Bill Bidwill called him “one of the great defensive players we had.”
Dale Meinert was a three-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker with the Cardinals from 1958-1967. He was a college star at Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) and was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1955. But instead of playing in the NFL, the Lone Wolf, Oklahoma native decided to play in the CFL for Frank “Pop” Ivy and the Edmonton Eskimos, where he won a Grey Cup Championship.
In1958, after spending a couple of years in the Air Force, Meinert rejoined Pop Ivy with the NFL Chicago Cardinals. He played offensive line his first two seasons, but defensive coordinator Chuck Drulis converted him to linebacker in 1960.
“I guess they figured I wasn’t big enough to play guard,” the 215 pound Meinert said in Bob Burnes book Big Red, “and I sort of agreed with them because those defensive tackles kept looking bigger and bigger.”
It was a decision the Cardinals and Meinert would not regret. The tall rangy linebacker intercepted a pass in his first start against the Rams in 1960 and quickly developed into an aggressive tackler and pass defender. He was named team MVP in 1961 and earned Pro Bowl selections in 1963, 1965, and 1967. He did a brilliant job quarterbacking the Big Red defense and calling all the plays.
“Oh, shucks, that wasn’t anything,” he told Burnes in his familiar Oklahoma drawl. “I had such good guys around me I didn’t have to tell them what to do.”
Former Big Red defensive tackle Dave Long said he had a hard time understanding what Dale was saying on the playing field, especially when he would change the call at the line of scrimmage.
“Finally, I explained it to him” Long described in a recent email, “he said ‘ok, let’s use hand signals.’ He would just give me a quick slap on the butt whichever side he wanted me to go to. Worked out pretty good.”
Former Big Red Public Relations Director Joe Pollack wrote in a 1980 St. Louis Post Dispatch story that “trying to write the way Meinert speaks is impossible, but if you speak as slowly as possible, you may come close.”
Pollack’s assistant Lori Greenstein recently told me that “Dale did everything, except football, in slow motion. He walked, he talked, etc.. slowly.” She recalled a story of Dale being interviewed one day at Busch Stadium. “He was answering a question when a plane appeared and flew across the stadium. Dale stopped in mid-sentence and followed the plane with his eyes all the way across. When it disappeared, he finished answering the question—where he had left off. The mental picture of him watching that plane still cracks me up!”
Bob Rowe was a rookie defensive tackle during Meinert’s last season. He called Meinert a “great football player” and told an unconfirmed tale about Dale showing up at training camp with his Pro Bowl trophy that he had received back in January. Dale was named co-MVP of the 1966 Pro Bowl and apparently threw the hardware in the back of his truck after the game and had never taken it out.
Meinert played in 125 games for the Cardinals before retiring in July of 1968. He ended his career with 9 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries, and 1 TD.
“It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision,” Meinert told the St. Louis Post Dispatch of his decision to retire. “I imagine, though, that when it’s time for the first football paycheck, I’ll wish I was back.”
Big Red defensive coordinator Chuck Drulis was sorry to see Dale go. “You hate to lose such a good, knowledgeable player. A lot of our defense was built around him.” It wouldn’t be fair to him to try to make a comparison with other top NFL linebackers, but he was among the best.”
“Dale Meinert, in my opinion, is the most underrated linebacker in the league, ranking with Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, or anybody,” former teammate Jerry Stovall wrote in the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1967.
After retiring, Meinert returned to Oklahoma and became head football coach at Lone Wolf High School. He coached 8-man football for 15 years and was eight-man state runner up in 1979. He also farmed and taught junior high math.
Meinert’s last years of life were tragic. At the age of 48 he started experiencing symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, more commonly known as CTE. As Jonathan Baird wrote in the Concord Monitor in 2015, Meinert “became nonverbal, aggressive and suffered memory lapses.”
Meinert was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1986. His wife, Carmelita, contacted the NFL for help, but was told that Dale could not collect disability benefits because she could not prove his dementia was caused by playing football. Not surprisingly, the league also told her that they were not aware of any other former players who had experienced these type of symptoms.
Dale Meinert spent the last 17 years of his life locked in the Alzheimer’s wing of a nursing home in Oklahoma. He passed in 2004 at the age of 70.
Jackie Smith, who was Meinert’s teammate for five seasons said Dale was “a unique character, a great guy and an amazing football player.”
“Dale was the most underrated middle linebacker in the sixties,” former teammate Bob DeMarco said. “He was definitely as good as Sam Huff and Ray Nitschke. He was also the funniest; if he played today he would probably have his own TV show. I don’t remember which Pro Bowl game it was, but he was voted most valuable defensive player. All the guys on the East squad could not believe how good Dale was.”
Dave Long played on the defensive line with Meinert in 1966 and 1967. “When you say Dale Meinert to me, I picture him in his hunched stance at middle linebacker,” Long said. “Dale was always available to offer advice if one would seek him out. I was also amazed that he could play with a hunk of chew in his jaw! Dale always had a way that was encouraging to others. We were trotting off the field and he patted me on the shoulder pad and said, ‘well done, Dave!’ Again in that drawl…..”
“The thing I’ll remember about him was that he was a hard-nosed, hardworking man, but yet he was a gentle man,” the late Larry Wilson said in 2004. “People talk today about players having a passion, but to me passion is to be excellent at what you do—he was that.