Big Red Draft History: 1977 NFL Draft

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.’” 

“So I left there (thinking), ‘Well, there’s one bleeping place I’m not going,’” Pisarkiewicz says.

Imagine Zark’s surprise several weeks later when the Big Red not only drafted him—but selected him with their first-round pick (No. 19 overall)!

George Boone, the Cardinals’ director of player personnel, unabashedly defended the pick to reporters.

“They’d put me in a crazy house if I don’t take Pisarkiewicz when he’s available,” Boone said, labeling the pick as an “insurance policy. Four years down the road, this will be the guy you’ll want to move in.”

(Note: Boone had an affinity for players who starred in college bowl games. He may have made up his mind about Pisarkiewicz back in January, when Zark completed 13 of 18 passes for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter of the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., leading the North to a 27-24 comeback victory over the South. Boone and Pisarkiewicz sat next to each other on the plane both to and from Mobile. “George Boone and I kind of got to be friends,” Zark says. “He was all excited, and of course I was all excited after the game. I think (the conversation) was just more jovial stuff. He made some personal notes that he acted on later in the draft, obviously, but he didn’t share any of that with me on the plane.”)

After the draft, Sullivan told Pisarkiewicz that he was going to sit on the bench and learn, not by playing but by “observing, studying and watching.”  

It was no secret that Coryell hated the pick of Pisarkiewicz—he wanted a defensive back or a linebacker—and he didn’t try to hide his displeasure. When the Cardinals went to Denver to open the ’77 season, Coryell called Pisarkiewicz into the coaches’ dressing room before the game and told him he was not going to dress for the game and would be one of the inactive Big Red players. This was after Zark already had been taped and was in uniform.

After that, Coryell “didn’t say five words to me the whole year,” Zark said. “I’m not exaggerating. He literally did not talk to me at all.”

Although Zark suited up for the rest of the games, he never played as a rookie. He was the third-string quarterback behind longtime veteran Jim Hart and Bill Donckers, resigned to holding a clipboard on the sideline. In 1978, he started one game after Hart suffered a partially separated shoulder. He received his most extensive playing time when he started the final three games of the ’79 season—after Bidwill fired coach Bud Wilkinson for refusing to bench longtime star quarterback Jim Hart and play Zark. 

Zark’s selection was one of the most controversial in Big Red history, and he suspected it was going to be a strange ride right from the beginning.

“It was just a weird, weird year,” Zark recalls of 1977. “The draft was exciting because I went to the Cardinals, although I knew it wasn’t going to work out because of what Coryell had said in the stadium club.”

1977 St. Louis Cardinals Draft

rd-overallplayer namepositioncollege
1-19Steve PisarkiewiczQBMissouri
2-47George FranklinRBTexas A&M-Kingsville
3-78Kurt AllermanLBPenn St.
3-80Terdell MiddletonRBMemphis
5-131Ernest LeeDTTexas
5-135Andy SpivaLBTennessee
8-216Eric WilliamsLBUSC
9-243Johnny JacksonNTSouthern
10-270Jim LeJayWRSan Jose St.
11-301Greg LeeDBWestern Illinois
12-328Rick FenlawLBTexas

*In three seasons with the Cardinals (1977-79), Steve Pisarkiewicz appeared in nine games and made four starts, including the final three games of the ’79 season. His career numbers for the Big Red: 138 passing attempts, 62 completions (44.9 percent), 785 yards, three touchdowns, seven interceptions and 14 sacks. After he was cut before the start of the 1980 season, he signed with Green Bay and played one game in ’80. He stayed in football for several years after—first with the Canadian Football League, then with the United State Football League and, finally, in the United Kingdom, where he was involved with several teams, both as a player and an ambassador for the NFL in its effort to grow the game overseas.

*Linebacker Kurt Allerman played two stints with the Cardinals (1977-79 and 1982-84). He appeared in 86 games (37 starts) and recovered four fumbles.

*A star at USC who was the leading tackler on the Trojans’ 1976 team which went 11-1 and beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl, Eric Williams started the final eight games of his rookie season after Steve Neils suffered a knee injury. Williams played both inside and outside linebacker during his five seasons (1977-81) in St. Louis, appearing in 97 games with 58 starts. He intercepted five passes for 97 yards, recovered five fumbles, and had 5.5 sacks.

Linebacker Eric Williams played 5 seasons for the Cardinals.

2 thoughts on “Big Red Draft History: 1977 NFL Draft

  1. I never knew about that dinner conversation between Don Coryell and Steve Pisarkiewicz. It almost hurts me to say this but the Organization was pretty dysfunctional in this period. You can’t blame Coach Coryell for leaving. Something else that makes the selection of Pisarkiewicz even more bizarre is that the 1977 draft was a very weak one for QB’s. Only four QB’s were taken in the first four rounds with only Tommy Kramer and Vince Ferragamo going own to have decent careers.


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