With the NFL celebrating its centennial season in 2019, the league will soon be announcing its top 100 players of all-time. I thought it would be fun to look back and rank the Big Red’s top 100 players who played in St. Louis.
The Cardinals moved from Chicago after the 1959 season and played 28 years in St. Louis before Bill Bidwill moved to the desert in 1988. Several great players played under the arch during this period including four Hall of Famers.
These rankings are only based on the player’s time spent in St. Louis. Consideration was given to the player’s statistics, All-Pro/Pro Bowl selections, team leadership, and impact in the community. It is next to impossible to compare eras, so many of these picks were very difficult.
So here goes.
The Top 100 St. Louis Football Cardinals of All-Time: 100-91
100. CARL BIRDSONG (P)
It seemed the Big Red never took the punting position seriously. In the 1960s they used safeties Jerry Norton and Jerry Stovall, kick returner Chuck Latourette, and even Jackie Smith. In the 70s it seemed they had a new punter every season. Hal Roberts, Jeff West, and Terry Joyce among others. And then there was the Steve Little experiment in 1978/79.
After 21 seasons Carl Birdsong finally brought some stability to the position. He was an undrafted free agent out of tiny SW Oklahoma St. where he was an All-American punter. Birdsong played for the Cardinals five seasons (1981-1985) and had the longest punt in the NFL his rookie season (75 yards) as he was named to the UPI All-Rookie team. His best year was in 1982 when he averaged 43.8 yards per punt. He followed that up with a Pro Bowl berth in 1983 when he finished second in the NFL with a net average of 37.3 yards. Birdsong lost his job in 1986 in part because new kicker John Lee’s kickoffs were too short and the head coach Gene Stallings wanted someone who could punt and kick off.
99. LANCE SMITH (OT/OG)
Lance Smith was the Cardinals third round pick out of LSU in 1985. He earned UPI All-Rookie honors in spite of limited playing time at right tackle. Lance was converted to right guard in 1987 and started every game for the Cardinals. He was very quick off the line of scrimmage, had excellent technique, and was a calming influence on an injury riddled offensive line. He really came into his own after the team moved to Arizona when he didn’t miss a start for six seasons.
98. RANDY CLARK (OG)
Randy Clark was an 8th round draft choice of the Chicago Bears in 1980, but was released and signed with the Big Red where he played 8 games primarily on special teams. Clark was the team’s long snapper and took over at center in 1983. His best season was in 1984 when he earned NEA All-NFL honors. The undersized center started 54 straight games for the Cardinals before Gene Stallings decided to go younger halfway into the 1986 season. Clark was released the following winter and finished up his career with Atlanta.
97. BILLY GAMBRELL (WR)
Billy Gambrell was a 12th round draft pick of the AFL Boston Patriots in the 1963 draft, but he wanted to play in the NFL and signed with the Cardinals. He returned kicks his rookie season, but played a significant role in the Cardinals success in 1964 as they came within a half game of playing for the NFL Championship. Gambrell caught 24 passes for 398 yards and was later named MVP of the Playoff Bowl after scoring two touchdowns against the Packers. He had solid seasons in 1966 and 1967 before he was inexplicably traded to the Detroit Lions just before the start of the 1968 season. Gambrell would go on to have a career year in Detroit scoring seven touchdowns, however a back injury would force him to retire in 1969.
96. NIKO NOGA (ST/LB)
Niko Noga was the Big Red’s 8th round draft choice out of Hawaii in 1984. Noga quickly became a fan favorite excelling on special teams his rookie season and then starting the last 11 games at linebacker in 1985. He finished second on the team with 90 tackles in 1986 and followed that up with 78 in 1987. Noga accumulated 257 tackles, 6 QB sacks, and 4 fumble recoveries during his four years in St. Louis. He played one season in Phoenix and finished up his career with Detroit. Younger brothers Al and Peter also played in the NFL.
95. Charlie Davis (DT)
Charlie Davis was acquired from the Pittsburgh Steelers the week before the season opener in 1975. The big, rugged defensive tackle quickly became a starter and didn’t miss a game until a season ending knee injury in the 1978 opener. However, he came back and had one of his best seasons in 1979. Davis led the Big Red down linemen in tackles in 1977 and his hit on Cowboy star Tony Dorsett was described by Dorsett as “the hardest I was hit my rookie year.” Davis finished his career in 1980 with Houston.
94. Carl Allen (CB)
Carl Allen was acquired in a trade with the Bengals just before the start of the 1977 season. He was an 11th round draft pick out of Southern Miss. Allen primarily played special teams his rookie season, but finished second on team in interceptions and passes defended playing opposite Roger Wehrli in 1978 and 1979. Allen returned an interception 70 yards in 1980 against the Eagles. He retired after the 1982 season.
93. Ken Reaves (S)
The Big Red acquired Ken Reaves from the Saint during the 1974 season to help solidify their secondary. The cagey veteran safety never missed a game while in St. Louis over the next four seasons. Reaves picked off 8 passes and recovered three fumbles in 47 games. He was a team leader and co-captain of the defense. One of his biggest plays came in 1976 when he intercepted a Bert Jones pass late in the game to preserve a victory over the Colts.
92. Charlie Baker (LB)
Charlie Baker played 8 seasons with the Cardinals after being drafted in the third round in 1980 out of New Mexico. Baker was an excellent special teams player early in his career. He led the defense in tackles in 1982 and had a career best 75 tackles in 1983. Baker played in 109 games for the Cardinals finishing with 358 tackles and 9.5 sacks.
91. Jamie Rivers (LB)
Jamie Rivers was a fifth round draft pick out of Bowling Green in 1967. He was named team rookie of the year in 1968 and blocked a game ending FG in 21-20 win over the Saints. Rivers was named team MVP in 1971. He had speed, size, and the ability to make the big play. Unfortunately, injuries prevented Rivers from reaching his full potential. He retired in 1975 after playing two seasons with the Jets.
Players 81-90 will be announced next week.