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.
The Top 100 St. Louis Football Cardinals of All-Time: 80-71
80. JOE CHILDRESS (RB)
The “Old Pro” Joe Childress was an All-American running back at Auburn before being the Chicago Cardinals top draft pick in 1956. The big fullback/halfback was an understudy of Ollie Matson and John David Crow early in his career, but led the Cardinals and finished sixth in the NFL in rushing in 1963 with 701 yards. He also finished second on the team in rushing in 1964. Childress was an excellent blocker and receiver out of the backfield as well, averaging over 14 yards per reception. Childress was released after an injury plagued 1965 season and joined former head coach Wally Lemm in Houston where he coached from 1966-1970.
79. JIMMY BURSON (CB)
Jimmy Burson was the Big Red’s 11th round draft choice out of Auburn in the 1963 draft. The fleet CB was a solid tackler and became a starter in 1964 after Jimmy Hill’s injury. He had his best season in ’65 when he picked off 5 passes with 113 return yards. Burson also returned punts for the Cardinals and had a 68 yard TD return against the 49ers in 1964. He finished his Cardinals career with 12 interceptions. Burson was traded to the Redskins after the 1967 season.
78. EARL THOMAS (WR)
Earl Thomas played only two seasons in St. Louis, but he played a key role in the Cardinals winning NFC East titles in 1974 and 1975. The speedy wide receiver had a career year after being acquired from the Bears in a preseason trade. Thomas caught 34 passes for 513 yards and 5 TDs. He followed that up in ’75 by averaging 17.9 yards per catch. However, Thomas and the Cardinals management had a falling out and he was traded before the ’76 season to the Packers. He was informed of the trade by a neighbor who heard about it on the radio.
77. KEN GREENE (S)
Ken Greene played five seasons for the Big Red from 1978-1982. The strong safety was the Cards first round pick out of Washington State University. Greene was named to several All-Rookie teams after starting the final 12 games in ’78. He followed that season up by leading the Big Red in tackles (114) and forced five fumbles. Greene had his finest season in 1981 when he again led the team in tackles (143) and also interceptions with seven. His best game came in an upset victory over Buffalo when he picked off three passes and recovered a fumble. Greene finished up his NFL career in San Diego before retiring in 1985.
76. EARL FERRELL (RB)
Earl Ferrell was a fifth round draft pick out of East Tennessee State in 1982. Ferrell was primarily a special teams player his first couple of seasons until earning the starting full back position in 1984. Ferrell’s best season in St. Louis came in 1986 when he set a Big Red record for most receptions by a full back with 56. He totaled 982 yards from scrimmage in ’86 and followed that up with seven TDs and over 500 yards rushing in ’87 before missing the last 4 games with a knee injury. Ferrell had his best NFL season after the Cardinals moved to Arizona where he retired in 1990.
75. BOB POLLARD (DE)
Bob Pollard was acquired from the Saints as part of the Conrad Dobler trade in 1977. He immediately became the starter at left defensive end and finished second on the team with 103 tackles. He followed that up with a club leading 9 sacks in 1979 including four against the Giants on Sep. 9. Pollard was a defensive co-captain and provided a pass rush that was lacking before his arrival. He was an 11th round draft pick out of Weber State by the Saints in 1971.
74. ERIC WILLIAMS (LB)
Eric Williams was the Big Red’s 8th round draft choice out of USC in 1977 and became the team’s starting inside linebacker the second half of the season. The Kansas City native finished third on the team with 101 tackles in 1979 and second with 87 in 1980. Williams finished his Big Red career with 5 interceptions and 5 fumble recoveries. He finished his career with the Rams and Chargers before retiring in 1985.
73. TIM KEARNEY (LB)
Tim Kearney arrived as a free agent just prior to the 1976 season and became an instant fan favorite after an open field clothesline tackle of Eagles kick returner Dave Hampton. Kearney quickly became the team’s starting linebacker and led the team in tackles in 1978 and 1980. The defensive co-captain was the Big Red’s most aggressive tackler and played sideline to sideline. Kearney was an all-american at Northern Michigan and was a fourth round draft choice of the Cowboys in 1972.
72. SAM SILAS (DT)
Sam Silas was a big, hard-charging run-stuffer who signed as an undrafted free agent out of Southern Illinois University in 1963. The Pro-Bowl defensive tackle never missed a game in his five seasons with the Big Red. Silas seemed to get better each year, but had a falling out with management in 1967 and was traded to the New York Giants the following season.
71. LEE NELSON (CB/S)
Lee Nelson played ten seasons for the Big Red. During that time, the Cardinals drafted 18 defensive backs, yet Lee Nelson continued to make the team year after year. Nelson was a 15th round draft choice out of Florida State in 1976. He started 7 games in 1977 and had a career high 4 interceptions. His best season came in 1983 when he led the defense with 89 tackles and four fumble recoveries. Nelson was an excellent run defender who finished his career with 7 interceptions and 9 fumble recoveries.