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: 10-1
10. Charley Johnson (QB)
Pro Bowl QB Charley Johnson was the Cards 10th round pick out of New Mexico State in 1960. Johnson took over as starter in his second season and led the Big Red to a 30-15-3 record from 1963-1966. He led the NFL in completions (223), attempts (420), yards (3045), and TD passes (28) in 1964 when the Cards missed playing for the NFL Championship by a half game. He also led the NFL in fourth quarter comebacks in 1966 and 1968 and twice threw six touchdowns in a game during his nine year career with the Cardinals. A late season injury in 1966 cost the Cardinals another shot at a championship and a stint in the Army Reserves cost Johnson parts of two seasons during his prime as he lost his job to Jim Hart. Johnson was traded to Houston after the 1969 season and finished his career with the Broncos. Off the field, Johnson obtained a chemical engineering degree at New Mexico State and later earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at Washington University while playing with the Big Red.
9. Ken Gray (G)
The late Ken Gray was a quick, hard hitting borderline Hall of Fame guard who played in six Pro Bowls and twice earned All-Pro honors during his ten seasons in St. Louis. After being drafted and cut by the Packers during training camp, Gray signed with the Chicago Cardinals as a free agent in 1958 . The Texas native played college ball at Howard Payne and was known for his excellent pass blocking and leading sweeps for backs such as John David Crow, Willis Crenshaw, and Johnny Roland. Knee injuries finally did Gray in as he was released in training camp in 1970. He briefly came out of retirement and started 10 games for the Oilers in ’70 and later coached the offensive line for the Denver Broncos.
8. Mel Gray (WR)
Mel Gray scored 46 TDs and averaged almost 19 yards per catch in his 12 year NFL career, all in St. Louis. He was named to the Pro Bowl four times (1974-1977) and earned All Pro honors in 1975 when he caught 48 passes for 926 yards and league leading 11 TDs. Gray was a 6th round draft pick in 1971 out of Mizzou where he not only played football, but was an All-American Track and Field star. Gray was the Big Red’s long distance man. His first two NFL receptions were 60 and 64 yard TD bombs against the NY Giants his rookie year. He scored seven touchdowns greater than 70 yards in his career and his 18.9 yard per catch average ranks 13th in NFL history. He also set a club record when he caught a pass in 121 straight games from 1973 to 1982. Gray retired after the ’82 season and played briefly for the Oklahoma Outlaws in the USFL.
7. Roy Green (WR)
Roy “Jet Stream” Green played 9 seasons in St. Louis earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 1983 and 1984. He was drafted as a defensive back in the 4th round in 1979 out of Henderson State and was a standout return man his first couple of seasons with the Cardinals. He set an NFL record his rookie season when he returned a kickoff 106 yards against the Dallas Cowboys. The speedy Green became a two-way dual threat in 1981 when he caught 33 passes and scored four TDs at WR and also picked off three passes playing DB. Green really came into his own in 1983 when he caught 78 passes and led the NFL with 14 TDs. His best season came in 1984 when he led the league with 1555 yards and scored 12 TDs for the 9-7 Cardinals. Green finished his St. Louis Cardinals career with 357 receptions, 5900 yards, and 48 TDs.
6. Jim Hart (QB)
Jim Hart was a 4-time Pro Bowl QB who still holds several Cardinals career passing records. The strong-armed Hart was an undrafted free agent out of Southern Illinois-Carbondale in 1966 and took over the starting job in 1967 when Charley Johnson left for the Army. The untested Hart threw for over 3000 yards and 19 TDs his first season as a starter in ’67. He led the Cardiac Cards to two NFC East Titles in 1974 and 1975 and had a 31-11 record in ’74-’76. Hart led the league in fourth quarter comebacks in 1968, 1975, and 1976. He threw for 85 TDs in Don Coryell’s offense from 1973-1977 and threw for over 34,000 career yards which was third all-time when he retired. His 18 seasons and 209 TD passes are still team records. Hart was released after the 1983 season, declined an offer to play in the USFL, and played with the Redskins in ’84 before retiring.
5. O.J. Anderson (RB)
O.J. Anderson was the Big Red’s top pick in 1979 and made a big splash in his NFL debut with a 193 yard performance against the Dallas Cowboys. Anderson set NFL rookie records with 1605 rushing yards, 331 carries, and the most 100 yard rushing games in a season with 9. He was named first team NFL All-Pro, consensus NFL Rookie of the Year, NFC Player of the Year, and Big Red MVP. Anderson became the first running back to twice rush for 100 yards against the Dallas Cowboys. He followed up his rookie season with back-to-back 1300+ yard seasons and 18 TDs. In 1984, Anderson combined for almost 1800 yards from scrimmage with 8 TDs. He was the Big Red’s first round draft choice out of Miami in 1979 and became the Cardinals all-time rusher in just 2+ seasons. He finished his St. Louis career with 7999 rushing yards and 51 TDs. When he left St. Louis in 1986 the Cardinals had only seven 1000 yard rushing seasons and O.J. had five of them. He went on to win two Super Bowls with the New York Giants and was named MVP of Super Bowl XXV.
4. Roger Wehrli (CB)
Roger Wehrli was a 7-time Pro Bowl cornerback, 3-time All-Pro, a 1970s NFL All-Decade Performer, and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The former Mizzou star was the Cards first round draft pick in 1969 and immediately stepped in as a starter at cornerback winning the team rookie of the year award. He led the team with 6 interceptions in 1970 earning his first Pro Bowl. Wehrli missed only four games due to injury in his 14 year career and is still the team’s all-time leader with 22 fumble recoveries and third in career interceptions with 40. Roger Staubach, who threw six interceptions to Wehrli, called him the original “shutdown cornerback.” The King City, MO native scored a TD on a fake FG in his last home game against the New York Giants in 1982. Wehrli was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
3. Dan Dierdorf (OT)
Dan Dierdorf was a 6-time Pro Bowl right tackle, 3-time All-Pro, a 1970s second team NFL All-Decade performer, and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was the Big Red’s second round pick in 1971 out of Michigan where he was a consensus All-American. He started six games his rookie year and then did not miss a game until breaking his jaw in 1977. Dierdorf was the NFLPA Offensive Lineman of the Year from 1976-1978. He played on an offensive line which allowed a then record 8 sacks in 1975. After missing most of the ’79 season with a knee injury, Dierdorf came back and started all 16 games in ’80 and ’81. He was moved to center in 1982 which allowed rookie Tootie Robbins to play RT. Dierdorf retired after the 1983 season and went on to a long successful broadcasting career at ABC and CBS. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996 and is currently the color analyst on Michigan Wolverines football radio broadcasts.
2. Jackie Smith (TE)
Jackie Smith was a 5-time Pro Bowl tight end and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was one of the most prolific receivers in Big Red history over his 15 year career. Smith retired as the league’s all-time leading receiver among tight ends with 480 receptions, 7,918 yards and 40 touchdowns. He ranks only behind Larry Fitzgerald and Roy Green in all-time receiving yards and 6th in receptions and TDs. Smith could run like a wide receiver and was a devastating run blocker. His best season came in 1967 when he caught 56 passes for 1205 yards and 9 TDs. Smith was drafted in the 10th round out of Northwest Louisiana State in 1963 and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
1. Larry Wilson (S)
Mr. Cardinal, Larry Wilson was an 8-time Pro Bowl safety, 5-time All-Pro, member of the 1960s NFL All-Decade Team, member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Wilson was a 7th round pick out of Utah in the 1960 draft. He went on to a 13 year career with the Cardinals, became the team’s all-time interception leader with 52, and was the first NFL player to master the safety blitz. Wilson led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 1966 and scored 7 career TDs on fumble/interception returns. He retired in 1972 , was an interim coach for the Big Red in three games in 1979, and was a long time executive for the club before retiring in 2003. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978 and is considered one of the top safeties in NFL History.