Most people are aware of the historic struggles the St. Louis Cardinals had when it came to the NFL draft. There were some very good drafts over the years (1979-1983 for example), but more times than not, the Big Red left their fans scratching their heads (“They drafted a girl!”).
I thought it would be fun to go back and rank the all-time Big Red draft picks by round. Many on this list were no-brainers, but there were a few very competitive rounds. I’m sure everyone will agree that some of the greatest names in Cardinals history are on this list, including four Cardiac Cards offensive lineman, and all four Hall of Famers. But I also learned something about the Cards top 16th and 20th round picks, Jimmy Lee Hunt and Tom Day. Both were released by the Cardinals and both went on to become stars in the AFL. Hope you enjoy!
ALL-TIME ST. LOUIS CARDINAL DRAFT PICKS BY ROUND
ROUND 1 – ROGER WEHRLI (1969)
Wehrli was a consensus All-American at Missouri when the Cards selected him with the 19th pick in the draft. He went on to a 14 year career in St. Louis that included 3 All-Pro and 7 Pro Bowl selections. He had 40 interceptions, 19 fumble recoveries and was the longtime holder for Big Red kickers. He returned a fake FG for a TD in his final NFL game in 1982. Roger Staubach called him the best cornerback he ever played against. Wehrli was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the 1970s NFL All-Decade Team.
(Editor’s Note: Jim Hanifan became the Cardinals head coach on January 30, 1980. Below is Coach Hanifan’s account of how he was hired. It was taken from an excerpt of his book Beyond Xs and Os: My Thirty Years in the NFL)
My name had come up when there were openings for head coaching jobs in the NFL, and i really thought if I kept my nose clean I would have a shot at getting one of those jobs. I just didn’t think it would be in St. Louis.
Even though I really did want the job, it still caught me a little off guard when Don (Coryell) walked into my office and said Bill (Bidwill) had called to request permission to speak with me. I didn’t hear from him until a week later. We were coaching at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, and after the game I was back in my hotel room packing and getting ready to leave for the airport when Bill called. We agreed to meet two days later in San Diego.
The day that Bill arrived, it was pouring down rain. I agreed to meet him in a parking lot, because he wanted to be very secretive. I told him to follow me, and we would stop off and have lunch at a Mexican restaurant that was on the way to my house. It was managed by my friend Ray Ogas, who now works for the Rams.
Picking eighth in the 1970 NFL draft, the St. Louis Football Cardinals selected running back Larry Stegent out of Texas A&M.
“It’s unbelievable—I’m overwhelmed,” Stegent said in a St. Louis Post Dispatch interview after the draft. “I didn’t feel I’d be picked until much later. I didn’t really think anyone wanted me that much.”
Stegent was an All-American high school halfback and Southwest Conference all-star his sophomore and junior seasons at A&M. The Houston native was slowed by injuries for much of his senior season, but that didn’t stop the Cardinals from drafting him ahead of All-American running back Steve Owens from Oklahoma.
“Owens is a straight-ahead type runner,” Big Red head coach Charley Winner said. “We think Stegent can go outside for us, and he’s a good pass receiver.
Unfortunately, Stegent would never “go outside” for the Cards and became yet another Cards first round disappointment.
“The doctors with the Bills told me that the Cardinals were telling everyone that I had mental problems and that’s why I couldn’t get along with people,” Ahmad Rashad said, his voice inflecting both laughter and anger at the same time.
It is easy to understand how Rashad could drive other people crazy, like cornerbacks. Willie Brown, the All-Pro of the Oakland Raiders, wound up talking to himself after Rashad turned him in circles and tied his shoelaces together during the Monday Night Game of the Week on ABC-TV.
Even Howard Cosell, given to hyperbole on some things as mundane as a stadium hot-dog vendor, was going nuts over Rashad’s two-touchdown performance that gave the Buffalo Bills a 21-20 victory. “In Buffalo,” Cosell raved, “the acquisition of Rashad is being termed the ‘Steal of the Century.'”
The victims of this outlandish thievery are the Cardinals, whose state of mind may be more in question than Rashad’s considering that they traded him straight up for second-string quarterback Dennis Shaw last January. Not that Shaw isn’t a competent professional; it’s just that Rashad has the talent to become one of the greatest receivers in the National Football League.
(Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Robert L. Burnes’ book Big Red: Story of the St. Louis Football Cardinals. Frank “Pop” Ivy was a member of the 1947 NFL Champion Chicago Cardinals and was the St. Louis Cardinals first head coach after they relocated from Chicago. He led them to a 6-5-1 record in 1960, but the team fell apart in 1961 and he resigned with just two games left in the season.)
When Pop Ivyabruptly resigned with two games left in the 1961 season, the general public impression was that he had been fired.
Walter Wolfner(the Cardinals Director of Operations) denied it vigorously. “We had no fault to find with Pop’s work, especially considering the injuries. He was under no pressure from management. In fact, I was waiting until the end of the season to talk to him about a new contract. I was shocked when he told me he wanted out.” The coach maintained that no one had pushed him, no one had leaned on him to leave. “It was my own idea,” he said.
Twenty four years before the St. Louis Football Cardinals moved to Arizona, the Bidwill brothers almost relocated to Atlanta.
In April of 1964, Bill and Stormy Bidwill denied a Nashville Banner report of the Cards interest in moving to the Georgia capital.
“No. 1, I’d rather not comment. No. 2, neither I nor my brother ever has talked to the person who carried the story. No. 3, we’re not contemplating any change,” Cards vice president Bill Bidwill told the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
However, a month later, Bidwill admitted that he had received a “fine proposal” from Atlanta to play in their new $18,000,000 stadium starting in 1965.
The Bidwill brothers wanted to stay in St. Louis, but had a number of concerns. First, they weren’t happy with the length of the proposed 30 year lease in an unproven football market. They also weren’t happy with the rental agreement of 12% of the gate revenue and the 5% city tax on ticket sales.
While the Big Red offensive line of the 1970s gets all the glory, the front five of the 1960s Cardinals was just as good and may have been better. Bob DeMarco, Irv Goode, Ken Gray, Ernie McMillan, and Bob Reynolds combined for 19 Pro Bowls from 1961-1970.
The 6′-6, 265-pound Reynolds was the Cards second round draft choice in 1963 out of Bowling Green where he was a two-time all-conference selection. He started his first training camp on defense, but was moved to left tackle after a string of injuries on the offensive line.
Big Red line coach Ray Prochaska believed Reynolds had the tools to succeed on the offensive line.
“He seems to know what pass protection is about. He knows the footwork pretty well and knowing this is three-fourths of the task.”
Reynolds had another reason for the move to offense
“I didn’t feel I was good enough to be a defensive tackle,” he told Jeff Meyers of the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1970. “All the way up to pro ball I was always bigger than most players. I may have loafed. I had the tendency to take it easy. In college all I knew about defense was to overpower everybody.”
Reynolds told Meyers that he became convinced that mental preparation was the most important factor of playing on the offensive line.
“That is how you beat your opponent,” he said. “Better shape? No, you beat him because you’ve prepared yourself more than he has. Strength? No, you beat him because you prepared yourself more.”
The first sign that this was going to be an inauspicious weekend for the Big Red came when their Ozark Airlines charter touched down on the icy runway at Appleton International Airport—yes, that’s what they call it—less than 24 hours before their Super Bowl Tournament game against the Green Bay Packers.
The pilot tried the brakes, but they wouldn’t cooperate. The plane kept skidding down the runway. I gripped the seat handles tightly while behind me several Cardinals players screamed out in terror.
Finally—miraculously—the plane came to a stop. When it made a left turn to head for the terminal, it was only about 15 yards from a chain link fence at the end of the runway.
Shaken but safe, the players and coaches departed the plane—thanking the pilot as they exited—and boarded buses that would take them to the Paper Valley Hotel (where most Packers opponents stayed) in Appleton.