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: 40-31
40. J.V. CAIN (TE)
This may be a sentimental pick, but J.V. Cain was on the verge of becoming a superstar before tragically passing on his 28th birthday in 1979. Cain was the 7th overall pick in the 1974 draft out of Colorado. The speedy tight end was the Big Red rookie of the year in ’74 and had breakout seasons in ’76 and ’77 combining for 51 catches, 728 yards, and 7 TDs. His most memorable catch came in the 1977 home opener when he snagged a one handed pass from Jim Hart for a TD against the Chicago Bears. Cain’s number “88” is one of the few numbers retired by the Cardinals organization.
39. FREDDIE JOE NUNN (DE/LB)
The Big Red drafted Freddie Joe Nunn with their first pick in the 1985 draft. The former Ole Miss All-American earned all rookie team honors after stacking up 84 tackles, 3 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries in 16 starts. Nunn followed that up with 7 sacks in ’86, then led the team with 11 in 1987. He went on to become the Cardinals all-time (official) leader in sacks with 66.5 before finishing his career with the Colts in 1996.
38. JOE ROBB (DE)
Joe Robb was acquired from the NFL Champion Eagles in 1961 and became a standout pass rusher for the Big Red throughout the 60s. The former TCU star earned Pro Bowl honors in 1966 as helped lead the league’s top ranked defense. The big, fast DE had eight fumble recoveries and an interception during his STL career. He’s also known for getting into a fight with Jim Brown in the Cardinals last game at Sportsman’s Park (Busch I) in 1965. Both players were ejected in what would end up being Brown’s last NFL regular season game.
37. NORM THOMPSON (CB)
Former Big Red cornerback Norm Thompson was the team’s first round draft choice in 1971. Thompson led the Cards in interceptions his rookie season, and then again in 1974 and 1975. The Utah product also led the NFL in INT return yardage in ’74. Thompson played 6 seasons in St. Louis finishing with 22 interceptions, 6 fumble recoveries, and 3 TDs. He filed for free agency in 1977 and became the first NFL free agent to sign with another team as he finished his career with the Baltimore Colts.
36. LEONARD SMITH (S)
Leonard Smith was the Cards 1st round pick out of McNeese State in the 1983 draft and played 5 seasons in St. Louis compiling 5 interceptions, 5 fumble recoveries, 11 sacks and a TD. Smith was one of the most aggressive safeties in the NFL. He led the Big Red in tackles in 1985-1987 and earned second team All-Pro honors in both ’86 and ’87. Smith finished his career in Buffalo where he played in two Super Bowls. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014.
35. CHUCK WALKER (DT)
Chuck Walker was the Big Red’s 12th round draft choice in 1963. He was a stalwart on the defensive line for eight seasons earning Pro Bowl honors in 1966. In 1969, the former Duke star led the NFL in fumble recoveries and was named to the All-Pro team. He finished his Big Red career with 15 fumble recoveries. Walker was traded to Atlanta in 1972.
34. JIM OTIS (FB)
Jim Otis is the third all-time leading rusher in Cardinals history only behind OJ Anderson and Stump Mitchell. The big full back out of Ohio State was claimed off waivers from Kansas City just before the start of the 1973 season and quickly became a fan favorite for his bruising style of running. Otis earned Pro Bowl honors in 1975 when he led the NFC in rushing with 1076 yards. He followed that up with 891 yards in 1976. Otis finished his Big Red career with 3863 yards and 19 TDs. He scored 8 TDs in 1978, his final season in the NFL.
33. BOB YOUNG (G)
Bob Young was claimed off waivers from Houston in 1972 and went on to an All-Pro career with St. Louis. The big left guard was actually drafted by the Cardinals in 1964, but signed with Kansas City. Young really came into his own under Big Red offensive line coach Jim Hanifan. The former World’s Strongest Man competitor was part of the Big Red offensive line that set an NFL record by allowing only 8 sacks in 1975. Overshadowed by his fellow linemen, Young finally earned Pro Bowl and All Pro honors in 1978 and 1979. He was released by the Cardinals in 1980 after failing his physical, but miraculously passed a physical with Houston and started 12 games helping them to the playoffs. Young passed away in 1995.
32. BOB ROWE (DT)
Bob Rowe was an underrated DT who played ten seasons in St. Louis. The Western Michigan product was the Cards second round draft choice in 1967 and missed only four games in his entire career earning Pro Bowl honors in 1968. Rowe was an expert kick blocker. He was named Defensive Player of the Week when he blocked three FGs in a 10-3 victory over Johnny Unitas and the Colts in the 1972 season opener. Pro Football Journal recently ranked Rowe the 23rd greatest kick blocker in NFL history. Rowe had 2 interceptions and 9 fumble recoveries in his career before retiring after the 1975 season.
31. LARRY STALLINGS (LB)
Drafted in the 18th round out of Georgia Tech in 1963, Larry Stallings defied all odds by not only making the team, but going on to a 14 year Pro Bowl career in St. Louis. Stallings started 175 out of the 181 games played for the Cards. He was named the team MVP in 1969 and made the Pro Bowl in 1970. He missed only two games his last eleven years in the league. Stallings finished his career with 9 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries, and 3 TDs.