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.
Steve Little (1978-1980)
The Big Red selected Little with the 15th pick in the 1978 NFL draft. The aging Bakken was coming off a down season and Little was brought in to, not only win the kicking job, but become the team’s punter. There were two problems. Little had trouble kicking without a tee and had no hang time on his punts (netting around 30 yards). He connected on only 13 of 27 field goals and missed 10 extra points in his one-plus season as kicker. Little was cut after missing two field goals and an extra point in a loss against the Los Angeles Rams in October of 1980 and was in a tragic single car automobile accident that left him paralyzed later that evening. Little passed away in 1999 at the age of 43.
Mike Wood (1978-1979)
The former Kirkwood High and Southeast Missouri State star was signed to fill-in as the punter after Little suffered a minor knee injury mid-season in 1978. However, Wood retained the job for the rest of the season and became the kick-off specialist. After Bakken’s retirement, Wood won the kicking job over Little to start the ’79 season, but was cut after missing five of seven field goals. Many fans remember Wood for his 60 yard game winning field goal attempt that fell just below the cross bar in the 1979 season opener against the Cowboys.
Neil O’Donoghue (1980-1985)
O’Donoghue was cut by Tampa Bay before the start of the 1980 season and Big Red head coach Jim Hanifan brought him in for a one day competition with Little before the Redskins game in October. O’Donoghue won the “stress test” and played very well the rest of the season connecting on 73% of his field goals. However, O’Donoghue had one of the worst games in NFL history in a 1983 Monday night contest when he missed three overtime field goals in a 20-20 tie against the New York Giants. Although he kicked three game winning field goals in 1984, he also missed kicks in a one point loss to the Packers and a three point loss to the Rams. He was cut in 1985 after missing three field goals in a 20-10 loss to the Oilers at Busch Stadium. The much maligned O’Donoghue finished his Big Red career converting on 61% of his field goals. The seven kickers who replaced Neil over the next 2+ seasons converted on only 45.9%.
Jess Atkinson (1985)
Jess Atkinson was a star kicker at Maryland and played a few games for the Giants before being signed to replace O’Donoghue. He was cut two weeks later after missing all three field goal attempts and replaced by Novo Bojovic.
Novo Bojovic (1985)
Following Atkinson’s release, Bojovic invited himself to Busch Stadium to compete for the job with five other kickers, and he won. The former USFL kicker finished the season making three of seven field goal attempts. Many fans may remember him running into the Busch Stadium endzone, retrieving the ball from the ball boy, and then spiking it into the ground after kicking his first NFL field goal in the Cards 34-3 loss to the Giants.
John Lee (1986)
The Big Red selected the former UCLA All-American kicker in the second round of the 1986 draft. Lee connected on 84% of his field goals and only missed one extra point in college. However, much like Steve Little, Lee struggled kicking without a tee. He missed 5 of 13 field goals and three extra points his rookie year before injuring his knee on a kickoff against New Orleans which cost him the rest of the season. Lee’s kickoffs were short and low (he never kicked off in college) and he was cut the following season after a poor training camp. He never played another NFL game.
Eric Schubert (1986)
Eric Schubert was brought in to replace the injured John Lee. The former Pitt kicker had some success in 1985 with the Giants. But, after connecting on his first two field goals, he missed eight of his last nine including two in an overtime tie against the Eagles.
Jim Gallery (1987)
Jim Gallery had a booming leg and fans cheered when his kickoffs sailed through the end zone in the 1987 season opener against Dallas. However, those cheers were short-lived as he missed two field goals in a four point loss to San Diego, missed two more in a six point loss to the 49ers, and two more in a five point loss to the Eagles. Gallery missed 9 of 14 field goals greater than 30 yards before Al Del Greco came in to take over the kicking duties against the Giants in the final home game at Busch Stadium.
Jason Staurovsky (1987)
Jason Staurovsky was a replacement player who played two games during the 1987 player’s strike. He fit right in with the Big Red by missing two field goals in a 28-21 loss to the Redskins in his first game. He was released after the strike, but went on to play four seasons with the Patriots and one with the Jets.
Al Del Greco (1987)
Al Del Greco became the eighth Big Red kicker since the start of the 1985 season and he didn’t get off to a good start. He missed a field goal and an extra point in his first game, a 27-24 win over the Giants. However, he didn’t miss a kick the last two games and ended up moving to the desert with the Cardinals where he played three more seasons.