This is the third in a five-part series of stories remembering Jim Hart, the Cardinals’ all-time passing leader.
Jim Hart was scared. He thought his football career was over.
On Dec. 2, 1973, in the third-to-last game of the season, Detroit Lions second-year defensive lineman Herb Orvis broke through the Cardinals’ pass protection and hit Hart’s right arm just as the quarterback released a pass. Hart’s arm bent backward and hyperextended. He then heard a “whoomph” as the arm snapped back into place.
Hart suffered an elbow injury that caused him to miss the final two games of Don Coryell’s first season as coach of the Big Red. Even though the Cardinals finished with a 4-9-1 record for the third consecutive year, Hart and his teammates were encouraged. Coryell had brought with him from San Diego State University a state-of-the-art, pass-oriented offense that was both easy and exciting to execute. And he chose Hart, who had been forced to share the starting quarterback job with multiple players in the previous two seasons under coach Bob Hollway, as his engineer.
This is the second in a five-part series of stories remembering Jim Hart, the Cardinals’ all-time passing leader.
The odds were stacked against Jim Hart when he arrived at the Cardinals’ training camp in Lake Forest, IL., in the summer of 1966. Not only was he an undrafted rookie, but he also was last in a line of six quarterbacks.
But a series of serendipitous events moved Hart up in the pecking order. Humphrey was released during camp; Snook, a fourth-round draft pick, was drafted by the Army and never played in the NFL; and Ankerson was moved to tight end and, later, cut. That made Hart the No. 3 QB.
Hart spent the first nine games of the ’66 season on the Cardinals’ taxi squad, meaning he practiced during the week but was inactive on game days. After Johnson suffered a season-ending knee injury in an early November game against the New York Giants, making Nofsinger the starter, Hart was activated for the final five games. His only playing time came in the fourth quarter of the season finale against the Cleveland Browns, where he completed four of 11 passes for 29 yards.
“The only positive thing there was that I got in a vested year toward my pension,” Hart said.
(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a five-part series of stories remembering Jim Hart, the Cardinals’ all-time passing leader.)
Whether Jim Hart belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a matter of opinion. Whether he was one of the best non-drafted quarterbacks to play in the NFL is a matter of fact.
The numbers confirm it.
In March 2017, the website footballoutsiders.com released a statistical study comparing the 36 undrafted quarterbacks who had thrown at least 500 passes during their NFL careers. The top-level included Hall of Famer Warren Moon, Dave Krieg, Jon Kitna, Tony Romo, and Kurt Warner.
(There have been some additions in the last five years, but no one has moved up enough to significantly alter the list).
Hart’s career numbers put him near the top in most categories:
There was no better all-purpose running back in the late 1950s/early ’60s than the Cardinals’ John David Crow. The 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pounder was strong, had quick feet, great balance, was an excellent receiver, fantastic blocker, and may have been the best passer on the team for a couple of seasons.
“He’s big and strong and tough,” Chicago Cardinals head coach Frank “Pop” Ivy told the Chicago Tribune about his star running back in 1959. “I’ll tell you, he’s what we call a wiggler. It’s an almost indefinable quality. When the opposing defense is tight, he’ll bull his way into a hole, then suddenly wiggle through for extra yardage.”
Legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once called John David Crow “the finest player” he ever coached. Crow won the Heisman Trophy while playing for Bryant at Texas A&M in 1957. Later that year the Chicago Cardinals selected him as the second overall pick in the 1958 NFL Draft.
The rookie scored his first career touchdown when he recovered a fumble in the endzone against the New York Giants in the 1958 season opener. The following week he dashed for an 83-yard touchdown on the first play of the game and later added another score in a 37-10 win over Washington.
“He used that wiggle I was talking about,” Ivy explained after the game. “After he got into the secondary, he had no blocking at all. He was strictly on his own. He wiggled past a couple of defensive backs, and then simply outran everybody to the goal line.”
Crow scored a 91-yard touchdown a week later and was well on his way to rookie of the year honors, but a knee injury would slow him down and limit him to only 8 games his freshman season.
OJ starred at the University of Miami and was the Cards top pick in 1979. The Florida native made a big splash in his NFL debut with a 193 yard performance against the Dallas Cowboys. He would set league rookie records for rushing yards (1,605), rushing attempts (331), and the most 100 yard rushing games in a season with 9. He was named first team NFL All-Pro, consensus NFL Rookie of the Year, NFC Player of the Year, and team MVP. Anderson became the first running back to twice rush for 100 yards against the Dallas Cowboys.
OJ became the Cardinals’ all-time leading rusher in 1981 when he broke fellow St. Louis Sports Hall of Famer Jim Otis’ record of 3,863 yards.