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.

A Memorable Monday in Dallas

On this date (November 16) in 1970, before a Cotton Bowl crowd of 69,323 and a nationwide audience watching Monday Night Football on ABC, the Cardinals beat the Dallas Cowboys, 38-0.

It was the third consecutive shutout for the Big Red—they had blanked the Houston Oilers, 44-0, and the Boston Patriots, 31-0, in their previous two games—who became the first NFL team to shut out three opponents in a row since the 1935 New York Giants. The victory improved their record to 7-2 and kept them in first place in the NFC East Division.

For the Cowboys, who fell to 5-4, it was the first time in their 11-year history (147 games) that they were whitewashed.

Running back Johnny Roland and cornerback Roger Wehrli, a pair of University of Missouri products, were the Cardinals’ linchpins that night. 

Roland returned a first-quarter punt 74 yards for a touchdown and rushed for two more TDs (10 and 3 yards) in the fourth quarter.

Recalling his punt return, Roland, 79, said recently, “(Punter Ron Widby) kicked a low line drive and I was able to field the ball clean. I didn’t have Mel Gray-type speed, but for a big guy I was able to move pretty good.”

Wehrli, playing in only his second NFL season, intercepted two passes, broke up five others, and made three unassisted tackles. The A.P. selected him as the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Week.

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1964 “Mud Bowl” Tie Cost Big Red Chance for Title

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.”

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Cards Defenders of the 60s were no Fluke

As exciting as the Cardinals’ offense was during Don Coryell’s tenure as head coach (1973-77), the defense was a poor stepchild. And for good reasons.

Sam Silas, Don Brumm, Chuck Walker, and Joe Robb bring down Cowboys running back Dan Reeves in a 1966 game in Dallas.

During the Coryell years, the Big Red defense ranked 26th (last in the NFL) in total defense in 1973, 17th in ’74, 18th in ’76, 12th in ’76 and 24th in ’77. The only defensive player who was selected to the Pro Bowl during that span was cornerback Roger Wehrli. 

A frustrated Coryell once said that the Cardinals had only two defensive players who could start for the New York Giants. The joke was that all of the defensive starters went up to Wehrli and said, “You and me, right Rog?”

But older Big Red fans might remember that the Cardinals had several good defensive players in their first 10 seasons in St. Louis (1960-69), when Chuck Drulis was the defensive coordinator.

Drulis joined the Cardinals in 1956, when the team was still in Chicago, and coached 16 seasons (through 1971), serving five different head coaches. Tragically, Drulis died at the age of 54 on August 23, 1972 when he suffered a massive heart attack on the team’s charter flight from St. Louis to Houston for an exhibition game.  

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Gone but not forgotten—thanks to this Big Red fan

In the spring of 1988, St. Louis Football Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill pulled up stakes in St. Louis and moved his team to Arizona. They have now been gone longer (35 years) than they were here (28). They’ve been gone so long, Gen Z football fans know them only as the Arizona Cardinals and Boomers of a certain age may have forgotten they ever played in The Lou.

Gone, yes. Forgotten, no—not as long as Bob Underwood has anything to say about it.

If you’re reading this, you likely know that Underwood is the gatekeeper of the St. Louis Football Cardinals Facebook Group and other social media sites including a blog called TheBigRedZone.com. With its selection of stories, photos, videos and other features, it’s a veritable cornucopia of information about the St. Louis Cardinals (1960-87).

Underwood created photo albums largely stocked by pictures from old NFL GameDay magazines he bought on eBay. Later, he added YouTube videos. Then, on Dec. 26, 2017, he created the Facebook group for fans and former players.

Any member can post something as long as they follow four rules: 1) St. Louis Cardinals posts only; 2) Be kind and courteous; 3) Name calling and hate speech will not be tolerated; and 4) No promotions or Spam.

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Where Are They Now? Former Big Red Running Back Willis Crenshaw

Imagine what it would be like to play for the professional football team in the city where you were born and raised.

Willis Crenshaw didn’t have to imagine it. He lived it.

Crenshaw, who grew up in St. Louis’ Central West End, was a two-sport star for Soldan High School and a football player at Kansas State University for three years. The Cardinals selected Crenshaw in the ninth round of the 1963 NFL draft. A multi-talented offensive back who could run, block and catch, Crenshaw played six seasons for the Big Red (1964-69) before finishing his NFL career with the Denver Broncos (1970). 

What was it like playing in front of family and friends at Sportsman’s Park and, later, Busch Stadium—venues located only a few miles from his neighborhood?

“I felt fortunate to be able to do that because there were a lot of guys who wished that was their situation,” Crenshaw said. “The whole thing was just an amazing experience for me.”

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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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