But I also learned something about the Cards top 16th and 20th round picks, Jimmy Lee Hunt and Tom Day. Both were released by the Cardinals and both went on to become stars in the AFL. Hope you enjoy!


ALL-TIME ST. LOUIS CARDINAL DRAFT PICKS BY ROUND

ROUND 1 – ROGER WEHRLI (1969)

Wehrli was a consensus All-American at Missouri when the Cards selected him with the 19th pick in the draft. He went on to a 14 year career in St. Louis that included 3 All-Pro and 7 Pro Bowl selections. He had 40 interceptions, 19 fumble recoveries and was the longtime holder for Big Red kickers. He returned a fake FG for a TD in his final NFL game in 1982. Roger Staubach called him the best cornerback he ever played against. Wehrli was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the 1970s NFL All-Decade Team.

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Big Red Flashback 1980: Cards Hire Jim Hanifan

(Editor’s Note: Jim Hanifan became the Cardinals head coach on January 30, 1980. Below is Coach Hanifan’s account of how he was hired. It was taken from an excerpt of his book Beyond Xs and Os: My Thirty Years in the NFL)

My name had come up when there were openings for head coaching jobs in the NFL, and i really thought if I kept my nose clean I would have a shot at getting one of those jobs. I just didn’t think it would be in St. Louis.

Even though I really did want the job, it still caught me a little off guard when Don (Coryell) walked into my office and said Bill (Bidwill) had called to request permission to speak with me. I didn’t hear from him until a week later. We were coaching at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, and after the game I was back in my hotel room packing and getting ready to leave for the airport when Bill called. We agreed to meet two days later in San Diego.

The day that Bill arrived, it was pouring down rain. I agreed to meet him in a parking lot, because he wanted to be very secretive. I told him to follow me, and we would stop off and have lunch at a Mexican restaurant that was on the way to my house. It was managed by my friend Ray Ogas, who now works for the Rams.

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Big Red Draft Bust: Larry Stegent

Picking eighth in the 1970 NFL draft, the St. Louis Football Cardinals selected running back Larry Stegent out of Texas A&M.

“It’s unbelievable—I’m overwhelmed,” Stegent said in a St. Louis Post Dispatch interview after the draft. “I didn’t feel I’d be picked until much later. I didn’t really think anyone wanted me that much.”

Stegent was an All-American high school halfback and Southwest Conference all-star his sophomore and junior seasons at A&M. The Houston native was slowed by injuries for much of his senior season, but that didn’t stop the Cardinals from drafting him ahead of All-American running back Steve Owens from Oklahoma.

“Owens is a straight-ahead type runner,” Big Red head coach Charley Winner said. “We think Stegent can go outside for us, and he’s a good pass receiver.

Unfortunately, Stegent would never “go outside” for the Cards and became yet another Cards first round disappointment.

Larry Stegent was a high school and college star at Texas A&M when the Cardinals drafted him with the 8th pick in the 1970 draft.
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Big Red Flashback: The Ahmad Rashad Trade in 1974

By Jeff MeyersSeptember 19, 1974

“The doctors with the Bills told me that the Cardinals were telling everyone that I had mental problems and that’s why I couldn’t get along with people,” Ahmad Rashad said, his voice inflecting both laughter and anger at the same time.

It is easy to understand how Rashad could drive other people crazy, like cornerbacks. Willie Brown, the All-Pro of the Oakland Raiders, wound up talking to himself after Rashad turned him in circles and tied his shoelaces together during the Monday Night Game of the Week on ABC-TV.

Even Howard Cosell, given to hyperbole on some things as mundane as a stadium hot-dog vendor, was going nuts over Rashad’s two-touchdown performance that gave the Buffalo Bills a 21-20 victory. “In Buffalo,” Cosell raved, “the acquisition of Rashad is being termed the ‘Steal of the Century.'”

Bobby Moore changed his name to Ahmad Rashad in the summer of 1973. He was traded to Buffalo the following January for backup QB Dennis Shaw.

The victims of this outlandish thievery are the Cardinals, whose state of mind may be more in question than Rashad’s considering that they traded him straight up for second-string quarterback Dennis Shaw last January. Not that Shaw isn’t a competent professional; it’s just that Rashad has the talent to become one of the greatest receivers in the National Football League.

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Why Frank “Pop” Ivy Left the Cardinals in 1961

(Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Robert L. Burnes’ book Big Red: Story of the St. Louis Football Cardinals. Frank “Pop” Ivy was a member of the 1947 NFL Champion Chicago Cardinals and was the St. Louis Cardinals first head coach after they relocated from Chicago. He led them to a 6-5-1 record in 1960, but the team fell apart in 1961 and he resigned with just two games left in the season.)

When Pop Ivy abruptly resigned with two games left in the 1961 season, the general public impression was that he had been fired.

Walter Wolfner (the Cardinals Director of Operations) denied it vigorously. “We had no fault to find with Pop’s work, especially considering the injuries. He was under no pressure from management. In fact, I was waiting until the end of the season to talk to him about a new contract. I was shocked when he told me he wanted out.” The coach maintained that no one had pushed him, no one had leaned on him to leave. “It was my own idea,” he said.

Frank “Pop” Ivy won three Grey Cups with the Edmonton Eskimos in the CFL before landing the head coaching job with the Chicago Cardinals. He compiled a 15-31-2 record in 3+ seasons.
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1964: Why the Big Red Almost Moved to Atlanta

Twenty four years before the St. Louis Football Cardinals moved to Arizona, the Bidwill brothers almost relocated to Atlanta.

In April of 1964, Bill and Stormy Bidwill denied a Nashville Banner report of the Cards interest in moving to the Georgia capital.

“No. 1, I’d rather not comment. No. 2, neither I nor my brother ever has talked to the person who carried the story. No. 3, we’re not contemplating any change,” Cards vice president Bill Bidwill told the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

However, a month later, Bidwill admitted that he had received a “fine proposal” from Atlanta to play in their new $18,000,000 stadium starting in 1965.

BIDWILL’S CONCERNS

The Bidwill brothers wanted to stay in St. Louis, but had a number of concerns. First, they weren’t happy with the length of the proposed 30 year lease in an unproven football market. They also weren’t happy with the rental agreement of 12% of the gate revenue and the 5% city tax on ticket sales.

Bill (L) and Stormy (R) Bidwill in a 1965 photo (courtesy Sports Illustrated)
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Forgotten Big Red Star: Bob Reynolds

While the Big Red offensive line of the 1970s gets all the glory, the front five of the 1960s Cardinals was just as good and may have been better. Bob DeMarco, Irv Goode, Ken Gray, Ernie McMillan, and Bob Reynolds combined for 19 Pro Bowls from 1961-1970.

The 6′-6, 265-pound Reynolds was the Cards second round draft choice in 1963 out of Bowling Green where he was a two-time all-conference selection. He started his first training camp on defense, but was moved to left tackle after a string of injuries on the offensive line.

Big Red line coach Ray Prochaska believed Reynolds had the tools to succeed on the offensive line.

“He seems to know what pass protection is about. He knows the footwork pretty well and knowing this is three-fourths of the task.”

Bob Reynolds played left tackle 9+ seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Reynolds had another reason for the move to offense

“I didn’t feel I was good enough to be a defensive tackle,” he told Jeff Meyers of the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1970. “All the way up to pro ball I was always bigger than most players. I may have loafed. I had the tendency to take it easy. In college all I knew about defense was to overpower everybody.”

Reynolds told Meyers that he became convinced that mental preparation was the most important factor of playing on the offensive line.

“That is how you beat your opponent,” he said. “Better shape? No, you beat him because you’ve prepared yourself more than he has. Strength? No, you beat him because you prepared yourself more.”

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Big Red Flashback Jan. 8, 1983: Super Bowl Tournament at Lambeau Field

By Dennis Dillon

1/08/2021

The first sign that this was going to be an inauspicious weekend for the Big Red came when their Ozark Airlines charter touched down on the icy runway at Appleton International Airport—yes, that’s what they call it—less than 24 hours before their Super Bowl Tournament game against the Green Bay Packers.

The pilot tried the brakes, but they wouldn’t cooperate. The plane kept skidding down the runway. I gripped the seat handles tightly while behind me several Cardinals players screamed out in terror.

Finally—miraculously—the plane came to a stop. When it made a left turn to head for the terminal, it was only about 15 yards from a chain link fence at the end of the runway.

Shaken but safe, the players and coaches departed the plane—thanking the pilot as they exited—and boarded buses that would take them to the Paper Valley Hotel (where most Packers opponents stayed) in Appleton.

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Big Red Legends: Charley Trippi

By Dennis Dillon

12/28/2020

The oldest living member in the Pro Football Hall of Fame rose from his chair, eyed his target squarely and moved in for the play. With his wife, Peggy, cheering him on, he huffed, and he puffed, and he blew out every one of the 99 candles on his birthday cake.

His health may be betraying him—his hearing is shot, his mobility is compromised, and he fell and broke his shoulder while walking out to the mail box a few months ago—but Charley Trippi hasn’t lost the singular trait that defined his magnificent football career, where he was a multi-dimensional player at the University of Georgia and in the NFL.

“I’ve never met a man more determined than my grandpa,” says Clint Watson. “If you go back and look at all the pictures of him in action, you’ll see a similarity. You’ll see the face that he’s making. He’s gritting his teeth and straining with every ounce of energy and determination that he has. When you see those pictures, you’re like, ‘That’s Pa-Pa.’ He has a determination about him that a lot of people just don’t have.”

Trippi lives in Athens, Ga., not far from the college stadium where he starred in the mid-1940s. You used to be able to drive by his house and see Charley out in his yard, raking leaves. But he pretty much stays inside any more.

Born on December 14, 1921 in Pittston, Pa., Trippi was the son of a Sicilian immigrant coal miner. His mother died when Trippi was young. Trippi played football at Pittston High School, but he felt he needed to add some weight before playing in college.

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Big Red Flashback: Vai Sikahema Returns Two Punts for TDs in 1986 Game

“Thank goodness for little return people,” Big Red head coach Gene Stallings said after the Cardinals defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21-17 to close out the 1986 season.

The “little return people” Stallings was referring to was 5 foot 8 inch Vai Sikahema who had just become the fifth player in NFL history to return two punts for TDs in one game.

The Cardinals and Buccaneers were arguably the two worst teams in the NFL in 1986 and they certainly lived up to that billing on this cold Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium. The teams combined for 15 punts, 6 turnovers, and 500 total yards.

Vai Sikahema returning a punt 71 yards for a touchdown. He would return another 60 yards for a TD minutes later.

The Cardinals struggled on offense, turning the ball over three times and missing three easy field goals. They converted on only one of 10 third down plays and entered Tampa territory nine times, coming away with only one offensive touchdown.

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Forgotten Big Red Star: Dale Meinert

Bill Bidwill called him “one of the great defensive players we had.”

Dale Meinert was a three-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker with the Cardinals from 1958-1967. He was a college star at Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) and was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1955. But instead of playing in the NFL, the Lone Wolf, Oklahoma native decided to play in the CFL for Frank “Pop” Ivy and the Edmonton Eskimos, where he won a Grey Cup Championship.

Dale Meinert played 10 seasons with the Cards

In1958, after spending a couple of years in the Air Force, Meinert rejoined Pop Ivy with the NFL Chicago Cardinals. He played offensive line his first two seasons, but defensive coordinator Chuck Drulis converted him to linebacker in 1960.

“I guess they figured I wasn’t big enough to play guard,” the 215 pound Meinert said in Bob Burnes book Big Red, “and I sort of agreed with them because those defensive tackles kept looking bigger and bigger.”

It was a decision the Cardinals and Meinert would not regret. The tall rangy linebacker intercepted a pass in his first start against the Rams in 1960 and quickly developed into an aggressive tackler and pass defender. He was named team MVP in 1961 and earned Pro Bowl selections in 1963, 1965, and 1967. He did a brilliant job quarterbacking the Big Red defense and calling all the plays.

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That Time Jim Hanifan crashed Bud Wilkinson’s Car Into a Train

Most St. Louis football fans probably remember Jim Hanifan from his assistant coaching days with Don Coryell and the Cardiac Cards or when he was the Big Red head coach from 1980-1985. Younger fans may remember his time with the St. Louis Rams or later as the straight-shooting beloved analyst in the Rams radio booth with Steve Savard.

But some forget that Jim Hanifan was one of the few assistant coaches who stuck around for a year after Don Coryell left the Cardinals in 1978. Owner Bill Bidwill shocked the football world when he hired college coaching legend Bud Wilkinson, who led Oklahoma to three national championships and 14 conference titles. At the time, Hanifan had a year left on his contract, but he also had several offers to leave St. Louis.

Jim Hanifan (L) coached the Cards offensive line under Bud Wilkinson in 1978.

“I had options,” Hanny wrote in his book Beyond Xs & Os, My Thirty Years in the NFL. “At least six teams were vying for my services. I thought I was back in high school, being recruited all over again.”

Hanifan decided to stay in St. Louis and work under Wilkinson, a man who he once said “probably has more charisma than anybody I have ever met in my life.”

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Former Big Red Coach Jim Hanifan Passes Away at 87

St. Louis has lost yet another institution with the passing of the beloved Jim Hanifan who coached with both the Big Red and St. Louis Rams.

Hanifan was the offensive line coach for the Football Cardinals from 1973-1978 and then head coach from 1980-1985. He later won Super Bowl rings while coaching with Washington and the St. Louis Rams. Many younger St. Louis NFL fans will remember Hanifan in the Rams radio booth from 2004-2008.

Jim Hanifan coached with the Cards for 12 of the 28 seasons they were in St. Louis.

Hanifan was known as one of the top offensive line coach’s in the history of the NFL. His 1975 Big Red offensive line of Dan Dierdorf, Conrad Dobler, Tom Banks, Bob Young and Roger Finnie allowed only 8 sacks the entire season, an NFL record at the time. His first season in Washington, his offensive line gave up only 9 sacks as the Redskins went 14-2 and won the Super Bowl. And Hanifan coached a St. Louis Rams offensive line that protected Kurt Warner during the Greatest Show on Turf years which included two Super Bowl appearances and a Championship.

Coach Hanifan loved St. Louis, his former players, and the thousands of friends that he made over his 60+ years in football. He will be greatly missed.

Tributes started pouring in on social media just a couple of hours after the learning of Coach Hanifan’s passing.

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The Rise of Charley Johnson

(Editor’s note: This story is a reprint from the January 1966 issue of Sport Magazine and was written by John Devaney.)

In sports, some success stories begin with a dream. Here is how one dream of playing professional football came true — at almost impossible odds.

By JOHN DEVANEY

The quarterback was sitting bare-chested, on the edge of the rubbing table. He was holding a white towel to his face, and a large crimson stain was slowly spreading over the towel because blood was pouring from a gash in his chin. The quarterback didn’t seem to notice the blood. He was staring at the floor with the rapt concentration of someone watching scenes from his life flash, one by one, on a movie screen.

This was Charley Johnson, St. Louis Cardinal quarterback, in the visitor’s clubhouse at Yankee Stadium one afternoon late this October. Minutes before he had run off the field, plunging almost blindly through the swirling crowd, after New York had beaten St. Louis 14-10. Twice in the game’s closing minutes Johnson had brought the Cardinals inside the Giant 25, and twice he had failed to get the touchdown that would have won.

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Cardinal Great Larry Wilson Passes Away at 82

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for St. Louis sports fans. We lost baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock on September 6 and on Friday we learned of the passing of former Big Red great Larry Wilson.

Wilson played college ball at the University of Utah and was the Chicago Cardinals 7th round draft choice in the 1960 NFL draft. He went on to a 13 year Hall of Fame career in St. Louis.

The Rigby, Idaho native played in 8 Pro Bowls and was named first team All-Pro five times. He was selected to the NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, the 75th Anniversary Team, and the NFL 100 All-Time Team. Wilson was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1966 and is the all-time Cardinals leader in interceptions with 52. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978.

Wilson was a member of the Cardinals organization as a player, coach, and executive for over 40 years. He was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor in 2006.

Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill had this to say about Wilson.

“Besides my father, Larry Wilson was the most influential male figure in my life. He was someone who truly lived his faith and demonstrated it daily in the kindness he showed every single person he met. Any of us lucky enough to be in his orbit – whether that was for a few minutes or four decades – was always better off from the experience. I will remember Larry Wilson first as a fantastic person but then obviously as one of the greatest players the National Football League has ever seen. It’s fitting that his passing coincides with the league’s 100th birthday because his toughness and the way he revolutionized his position make him one of our game’s most unforgettable figures. Whether on the field playing with casts on both hands or brightening the lives of every person he knew, Larry’s selflessness defined who he was and how we will all remember him.”

Larry Wilson is survived by Nancy, his wife of 40 years, as well as daughter Christie, son Larry Jr., numerous grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Joe Bostic Remembers Humorous Encounter With Woody Hayes

By Dennis Dillon

9/12/2020

Even though he was playing in the game, Joe Bostic missed the infamous Woody Hayes punch in the 1978 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., that led to the firing of the iconic Ohio State coach.

Bostic, a Clemson guard, was on the sideline with the rest of the Tigers’ offense when late in the game Clemson defensive lineman Charlie Bauman intercepted a pass by Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter, essentially sealing a 17-15 Clemson victory.

After Bauman ran out of bounds on the Ohio State sideline, an enraged Hayes came up, grabbed the back of Bauman’s jersey and punched Bauman just below the neck. Penalty flags went flying as Bostic and the Clemson ran on to the field, but Bostic didn’t know what the flags were about.

When the game ended, after midnight, Bostic sprinted off the field to the locker room, where he quickly showered, dressed and departed the stadium before all of his teammates had even left the field. He had a 9 a.m. flight the next morning to Honolulu, where he would start in the Hula Bowl, and he wanted to get back to his hotel room.

Former Big Red Lineman Joe Bostic was a member of the 1979 Clemson Tiger team that defeated Woody Hayes’ Ohio State Buckeyes 17-15.

At 6 a.m. the next morning, the phone rang in Bostic’s room. It was his mother.

“Woody Hayes got fired,” she said.

“Really? Wow,” said Bostic

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