Former St. Louis Post Dispatch columnist and Cards beat writer Jeff Meyers wrote this story a few years ago on Big Red center Bob DeMarco and wanted to share it here.
There was a brief moment when Bob DeMarco considered becoming a TV sports analyst after football. None other than legendary broadcaster Jack Buck was encouraging him to give it a shot.
DeMarco, a 2-time All-Pro center, was a natural for the broadcast booth: gregarious, intelligent, outspoken. But with only three TV networks and no cable channels in the early ‘70s, analyst job openings were rare, and DeMarco needed to feed his family of four in Creve Coeur, Mo.
So when he retired in 1976 after 15 NFL seasons, he took a job selling deflocculants, a chemical additive that prevents flocculation in liquids (look it up).
He was known as “Jet Stream” in St. Louis, but at Henderson State University they called Roy Green the “Green Machine.”
“Every now and then we’ll be talkin’ about the ol’ days and someone’ll bring up the Monticello game and how incredible Roy was,” Green’s college coach Ralph Carpenter said in a St. Louis Post Dispatch story back in 1981.
Carpenter was referring to the Green Machine’s performance against the University of Arkansas-Monticello in 1978. Green returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, a punt 65 yards for a touchdown, and returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown. He even blocked a field goal late in the game.
“There was nothin’ he couldn’t do. Nothin’,” Carpenter said.
Green was a NAIA All-American cornerback at Henderson State. He intercepted 9 passes his senior season and averaged over 13 yards on punt returns and almost 22 yards on kick returns.
Green was a speed burner, running the 40 yard dash in 4.3 seconds. The Cardinals drafted the Magnolia, Arkansas native in the fourth round in 1979 as a defensive back. He played in all 16 games his rookie season and was named the top return specialist by The Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly.
One of the all-time great Big Red memories is when Hall of Fame safety Larry Wilson played a game with two broken hands against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1965. Not only did Larry play with casts and layers of gauze on both hands, but he also intercepted a Bill Nelson pass during the game. It’s the stuff that legends are made of. And of course Larry Wilson is a legend.
But many people have forgotten that Wilson’s teammate, and fellow Hall of Famer, Dan Dierdorf once played with a broken jaw. In fact, he missed only two games after suffering the injury against the Minnesota Vikings in 1977.
Desperate for a front-seven playmaker, the St. Louis Cardinals selected big Dave Butz with the fifth overall pick in the 1973 NFL Draft. The 6 foot 7, 290 pound Chicago area native was an All-American defensive tackle and Lombardi Finalist at Purdue University and would ultimately end up in the College Football Hall of Fame (2014).
Big Red personnel director Abe Stuber told the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1973 that Butz “was our highest rated defensive player. He has the greatest potential of any defensive lineman in the country.”
Ottis “O.J.” Anderson set numerous NFL rookie rushing records in 1979 including most yards in a debut (193) and most yards in a season (1605). He was named NFC Player of the Year and NFL Rookie of the Year.
St. Louis lost a broadcasting icon in 2017 when pioneering sportscaster Bill Wilkerson passed away at the age of 72.
Wilkerson’s career spanned over 4 decades and is most remembered for his work at KMOX radio where he got his start and made his name.
Big Red fans remember Bill calling Cardinals games starting in 1973 and continuing until the team left in 1987. He also served as color commentator for the baseball Cardinals, St. Louis Blues, St. Louis Spirits basketball, and was the longtime play by play voice of the Missouri Tigers.
After ten years of co-owning the St. Louis Football Cardinals, Charles “Stormy” Bidwill had had enough. Either he or his brother Bill had to go.
The Bidwill brothers took over Cardinals after their mother had suddenly passed away in 1962. Violet Bidwill Wolfner was the first female owner in NFL history and she left most of her multi-million dollar estate, including the football team, to her sons. The brothers already held titles of President and Vice President, but Violet’s husband, Walter Wolfner, pretty much controlled the team. After being pushed out after Violet’s death, Wolfner filed a lawsuit claiming the brothers were illegally adopted as babies. This shocked Stormy and Bill who had not known they were adopted until they heard about it in Probate Court.
Judges ultimately ruled against Wolfner and the Bidwills finally assumed full control of the Grid Birds in early 1963.
“This kid is an athlete. He’s got a real good chance to make our football team,” claimed Cardinals Personnel Director George Boone after drafting Bonnie Sloan in the 10th round of the 1973 NFL Draft.
Not only did the 6’5″, 260 pound defensive lineman make the team, he was the starting defensive tackle in the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The odds are long for any late round draft pick to make it in the NFL. The Cardinals already had three established defensive tackles in Bob Rowe, John Richardson, and Fred Heron, and they drafted Dave Butz with their top pick. But, Sloan had to overcome a larger obstacle. He was deaf.
Sloan was born in Lebanon, TN. His parents discovered that he was deaf when he was almost two years old. He learned to read lips and say words before the age of three and later learned to play football. Sloan earned all-state honors as a tight end and defensive tackle at Litton High School.
“We just thought football would be good therapy for him,” his mother told the New York Times. “We never thought he’d develop as he did.”
Sloan played college ball at Austin Peay where he was named team MVP and earned All-Ohio Valley Conference honors. In four seasons at Austin Peay, Sloan never jumped offside. His college line coach, Ray Thomas, felt that he should have been a fourth round draft choice at the very least.
“His deafness was definitely a factor in his not being taken until the tenth round,” Thomas told the Philadelphia Daily News.
It didn’t take long after the Cardinals moved to St. Louis in 1960 to realize they would need a new quarterback if they wanted to compete for an NFL Championship.
King Hill started the inaugural game in Los Angeles in 1960, but was benched at halftime. Backup QB John Roach was benched at halftime the following week. Hill, Roach and former Notre Dame star George Izo combined to complete only 44% of their passes and throw 25 interceptions in 1960. Some claimed that running back John David Crow threw the ball better than all three quarterbacks.
In 1979, Kirk Gibson rejected a chance to play for the St. Louis Cardinals.
That’s because he was committed to playing baseball, not football.
On May 4, 1979, the St. Louis football Cardinals selected Gibson, a wide receiver at Michigan State, in the seventh round of the NFL draft.
A year earlier, June 1978, Gibson had been chosen by the Tigers in the first round of baseball’s amateur draft and signed a $200,000 contract with Detroit. The outfielder spent the summer of 1978 playing for the Tigers’ Class A Lakeland (Fla.) team managed by Jim Leyland before returning to Michigan State for his senior football season.
Gibson established school single-season records for receptions (42) and receiving yards (806) in 1978. He finished his Michigan State football career with four-year totals of 112 receptions, 2,347 yards receiving and 24 touchdown catches, all school records.
Gibson would have been “a certain first-round pick” in the 1979…
Pete Retzlaff was a Philadelphia Eagles receiver who was difficult to defend because of the precise pass patterns he ran and his reliable hands. Initially a flanker and split end, Retzlaff became a tight end and was instrumental in transforming the position.
During his 11 NFL seasons (1956-66), all with the Eagles, Retzlaff developed a respect for St. Louis Cardinals safeties Jerry Stovall and Larry Wilson. In 1965, Retzlaff told The Sporting News, “St. Louis has the toughest defensive backs. Larry Wilson was real tough when he played me, but now I find Jerry Stovall even tougher to shake. Jerry has to be the most improved player at his position in the league.”
Retzlaff later told the Akron Beacon Journal, “Once, after we’d played in the Pro Bowl, Larry Wilson told me he always said I was the toughest tight end he ever tried to cover.”
From undrafted free agent to one of the most prolific passers in NFL history, Jim Hart’s career had more than its fair share of challenges. The Chicago area native had to overcome fan favorite Charley Johnson in the late 60s, the Bob Hollway era in the early 70s, a career threatening shoulder injury in 1973, and #1 draft pick Steve Pisarkiewicz in 1979. But he could not beat his last challenger, Father Time, which is still undefeated.
After losing his starting job to Neil Lomax, the Big Red released the 39 year old Hart in 1984. He would retire a year later as the team’s all-time leading passer, throwing for 34,665 yards and 209 TD passes. Only Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton had thrown for more yards than Hart.
From a seventh round draft pick to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Larry Frank Wilson played the game with sheer determination, guts, and maximum effort. He played thirteen seasons with the Cardinals earning 8 Pro Bowls and was named to five All-Pro teams. He is a member of the 1960s All Decade Team and is still the organization’s all-time leader with 52 interceptions.
Wilson was born and raised in Rigby, Idaho where he faced adversity as a youngster. His mother died of spinal meningitis when he was just ten years old and his father was a truck driver, so Larry helped rear his younger brother, John. As a teen, Larry worked ten-hour days harvesting potatoes, but his father encouraged him to play sports. Larry was a tremendous all around athlete, earning 16 letters in high school. He broke the state high jump record and was a very good baseball and basketball player.
Fri 9 Sep 2016 05.00 EDTLast modified on Mon 27 Nov 2017 02.59 EST
Neil O’Donoghue was 17 years old when he was working as a ticket collector in Heuston station, Dublin, while playing part-time for Shamrock Rovers. Never much of a student, prospects were few and far between for him and Ireland seemed small and suffocating. He had already worked as a labourer in London when one day, he was approached by his brother’s friend, who asked him if he was interested in a scholarship to the US. O’Donoghue decided to chance his arm. “My idea was to come over here for a year and have a good time,” he says. “As it turned out, I fell in love with the place.”
Some consider Johnny Roland the greatest football player in Missouri Tiger history. And if it weren’t for a knee injury suffered late in the 1967 season, he may have become the greatest running back in St. Louis Football Cardinals history.
John Earl Roland was born on May 21, 1943 in Corpus Christi, TX. He was a natural athlete, throwing two no-hitters while playing baseball in middle school. He also ran track and starred in “B” team football his freshman year at Miller High School in Corpus Christi where he ran for a 50-yard touchdown on his first carry. As a high school senior, Roland earned all-state honors rushing for 1224 yards and scored 14 touchdowns.
BOOMER SOONER DENIED
Roland had over 50 colleges interested in him after his sensational high school career. He signed a letter of intent to play for Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma in June of 1961, but later decided to attend Mizzou.
“I decided I would rather not live in Oklahoma,” Roland told the St. Louis Dispatch in 1966. “I thought my best opportunities might come in the state where I attended college and I felt I definitely would prefer living in Missouri to living in Oklahoma.”
Although letters of intent were not binding at the time, Oklahoma filed a complaint with the Big Eight Conference charging that Mizzou hid Roland out in a Columbia motel until he enrolled.
“Actually, that’s not true,” Roland recently said. “I was working in Kansas City.”
The complaint was denied and Roland became a Missouri Tiger.
The Arizona Cardinals were founded in Chicago as the Morgan Athletic Club in 1898 and were charter members of the National Football League in 1920. During their stay in the Windy City, the Cardinals won a controversial NFL Championship in 1925 and another in 1947, just after team owner Charles Bidwill passed away. After losing in the 1948 Championship game, the Cardinals fell on hard times. They went through a number of head coaches, losing seasons, and were struggling financially.
Violet Bidwill had taken control of the team after her husband Charles’ death in 1947. Two years later, Ms. Bidwill married Walter Wolfner, a one-time St. Louis coffee broker. In 1951, Wolfner was named managing director of the team, with Charles “Stormy” Bidwill the president, and Bill Bidwill the vice-president. The fact that Wolfner had control of the team was the first step in the Cardinals moving to St. Louis.
In 1954, the Cardinals would play their first charity exhibition game in St. Louis. They lost 30-0 to the Philadelphia Eagles, but Wolfner would sign a ten-year agreement to play an annual exhibition game at Sportman’s Park. The game would become known as the Cardinal Glennon charity game and it would become a fixture on the Cardinals pre-season schedule for over 20 years.
Nice story on the Packers 1958 draft which included their 6th round pick Ken Gray. Gray was the last player cut by the Packers and would sign as a free agent with the Big Red where he would go on to an All Pro career.
A couple of months ago, I wrote about the greatest draft class the Green Bay Packers ever had in their history.
That would be the 1958 draft class. In the first round, the Packers selected Dan Currie. In the second round, the Packers selected Jim Taylor. In the third round, they selected Ray Nitschke, and in the fourth round Jerry Kramer.
All four of those players had excellent careers in the NFL, with two of them (Taylor and Nitschke) getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In my opinion, Kramer should most definitely be in Canton as well.
Currie was named All-Pro three times and was selected to one Pro Bowl.
Taylor was named All-Pro six times and went to the Pro Bowl five times, plus was named NFL MVP in 1962.
Nitschke was named All-Pro six times and for some reason only went to one Pro Bowl. No…