On November 15, 1964, the Cardinals and New York Giants played to a 10-10 tie at Busch Stadium I in a game that is known as the “Mud Bowl.”
A torrential downpour that day turned the grass field at the stadium the Big Red shared with the baseball Cardinals into a sloppy quagmire that made it a challenge to run, throw or kick the football. It was especially sloppy in the dirt infield of the baseball diamond.
Fifty-eight years later, several Cardinals players still remember details from that game.
“The mud was so thick, it was unbelievable,” center Bob DeMarco recalled. “(Fullback) Mal Hammock nearly drowned at the bottom of a pile.”
“It was just miserable out there,” said tight end Jackie Smith who, after one reception, was knocked to the ground and “just spun on my ass.”
“The band even lost some of their shoes,” said kicker Jim Bakken. “We found shoes out on the field.” The field conditions turned Southern Illinois-Carbondale Marching Salukis into the plodding Salukis.
Asked after the game if he had ever seen such a mess on a football field, Giants head coach Allie Sherman said, “Well, there is mud and there is mud, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a deeper and stickier kind before.”
Running the ball was futile: the Giants gained 81 yards on 35 carries and the Cardinals had 38 yards on 22 attempts. The teams had a combined nine fumbles, although only two were lost.
In the second half, Cardinals quarterback Charley Johnson lined up in shotgun formation—even though the team hadn’t practiced it—to reduce the risk of slipping and getting sacked.
The Giants’ points came on quarterback Y.A. Tittle’s 21-yard pass to Aaron Thomas in the first quarter and Don Chandler’s 21-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals scored on Bakken’s 27-yard field goal in the second quarter and Johnson’s 15-yard pass to Bobby Joe Conrad in the third.
Late in the game, Cardinals coach Wally Lemm sent Bakken on to the muck to try a 52-yard field goal attempt, with safety Larry Wilson the holder.
“When Larry put (the ball) down, it kind of sunk into the mud, so you really couldn’t get a foot into it,” Bakken said.
The low kick was blocked by Andy Stynchula and recovered by Jerry Hillebrand on the St. Louis 45.
After a few plays, Tittle tried to connect with 6-foot-3 receiver R.C. Owens on an alley-oop pass, a play the two players had perfected when they played for the 49ers, but 5-9 Big Red cornerback Pat Fischer intercepted the pass near the goal line. It was Fischer’s second pick of the game.
The Cardinals ran two plays, then let the final 30 seconds of the game run out—a move that provoked boos from several of the 29,608 spectators. Lemm defended the strategy.
“Anybody who questioned why we held the ball doesn’t know much,” Lemm said. “Our chance of doing anything was so slim and the chance of giving the ball away was so great that there was no question it was the right thing to do.”
The tie left the Cardinals with a 5-3-2 record, 2½ games behind the NFC East-leading Cleveland Browns and seemingly out of contention for first place. They made a late-season run by winning their final four games and finishing 9-3-2—just 19 percentage points behind the division champion Browns (10-3-1).
Had the two teams finished with identical records, the Cardinals would have won out on a tiebreaker, having tied the Browns in Cleveland and beaten them in St. Louis. But the 10-10 tie and a 34-17 loss to the Giants in New York two weeks earlier were costly for the Big Red.
The Browns went on to beat the Baltimore Colts, 27-0, in the NFL championship game. The Cardinals’ consolation prize? A postseason game against the Green Bay Packers, the West Division’s second-place team, in the Playoff Bowl (aka “Runner-Up Bowl”) in Miami.
At least the Cardinals won, 24-17. Here’s mud in their eyes for that.
1964 Mud Bowl Gallery