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.
Later coach Jim Hanifan held an impromptu press conference in his hotel suite. Slipping into my smartass mode, I asked Hanifan what effect the plane landing might have on the players’ performance the following day.
Not missing a beat, Hanifan took a puff on his cigarette and replied, “It depends on how many pairs of underwear they brought.”
John Sonderegger (the Post-Dispatch’s beat writer) and I decided we would throw a “smoker” for the coaches after their meetings that night. It would be held in Sondy’s room (one of my better decisions). We walked across the street to a liquor store and bought some snacks and adult beverages.
About half of the coaches came to the smoker, and most didn’t stay that long. The one who stayed the longest was Hanifan.
I recall three things about that night:
- Hanny “critiquing” Packers quarterback Lynn Dickey.
- The more drinks Hanny poured, the more the liquor-to-water proportion grew.
- He stayed until at least 3 a.m., about eight and a half hours before the 11:30 a.m. (CT) kickoff. And it was about a 35-minute bus ride from the hotel to Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
Temperature at kickoff was 21 degrees with a wind chill of 10. The Cardinals took a 3-0 lead when Neil O’Donoghue kicked an 18-yard field goal in the first quarter. The Packers then outscored the Cardinals, 41-9, before Big Red quarterback Neil Lomax and wide receiver Mike Shumann collaborated on an 18-yard scoring pass late in the game.
Final score: Packers 41, Cardinals 16.
Lynn Dickey completed 17 of 23 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns. He was not intercepted. He was not sacked.
Lomax threw for 385 yards and two TDs, but he was sacked five times and was intercepted twice.
Sondy and I decided that, because of the smoker, we had at least a partial responsibility for that Big Red defeat. If nothing else, there should have been an asterisk next to that game in the team’s record book.
(About the author: Dennis Dillon covered the Big Red for the St. Louis Globe Democrat from 1978-1983 and was an editor, managing editor, and writer at The Sporting News from 1985-2011.)