In the spring of 1988, St. Louis Football Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill pulled up stakes in St. Louis and moved his team to Arizona. They have now been gone longer (35 years) than they were here (28). They’ve been gone so long, Gen Z football fans know them only as the Arizona Cardinals and Boomers of a certain age may have forgotten they ever played in The Lou.
Gone, yes. Forgotten, no—not as long as Bob Underwood has anything to say about it.
If you’re reading this, you likely know that Underwood is the gatekeeper of the St. Louis Football Cardinals Facebook Group and other social media sites including a blog called TheBigRedZone.com. With its selection of stories, photos, videos and other features, it’s a veritable cornucopia of information about the St. Louis Cardinals (1960-87).
Underwood created photo albums largely stocked by pictures from old NFL GameDay magazines he bought on eBay. Later, he added YouTube videos. Then, on Dec. 26, 2017, he created the Facebook group for fans and former players.
Any member can post something as long as they follow four rules: 1) St. Louis Cardinals posts only; 2) Be kind and courteous; 3) Name calling and hate speech will not be tolerated; and 4) No promotions or Spam.
In less than five years, the St. Louis Cardinals group has grown to more than 5,700 members, including such former Big Red players as Roger Wehrli, Irv Goode, Mel Gray, Tom Banks, Willard Harrell, Luis Sharpe, Pat Tilley, Johnny Roland, Willis Crenshaw and E.J. Junior. Mary Hart, the wife of Jim Hart, also is a member.
In the beginning, Underwood had trouble finding much information on the St. Louis Cardinals. “A lot of time, it was about the Arizona Cardinals,” he said. “It was like the St. Louis football Cardinals were completely erased from history.”
Over time, Underwood created his own history of the St. Louis Cardinals. Many of the stories on his Big Red Zone blog were written by Underwood himself—some from information gathered while reading old newspaper clippings, others from interviews with players. NFL Films and YouTube have been great sources for videos.
Rarely does a day go by without Underwood posting something. Often, it’s a picture and a Happy Birthday greeting to a former player. Underwood keeps a Google calendar that has players’ birthdays as well as dates for every game the St. Louis Cardinals played. On average, he spends an hour a day working on the page—and sometimes up to 3-4 hours over a weekend.
He also maintains a YouTube page and a Twitter account, where he has more than 5,000 followers, some of whom are fans of the Cowboys, Redskins, Giants and Eagles—the Big Red’s former rivals in the NFC East Division of the NFL.
All of it is a labor of love—“Absolutely,” he said—because he receives no remuneration.
In addition to everything else, Underwood has become a key cog in the St. Louis Cardinals alumni group and is the point man for gatherings of players and fans.
Born in 1966, Underwood grew up across the Mississippi River in Belleville. He started high at Belleville East, where he was a two-way lineman on the freshman football team, but wound up graduating from Freeburg High School after his family built a house in the country between Belleville and Freeburg.
Back in the day, an NFL blackout rule prevented the televising of an NFL team’s home game if it didn’t sell out. The Cardinals had their share of non-sellouts, so often Underwood would listen to Bob Starr broadcasting Big Red games on KMOX radio while he threw passes to himself with a Nerf football in his front yard.
One of his earliest memories was watching Mel Gray’s “phantom catch” in a 1975 victory in overtime against the Redskins. “I remember my mom yelling at me to come to the dinner table,” Underwood recalled, “but I just couldn’t take my eyes off that last (game-winning) drive.”
After high school, Underwood enrolled in the Naval Nuclear Power School for two years (1986-88). He then re-enlisted and wound up spending 10 years in the Navy, including a stint on the USS Mississippi during Operation Desert Storm, eventually rising to the rank of Machinist Mate First Class Petty Officer.
Since 1995, Underwood has worked as a quality engineer for Hartford Steam Boiler, a global insurance company headquartered in Hartford, CT., but with offices all over the world. HSB provides insurance for pressure equipment. A third-party inspection company, it verifies that vessels are built according to code and then inspects repairs and operations. Underwood has spent a lot of time at the Callaway County nuclear plant, Ameren plants in St. Louis, and other plants and factories in both the U.S. and overseas.
Underwood lives in O’Fallon, Mo., with his fiancée, Sarah Jennings, who works at the Danforth Plant Science Center. He has two adult children, a boy and a girl, and two grandkids, also a boy and a girl. He is an avid golfer.
In his home office, there are cabinets stuffed with Big Red paraphernalia; bobbleheads, autographed photos and helmets; and framed photos that have yet to be mounted on the wall. One of his favorite possessions (purchased for $20 on eBay) is a photo of former Cardinals receiver Roy “Jet Stream” Green sitting on a real jet.
Underwood might have his TV turned on to a football game when he works in his office, but it’s mostly for background. He doesn’t watch games like he used to.
“The Rams kind of soured everything for me,” he said, referring to the bitterness surrounding the franchise’s move from St. Louis to L.A. after the 2015 season by owner Stan Kroenke. “It wasn’t just Kroenke—we had a bad owner before, although Bidwill wasn’t as bad as Kroenke—it’s the way the NFL orchestrated the whole thing.
“I don’t go to Walmart anymore, either.” Underwood is content to live in the football past, curating his Facebook group materials and keeping alive the memory of the St. Louis Football Cardinals.