Former St. Louis Cardinals Linebacker Mark Arneson Dies at the age of 73

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.”

“On the other side, you’re playing for a good cause. The game has done a lot for pro football. And it was a good way for me to break in. At least I know what’s expected of me.”

When he finally got to camp, he was given a 200-page playbook and he felt that coaches expected him to know everything immediately. He initially struggled on special teams which irritated head coach Bob Hollway and he was worried that he might not make the team.

“Before the final cut, I called Kris (his wife) and told her things looked bad and not to buy anything for the apartment. We had eight linebackers, and I was the only rookie. I thought I had to be the one to get cut.”

In the end, Arneson made the team as a third string linebacker and would soon find himself in the starting line-up following season-ending injuries to Jamie Rivers and Mike McGill.

“There’s a little more pressure in practice now,” he told the Post-Dispatch prior to his first NFL start against Washington. “Even when I was playing third team, I tried to prepare for each game as if I were going to start,” he said. “But it’s different now. Knowing you are going to start makes you prepare that much more.”

The hard work paid off for Arneson. He started the last 10 games of the season, recovered three fumbles, and was named the Cardinals Rookie of the Year.

Nov 20, 1977; St. Louis, MO, USA FILE PHOTO; St. Louis Cardinals linebacker Mark Arneson (57) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit Herb Weitman-USA TODAY Sports

In 1974, the Big Red appeared in the postseason for the first time in 26 years and Arneson intercepted a Fran Tarkenton pass in a 30-14 playoff loss to the Vikings.

“We have a good team,” Arneson said after the loss. “We’re young and we’re enthusiastic. We hope to go places for a long time.”

The “Cardiac Cards” were indeed a good team. They won eleven games in 1975 and ten more in 1976 when Arneson was moved to outside linebacker. He started every game for the next three seasons intercepting three passes, recovering eight fumbles, and recording 8.5 sacks during that period. He also led the team in tackles in 1977.

Arneson’s most memorable moment of his career came on his 30th birthday on September 9, 1979, when he scooped up a Joe Pisarcik fumble and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown in a 27-14 win over the New York Giants.

“One of the nicest presents I ever got,” Arneson said after the game. I hadn’t scored a touchdown since I was a high school fullback in Tucson. That was 1967.”

A knee injury against Washington a few weeks later would end Arneson’s streak of playing in 104 consecutive games.

“I thought I’d never get hurt,” he said, “You do begin to think that you’re always going to be out there. But, if you play the game long enough, I guess it happens to everybody.”

Arneson retired after the 1980 season which was highlighted by him recovering his 18th fumble tying the team record at the time. After the season, he was awarded the Paul Christman Award for his civic and athletic achievements.

“A lot of things enter in,” Arneson said about his decision to retire. “The frustration of losing, my getting older, the fact that I might lose my outside jobs.”

“I imagine people will say I saw a lot of young linebackers coming up to take my position. But believe me, I never ran from a challenge. I didn’t run from one now.”

“You’ve got to make the break sooner or later. I’d rather leave on my own terms.”

Arneson finished his career with 17.5 sacks, 5 interceptions, 18 fumble recoveries, and 1 touchdown.

After retiring from the NFL, Arneson remained in St. Louis with his wife Kris and their three kids.

Funeral services are pending.

10 thoughts on “Former St. Louis Cardinals Linebacker Mark Arneson Dies at the age of 73

  1. Mark Arneson was a wonderful man and Christian. One of the nicest athletes I’ve ever met. Spoke with Mark many times at a local gym where he worked out later in his life. He loved to hunt, spoke of his love for the Lord and his family. He is now celebrating his new life with the Lord. God bless you Mark!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I had the privilege to fish with Mark in Alaska several times. He loved the outdoors. He loved to see Gods creation. He was not only a great husband, father, grandfather, football player, hunter, fisherman, he was a Christian who loved the Lord.

    Liked by 2 people

      • I knew Mark throughout our four years at Arizona, more so as Juniors and Seniors when we shared the same major…Labor and Industrial Relations.
        He was a great guy that was always modest about his accomplishments.
        I followed his career as i traveled on my career in the US Navy.
        Sadly, never had the chance to see him in person after graduation in 1972!
        RIP Mark!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Mark I saw you play in a high school football game,when your high school Palo Verde High played against Tucson High School in the late 60’s it as a great game.I Saw you play at the University of Arizona you were outstanding. Then you played PRO Ball in the NFL with St Louis Cardinals,you were a great player.Rest In Peace Mark !

    Liked by 1 person

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