Posted by Bob Underwood
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 first sign of trouble came in July. Stegent suffered a partial ligament tear in his right knee while practicing for the College All-Star game. He would miss most of training camp and the first two exhibition games.
He would see his first action against the Bears in the annual Cardinal-Glennon benefit game on August 29. “I don’t have all my speed back yet, but the knee feels good,” Stegent said.
On his first play from scrimmage, Stegent suffered torn ligaments and damaged cartilage in his left knee while trying to tackle Bears defensive back Major Hazelton on an interception return.
“I went to make the tackle,” Stegent said. “The guy (Hazelton) was tackled and I thought I heard the whistle. I relaxed, but as so often happens, he busted away and his helmet hit me on the knee. It was just a freak thing.”
Stegent would miss the rest of his entire rookie season. The Big Red briefly converted him to safety the following training camp in 1971.
“We think strong safety is a great position for him,” new head coach Bob Hollway said. “His knee is not as vulnerable there as it would be at running back.”
The experiment on defense didn’t last long. After Stegent’s knee showed considerable improvement, he was moved back to running back. He was placed on the taxi squad before the season, saw some special team action early in the year, and made his first NFL start against the Philadelphia Eagles on December 12, 1971.
On the Cards first play from scrimmage, Stegent took a swing pass from Jim Hart, darted up the field for 12 yards and tried to cut back to against the grain. As he planted his right foot, pain shot through his knee.
“They just ripped,” Stegent said, referring to the ligament in his right knee. “I feel like the guy in Li’l Abner. The sun is shining over everyone else, but it’s raining on me.”
Stegent soon had his second knee surgery in 15 months. “I can try to come back or I can quit. And I damn sure won’t quit.”
Stegent went home to Houston and worked out in the offseason. Both knees passed physical examinations the following training camp in 1972, but just a few weeks later he suffered yet another right knee injury and would be placed on injured reserve.
Stegent would try one more comeback in 1973, but failed his physical at training camp. The Cardinals release him on July 23, 1973.
Larry Stegent’s three year career with the Big Red can be measured by one pass reception and two knee operations.
“It was really hard to leave football,” Stegent told Jeff Meyers in a 1975 interview. “My heart said I could play. I knew I had all the attributes. No one had more character or desire than I did. But I had to tell myself I just didn’t have the wheels.”
“I could have been as good as anyone who ever carried the ball for them. With the right breaks, I could have done it.”
After leaving football, Larry returned to Texas and became a successful insurance agent. He was the CEO of Stegent Insurance Associates for more than 40 years.
Of course Stegent would not be the last Big Red first round draft pick failure. They Cardinals continued to struggle in that department even after the team relocated to Arizona in 1988.