About Dennis Dillon

Dennis covered the St. Louis Football Cardinals at the St. Louis Globe Democrat and was a longtime staff writer at The Sporting News.

Jim Hart: Where is he Now?

This is the last story in a five-part series about former quarterback Jim Hart, the Cardinals’ all-time leading passer.

Most evenings, before he goes to bed, Jim Hart will walk into the living room of his house in the tiny Island Walk section of Naples, Fla., where lakes run behind the houses and neighboring streets are connected by Venetian-style bridges. There he will sit down on a bench, put on headphones so as to not disturb his wife, Mary, and start playing the electric organ. 

Yes, the former football player is a musician.

Hart started out playing the accordion while growing up in Evanston, IL. Later, when his parents bought an organ, he learned to play that instrument, too. Organ music captivates him and brings a calming closure to his day.

His repertoire includes a variety of songs: hymns, country western songs, and show tunes. Before he knows it, an hour, maybe two, has passed. He always finishes with Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “Let there be Peace on Earth.” 

“It’s a very peaceful ending to the day,” Hart says. “It makes me feel good, and I’m ready to turn in.”

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Jim Hart: The Final Years

This is the fourth in a five-part series of stories remembering Jim Hart, the Cardinals’ all-time passing leader.

The latter years of Jim Hart’s Cardinals career (1978-83) were marked by seminal events that tested both Hart’s and the team’s resolve.

Jim Hart against the New York Giants in 1979.

There was the death of tight end J.V. Cain; a war of wills between coach Bud Wilkinson and owner Bill Bidwill that resulted in Wilkinson’s ouster; the arrival of quarterback Neil Lomax that led to Hart’s demotion; and, finally, Hart’s unceremonious release by the team. 

It was a mostly distressing time, coming on the heels of the “Cardiac Cards” era, a stretch (1974-76) under coach Don Coryell during which the Big Red posted three double-digit winning seasons, made two playoff appearances, and sent multiple players to the Pro Bowl.

After Coryell left, Bidwill shocked the NFL world when he named Bud Wilkinson as the team’s new head coach in 1978. Wilkinson was a legendary college coach who guided the University of Oklahoma football team to glory from 1946-63, but now he was in his early 60’s and hadn’t been on a sideline for years.

Although Wilkinson kept the Coryell offense, the Cardinals started 0-8 in his first season and finished with a 6-10 record. Despite that, Hart recorded career highs in pass attempts (477), completions (240) and yards (3,121).

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Jim Hart: The Coryell Years

This is the third in a five-part series of stories remembering Jim Hart, the Cardinals’ all-time passing leader.

Jim Hart was scared. He thought his football career was over.

On Dec. 2, 1973, in the third-to-last game of the season, Detroit Lions second-year defensive lineman Herb Orvis broke through the Cardinals’ pass protection and hit Hart’s right arm just as the quarterback released a pass. Hart’s arm bent backward and hyperextended. He then heard a “whoomph” as the arm snapped back into place. 

Jim Hart’s career took off under Don Coryell in 1973

Hart suffered an elbow injury that caused him to miss the final two games of Don Coryell’s first season as coach of the Big Red. Even though the Cardinals finished with a 4-9-1 record for the third consecutive year, Hart and his teammates were encouraged. Coryell had brought with him from San Diego State University a state-of-the-art, pass-oriented offense that was both easy and exciting to execute. And he chose Hart, who had been forced to share the starting quarterback job with multiple players in the previous two seasons under coach Bob Hollway, as his engineer.

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Jim Hart: The Early Years

This is the second in a five-part series of stories remembering Jim Hart, the Cardinals’ all-time passing leader.

The odds were stacked against Jim Hart when he arrived at the Cardinals’ training camp in Lake Forest, IL., in the summer of 1966. Not only was he an undrafted rookie, but he also was last in a line of six quarterbacks.

Sixth-year veteran Charley Johnson was the incumbent starter, and Buddy Humphrey was the backup. Behind them, but ahead of Hart, were Terry Nofsinger, rookie Gary Snook and Jack Ankerson.

Jim Hart on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1967

But a series of serendipitous events moved Hart up in the pecking order. Humphrey was released during camp; Snook, a fourth-round draft pick, was drafted by the Army and never played in the NFL; and Ankerson was moved to tight end and, later, cut. That made Hart the No. 3 QB.

Hart spent the first nine games of the ’66 season on the Cardinals’ taxi squad, meaning he practiced during the week but was inactive on game days. After Johnson suffered a season-ending knee injury in an early November game against the New York Giants, making Nofsinger the starter, Hart was activated for the final five games. His only playing time came in the fourth quarter of the season finale against the Cleveland Browns, where he completed four of 11 passes for 29 yards.

“The only positive thing there was that I got in a vested year toward my pension,” Hart said.

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Cards Legend Jim Hart: A Statistical Review

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a five-part series of stories remembering Jim Hart, the Cardinals’ all-time passing leader.)

Jim Hart

Whether Jim Hart belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a matter of opinion. Whether he was one of the best non-drafted quarterbacks to play in the NFL is a matter of fact.

The numbers confirm it.

In March 2017, the website footballoutsiders.com released a statistical study comparing the 36 undrafted quarterbacks who had thrown at least 500 passes during their NFL careers. The top-level included Hall of Famer Warren Moon, Dave Krieg, Jon Kitna, Tony Romo, and Kurt Warner.

(There have been some additions in the last five years, but no one has moved up enough to significantly alter the list).

Hart’s career numbers put him near the top in most categories:

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Big Red Legends: Jim Bakken

The record has stood the test of time. And it might just stand for the rest of time.

When Jim Bakken retired from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1979, after 17 seasons in the NFL, he was the franchise’s all-time scoring leader with 1,380 points.

Forty-four years later, that hasn’t changed. Bakken still holds that record—and he may never let go of it. Of the 49 players below him on the team scoring list, most are retired or playing for another team. The only exceptions are 37-year-old kicker Matt Prater (42nd with 137 points) and quarterback Kyler Murray (tied for 47th with 120 points).

“I guess I didn’t really think about that,” Bakken says when asked if he ever imagined his record would last this long. Actually, he takes more pride in a single-game NFL record he set.

On September 24, 1967, a windy day at Pitt Stadium in Pittsburgh, Bakken kicked seven field goals (18, 24, 33, 29, 24, 32 and 23 yards) in a 28-14 victory over the Steelers. (He attempted two more field goals into the wind that missed their mark.)

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Big Red Flashback Jan. 8, 1983: Super Bowl Tournament at Lambeau Field

The first sign that this was going to be an inauspicious weekend for the Big Red came when their Ozark Airlines charter touched down on the icy runway at Appleton International Airport—yes, that’s what they call it—less than 24 hours before their Super Bowl Tournament game against the Green Bay Packers.

The pilot tried the brakes, but they wouldn’t cooperate. The plane kept skidding down the runway. I gripped the seat handles tightly while behind me several Cardinals players screamed out in terror.

Jim Hanifan

Finally—miraculously—the plane came to a stop. When it made a left turn to head for the terminal, it was only about 15 yards from a chain link fence at the end of the runway.

Shaken but safe, the players and coaches departed the plane—thanking the pilot as they exited—and boarded buses that would take them to the Paper Valley Hotel (where most Packers opponents stayed) in Appleton.

Later coach Jim Hanifan held an impromptu press conference in his hotel suite. Slipping into my smartass mode, I asked Hanifan what effect the plane landing might have on the players’ performance the following day.

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Big Red Legends: Charley Trippi

The oldest living member in the Pro Football Hall of Fame rose from his chair, eyed his target squarely and moved in for the play. With his wife, Peggy, cheering him on, he huffed, and he puffed, and he blew out every one of the 99 candles on his birthday cake.

His health may be betraying him—his hearing is shot, his mobility is compromised, and he fell and broke his shoulder while walking out to the mail box a few months ago—but Charley Trippi hasn’t lost the singular trait that defined his magnificent football career, where he was a multi-dimensional player at the University of Georgia and in the NFL.

“I’ve never met a man more determined than my grandpa,” says Clint Watson. “If you go back and look at all the pictures of him in action, you’ll see a similarity. You’ll see the face that he’s making. He’s gritting his teeth and straining with every ounce of energy and determination that he has. When you see those pictures, you’re like, ‘That’s Pa-Pa.’ He has a determination about him that a lot of people just don’t have.”

Trippi lives in Athens, Ga., not far from the college stadium where he starred in the mid-1940s. You used to be able to drive by his house and see Charley out in his yard, raking leaves. But he pretty much stays inside any more.

Born on December 14, 1921 in Pittston, Pa., Trippi was the son of a Sicilian immigrant coal miner. His mother died when Trippi was young. Trippi played football at Pittston High School, but he felt he needed to add some weight before playing in college.

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Joe Bostic Remembers Humorous Encounter With Woody Hayes

Even though he was playing in the game, Joe Bostic missed the infamous Woody Hayes punch in the 1978 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., that led to the firing of the iconic Ohio State coach.

Bostic, a Clemson guard, was on the sideline with the rest of the Tigers’ offense when late in the game Clemson defensive lineman Charlie Bauman intercepted a pass by Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter, essentially sealing a 17-15 Clemson victory.

After Bauman ran out of bounds on the Ohio State sideline, an enraged Hayes came up, grabbed the back of Bauman’s jersey and punched Bauman just below the neck. Penalty flags went flying as Bostic and the Clemson ran on to the field, but Bostic didn’t know what the flags were about.

When the game ended, after midnight, Bostic sprinted off the field to the locker room, where he quickly showered, dressed and departed the stadium before all of his teammates had even left the field. He had a 9 a.m. flight the next morning to Honolulu, where he would start in the Hula Bowl, and he wanted to get back to his hotel room.

Former Big Red Lineman Joe Bostic was a member of the 1979 Clemson Tiger team that defeated Woody Hayes’ Ohio State Buckeyes 17-15.

At 6 a.m. the next morning, the phone rang in Bostic’s room. It was his mother.

“Woody Hayes got fired,” she said.

“Really? Wow,” said Bostic

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Where are they Now? Former Big Red Lineman Joe Bostic

It was sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2014, but Joe Bostic wasn’t exactly feeling the holiday spirit. He lay in a hospital bed at his home in Greensboro, N.C., unable to straighten out his legs, both of which were in braces. Double quadriceps surgery had made the former St. Louis Cardinals offensive lineman a prisoner in his own house.

While carrying a bag up some stairs, Bostic had slipped and his right quadriceps muscle had detached from the knee. When he shifted his weight to his left knee, that quadriceps also tore.

After surgery, Bostic was confined to bed for eight weeks.

“It was unbelievable,” says Bostic, who played for the Big Red from 1979-1988. “I was like, I don’t know if I can do this. I finally said, ‘God, you get me out of this bed, I’m going to keep moving. I’m not going to sit around on my rear end. I’m going to get going.

“He got me out of that bed, so I’ve been trying to keep my word.”

Joe Bostic played in 132 games in 9 seasons with the Cardinals.
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Where are They Now? Pat Tilley

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Former St. Louis Globe Democrat and Sporting News writer Dennis Dillon recently caught up with Pat Tilley and is kind enough to share his story here in The Big Red Zone)

Pat Tilley described the catch as “incredible.”

No, the former Cardinals wide receiver was not talking about his one-handed, backhanded grab for a touchdown against the Baltimore Colts in 1980, arguably the most memorable of his 468 receptions during an 11-season career with the Big Red. He was referring to the 120-pound striped marlin he and his wife, Susie, reeled in recently while fishing the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Certainly, it will make for a much more pleasant memory than Tilley’s visit to Cabo three years ago. Back then, he woke up one morning and couldn’t speak. He had suffered a stroke.

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