Many remember hard-hitting Big Red special teamers like “Dr. Doom” John Barefield and Ron Wolfley, but a long forgotten “wedge-buster” from the 1960s was Mal Hammack.
Malcolm “Mal” Hammack started his career with the Chicago Cardinals in 1955. The Roscoe, Texas native played college ball at the University of Florida where he was second team all-SEC fullback. Chicago drafted him in the third round and wanted him to play linebacker, however, his weight of 200 pounds was on the light side, even in 1955.
Hammack was used sparingly at linebacker his rookie season and was soon moved to full back where he would play most of his career. But he earned his mark on special teams. Hammack was a fierce competitor, loved contact, and was known for his body-jolting blocking and tackling. He was the lead Kamikaze and captain of the special teams.
“I like to go down on punts with a chance to kill the ball close in or maybe jolt the ball out of a receiver’s hands,” Hammack told Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post Dispatch in a 1966 interview, “but I believe the most satisfaction is in peeling back to help block for a punt return, hopeful that it might go all the way. The most satisfaction, that is, next to winning.”
Hammack’s best offensive season came in 1960, the first year the Cardinals played in St. Louis. He rushed for 347 yards and scored two touchdowns.
With an apparent surplus of running backs, the Cardinals sent Hammack to the Dallas Cowboys after the 1962 season. He was “not bitter, but disappointed,” in the trade because he had established his home in St. Louis. But he was determined to make the Cowboys.
The Cowboys cut Hammack at the end of training camp and he was just two hours from catching a plane to join the Toronto Argonauts when Big Red fullback Prentice Gautt went down with a serious injury in the 1963 season opener. Hammack was on his way back to St. Louis.
“I had a 2 p.m. flight to Canada for a final fling in the Canadian league,” Hammack recalled. “But Wally Lemm called me and said that (John David) Crow was injured and the Cardinals needed men.”
Hammack was more than happy to come home. “I’m a St. Louisan, permanently.”
While Hammack continued to excel on special teams, he also helped out Jackie Smith at tight end after Taz Anderson’s injury in 1963. And in 1964 he was moved back to defense for the first time since 1955 to help out at linebacker after Larry Stallings was injured.
“I don’t think it would be too tough on Hammack,” head coach Wally Lemm told the St. Louis Post Dispatch about Mal playing defense. “There’s no question about his being able to do it, no question about his ability to hit. Any team could use 40 like him.”
“With the help of Chuck Drulis, Bill Koman, and others, I’ve done all right,” Hammack told the Post Dispatch.
Hammack retired in 1967 to focus on his St. Louis business and work some Big Red games on CBS with play by play man Jack Drees. He finished his career with 1,278 rushing yards with seven touchdowns and dozens of big hits and tackles on special teams.
“I always take pride having been a hitter,” he said when he announced his retirement.
He said the 1964 “Playoff Bowl” team and the 1966 team as the best clubs on which he had played.
Regarding his new role as a color commentator, Hammack joked “I’ve always been associated with the unglamorous part of the game and as an analyst, I’m going to make sure to point out the specialty teams on the kickoffs and punts.”
Bill Bidwill, Vice President of the Big Red, said the Cardinals “always have been proud of Mal, and we hope you’ve been proud of us.”
Hammack remained in the St. Louis area until his death in 2004. He was 71 years old.
“He was just a great athlete,” former teammate Jackie Smith said. “He was very tough.”
Smith told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that the players used to look forward to watching film of Hammack in action.
“There were some classic plays we’d run back where he was on special teams, just to see the hits he put on guys.”
Smith and Hammack remained friends after their playing days.
“He was a real low-key guy,” Smith said. “He was a funny person, with a dry wit, just a great guy to be around. He was special.”