For a team who struggled finding a punter during their 28 years in St. Louis, the Big Red had no worries at place kicking. Not until 1979, that is. Jim Bakken became the team’s full time kicker in 1963 and would go on to play 17 seasons becoming the organization’s all-time leading scorer. Bakken once kicked seven field goals in a game, was a four-time Pro Bowler, two-time All Pro, and two-time all-decade player in the 60s and 70s.
When he retired, Bakken was the third-highest scorer in NFL history. He led the league in field goals and accuracy twice, and led it in scoring once. He finished in the top six in field-goal percentage nine times and was in the top three of field goals made five times. Remarkably, Bakken is not in the Cardinals Ring of Honor.
The Cardinals struggled to find a replacement for Bakken after his retirement. Most notably, they drafted Steve Little in the first round of the 1978 draft to replace Bakken. Little lasted two and a half forgettable seasons in St. Louis. They brought in veteran Neil O’Donoghue who seemed to miss big kick after big kick and then spent a second round pick on John Lee in 1986 who couldn’t kick without a tee.
Let’s go back and take a look at the ten kickers who attempted to replace Jim Bakken.
The 1974 St. Louis Football Cardinals were off to their best start in eight years. They had won their first four games of the season, however many “experts” still had their doubts. And who could blame them? The Big Red were coming off three straight 4-9-1 seasons and three of their early victories were against less than top-tier opponents. To add insult to injury, Dallas was coming to town and, despite a 1-3 record, the Cowboys were favored by three points over the Cards.
“I love it,” quarterback Jim Hart told Jeff Meyers of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “I like going into a game as the underdog. I don’t think that the Cowboys, with their history of success, really take us seriously, even if it’s possible that a 1-3 team would be complacent.”
One reason the Big Red were underdogs was that they hadn’t beaten Dallas since their 38-0 win on Monday Night Football in 1970. They had lost six in a row to the Cowboys by an average score of 30-11. And the Cowboys certainly didn’t feel like they were playing poorly in 1974. They had lost three straight games for the first time in ten years, however two of their losses were on last-minute field goals-one of which they believed wasn’t good. But, head coach Tom Landry knew that another loss would probably keep them from making their ninth straight post-season appearance.
“We’ve got to beat the Cardinals,” Landry said. “We’re surely not out of the race yet.”
So the stage was set for a mid-October showdown on a warm sunny day at sold out Busch Stadium. The 4-0 Cardinals vs. the 1-3 Cowboys.