With the NFL kicking off its three-day 2023 Draft, the Big Red Zone continues its series looking back on each of the 28 St. Louis Cardinals drafts (1960-87). This installment focuses on the 1979 Draft, which was held May 3-4 in New York.
The Cardinals struck gold—twice—in the 1979 Draft when they selected running back Ottis Anderson of Miami (Fla.) and defensive back Roy Green of Henderson State, who would become two of the most prodigiously productive offensive players in team history.
The team’s top priority was a running back who had the speed and skills to run outside. In 1978, their top three backs were Jim Otis, Wayne Morris and Steve Jones—all inside power runners who accounted for 1,687 of the team’s 1,954 rushing yards (86 percent). Coach Bud Wilkinson wanted someone with breakaway speed.
In the weeks leading up to the Draft, the Big Red brass debated who to target with the team’s first-round pick (eighth overall): Anderson, who rushed for 3,333 yards at Miami, or Charles Alexander, who ran for 4,035 yards at LSU. Their choice of Anderson proved to be the right one.
“We feel that he has the great moves that we’ve been hunting for,” Cardinals personnel director George Boone said. “We haven’t had those in quite a while.” At least since 1977, Terry Metcalf’s last season as a Cardinal.
As we move closer to the 2023 NFL Draft (Thursday-Saturday), The Big Red Zone is looking back on each of the 28 St. Louis Cardinals drafts (1960-87). This installment focuses on the 1978 Draft, which was held May 2-3 in New York.
Of the 139 kicking specialists drafted in the NFL before 1978, only two—placekicker Charlie Gogolak (1966) and punter Ray Guy (1973)—were selected in the first round. On May 2, 1978, the Cardinals increased that number to three when they took Arkansas dual kicker Steve Little with the 15th overall choice.
Before you go saying, Just another dumb move by George Boone, consider that all of the Cardinals’ hierarchy was on board with the pick.
“It was a unanimous decision,” first-year head coach Bud Wilkinson told reporters, using an analytical explanation for defending the pick.
Wilkinson pointed out that in 1977, the Big Red’s average field position for an offensive position was their 32-yard line, and that they netted only a little more than 31 yards in net punting. (Actually, the Cardinals’ net punting average had been 32.8 yards—10th best in the NFL and slightly better than the league’s 31.8 average—but let’s not quibble).
“That’s a loss in field position that’s difficult to make up. And those are figures that can be improved,” Wilkinson said, tossing out phrases such as position football and cumulative yardage.
Do As we move closer to the 2023 NFL Draft (April 27-29), The Big Red Zone is looking back on each of the 28 St. Louis Cardinals drafts (1960-87). This installment focuses on the 1977 Draft, which was held May 3-4 in New York.
In March 1977, the Cardinals brought in Steve Pisarkiewicz for a pre-draft visit at Busch Stadium. The former University of Missouri quarterback spent the day being quizzed about defensive coverages, getting a physical evaluation, and throwing passes on the field. The visit wrapped up with a dinner at the stadium club, where Cardinals Director of Operations Joe Sullivan and head coach Don Coryell dined with Zark, his mom, and his McCluer High football coach.
“It was a great day, actually,” Zark recalls in an April 2023 interview with the Big Red Zone. At least until the end.
During dinner, Pisarkiewicz recalls, “Coryell leaned over to me—I’ll never forget—and said, ‘Hey, Steve, I want to thank you for coming in and spending the day with us. I know being from St. Louis you’re probably a longtime Cardinals fan. I just want to wish you luck in your career. We’re not going to go after a quarterback this year, but we wanted to get some information on you and we’re glad you came in. All the best to you.’”
As we move closer to the 2023 NFL Draft (April 27-29), The Big Red Zone is looking back on each of the 28 St. Louis Cardinals drafts (1960-87). This installment focuses on the 1976 Draft, which was held April 8-9 in New York.
If we’re going to lob tomatoes at George Boone for his failed drafts, we need to acknowledge—with golf applause, at least—his successful ones.
And by most measures, the Big Red’s 1976 draft was a hit—even though the Cardinals had picks in only 13 of the 17 rounds.
With three of their first four picks, the Big Red selected a rock-solid defensive lineman (Mike Dawson), a highly productive wide receiver (Pat Tilley) and a first-class running back (Wayne Morris)—all of whom would become starters and major contributors.
Much later in the draft, the Big Red chose a defensive back (Lee Nelson) who would help them for 10 seasons.
Durable… hard-working… aggressive. Those are just some of the words that describe the football career of Mark Arneson who played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1972-1980. The former linebacker passed away this morning at the age of 73.
Arneson was a three-sport star (football, track, and wrestling) at Palo Verde High School in Tucson, AZ, and played college ball at his hometown University of Arizona.
The 6-foot-2 inch, 210-pound linebacker was a 2-time All-Western Athletic Conference performer and became the first Arizona Wildcat to earn first-team All-American honors.
The Big Red selected Arneson with their second pick (#32 overall) in the 1972 NFL draft. He was chosen to play in the College All-Star game later that summer in Chicago and would miss a couple of weeks of his rookie training camp.
“I have mixed feelings about the All-Star Game,” he told Jeff Meyers of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “On one side it’s a pain in the neck. I should be in camp. That’s the most important place for me.”
As we move closer to the 2023 NFL Draft (April 27-29), The Big Red Zone is looking back on each of the 28 St. Louis Cardinals drafts (1960-87). This installment focuses on the 1975 Draft, which was held January 29-30 in New York.
Looking at the list of players the Cardinals selected in the 1975 NFL draft, coach Don Coryell sounded pleased.
“I don’t think we’ve picked a guy who doesn’t have a chance to make our club,” Coryell told the Post-Dispatch. Then, winking, he said, “And some of them have an excellent chance.”
That was in late January, shortly after the draft. Six months later, when training camp started, Coryell more likely was rolling his eyes, not winking them.
Of the 15 players the Big Red drafted, 10—67 percent—never played in the NFL. Of the remaining five, two started their NFL careers with other teams. That left first-round pick Tim Gray, 10th-round pick Mike McGraw, and 11th-round pick Jerry Latin as the only players who made the 1975 roster—and only Latin, a running back from Northern Illinois who Coryell said could be “the sleeper of the draft” lasted more than one year in St. Louis.
As we move closer to the 2023 NFL Draft (April 27-29), The Big Red Zone is looking back on each of the 28 St. Louis Cardinals drafts (1960-87). This installment focuses on the 1974 Draft, which was held January 29-30 in New York.
With the exception of first-round pick J.V. Cain and fourth-round choice Ike Harris, the Cardinals didn’t get much help from this draft. And both of those players had short careers in St. Louis.
A tight end from Colorado, Cain was a backup in his first two seasons in St. Louis. He became a full-time starter in 1976, and caught a combined 51 passes for 728 yards and nine touchdowns in ’76 and ’77. He suffered a torn Achilles tendon in training camp in 1978 and missed that entire season.
A year later, on July 22—his 28th birthday—tragedy struck. Cain collapsed on the field at Lindenwood College while running a pass pattern during a non-contact training camp practice. While coaches and teammates watched in shock, medical personnel gave Cain CPR. He was transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital and died shortly thereafter. An autopsy showed that his death was due to a rare congenital heart problem.
As we move closer to the 2023 NFL Draft (April 27-29), The Big Red Zone is looking back on each of the 28 St. Louis Cardinals drafts (1960-87). This installment focuses on the 1973 Draft, which was held January 30-31 in New York.
After his first draft as head coach of the Cardinals, Don Coryell gave his stamp of approval to the team’s first four picks: Purdue defensive tackle Dave Butz, Texas-El Paso quarterback-punter Gary Keithley, Bowling Green guard Fred Sturt, and Long Beach State running back Terry Metcalf.
“We drafted the great defensive lineman, the young quarterback with super potential, the fine offensive lineman, and the darting-type runner,” Coryell told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Metcalf was the exception. An exciting multipurpose player who played five seasons for the Big Red, Metcalf became one of the linchpins of the Cardiac Cards with his ability to run, catch and return kicks.