Don Coryell was the best coaching hire in St. Louis Cardinals football history.
On Jan. 18, 1973, the football Cardinals, responding to an unsolicited letter, hired Coryell to be their head coach.
An innovator known for producing winning college teams and high-powered offenses, Coryell overcame his lack of NFL experience and transformed the Cardinals into a championship-caliber club.
In five seasons (1973-77) under Coryell, the Cardinals posted a 42-27-1 record and twice qualified for the playoffs. Those were the Cardinals’ first playoff berths since 1948 and their first division titles since moving from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960.
Few predicted such success in January 1973. The Cardinals had finished the 1972 season with their second consecutive 4-9-1 record under head coach Bob Hollway. They ranked 23rd in scoring in the 26-team NFL.
Coryell, 48, had a 104-19-2 record in 12 years at San Diego State. He had developed future NFL players such…
The St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Redskins met at RFK Stadium on December 16, 1984. The stakes were simple. A Big Red victory would give them their first NFC East title since 1975 and their first home playoff game. A loss would end their season. Turnovers and mistakes gave the Redskins a 23-7 halftime lead and it appeared the Cardinals would soon be dusting off their golf clubs. But, as it turned out, the Cards were not ready to give up.
“At halftime, we said that anybody who didn’t think we couldn’t win the game shouldn’t go back out.” — Big Red safety Benny Perrin.
The Big Red came out on fire in the second half. After a slow start to the game, Neil Lomax shredded the Washington secondary going 25 of 28 for 314 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the with 468 passing yards, his best day as a pro. It was the most passing yards ever given up by a Redskin defense. “We were a little nervous; this was our first big game for most of us. Once we got our timing down in the second half, things opened up a little bit.”
Former Big Red greats, cheerleaders and fans convened at The Village Bar on December 9 to watch the Cardinals take on the Detroit Lions. Greg Marecek was there signing his book “The St. Louis Football Cardinals: A Celebration of the … Continue reading →
In 1960, the Cardinals relocated from Chicago and finished 6-5-1 in their inaugural season in St. Louis. The offense featured star running back John David Crow and wide receiver Sonny Randle. However, quarterback play was inconsistent and below average. As a matter of fact, the 1960 trio of John Roach, King Hill, and first round pick George Izo would all be playing elsewhere by opening day of the 1961 season. Etcheverry, who threw for over 30,000 yards and 183 TDs with the Montreal Alouettes, was brought in to lead the team to an NFL Championship. Unfortunately, Sam injured his throwing shoulder on his first pass in training camp and struggled during his two seasons in St. Louis.
The Cardinals practiced 12-man football for 10 days in preparation for the exhibition game with the Argonauts. The game would be played in accordance with Canadian rules. CFL fields are 10 yards longer, 15 yards wider and also feature 25 yard end zones. Games are played with 12 starters. Big Red head coach Frank “Pop” Ivy was no stranger to CFL football. He won three consecutive Grey Cups with the Edmonton Eskimos before taking over the Chicago Cardinals in 1958. Assistant coach Ray Willsey played quarterback for a season in Edmonton as well. So, the Big Red were not only bigger and stronger than their opponent, the coaching staff had experience with CFL rules and style of play.
As everyone may have guessed, Coach Hanifan was the star of the luncheon telling the packed house how he fell in love with the St. Louis community and the fans after arriving in 1973. “When I first arrived here with Coach Coryell, it took a little while to get used to the area and the people. At the conclusion of that first season, we went 4-9-1. Even with a poor record, there was something special taking place at that time. When I looked into the locker room, I could see the players getting involved in the game and getting involved in the community. And, I myself, had that same experience. Being around the people in the community and truly enjoying being in St. Louis. I used to say, ‘What in the hell do I see here that makes me feel this way?’ You know… there are no mountains, no oceans here… forget about that. So, it has to be the people. The people are what makes St. Louis so great. And that’s why I continue to live here after I retired.”
Former Big Red head coach Jim Hanifan
Former Big Red Pro Bowl center Bob DeMarco recounted playing at old Busch Stadium (Sportsman’s Park) and how fans in the temporary bleachers would offer the players some bourbon on cold Sundays in the mid-60s.
Many thought Mel Gray was too small and had questionable hands coming out of the University of Missouri in 1971. However, no one could question his speed and athleticism. In high school, Gray tied Jesse Owens’ record with a 9.4 in the 100 yard dash and he later became an All-American in track and field at Mizzou. Gray was working in a California book store in 1971 when a friend informed him that he had been drafted. He initially thought he was headed to Vietnam, but soon discovered the St. Louis Cardinals had selected him in the 6th round of the NFL draft. Gray spent the next 12 seasons in St. Louis burning NFL secondaries, delighting fans, and fighting with Big Red management (as did many other players). I recently sat down with Mel Gray to chat about his time at Mizzou and career with the Big Red.
Q: You’re a California native. How did you end up at Mizzou?
GRAY: I wasn’t a bad kid, but I got in trouble a lot because of the guys I hung out with. My mother wanted me to leave. I could have gone to USC or UCLA, but my mother said, “no, I want you out of California.” And Mizzou was the only school who would let me play football and run track. (Gray spent his freshman year at Ft. Scott Jr. College in Kansas)
Q: Was there a culture shock moving from California to the Midwest?
GRAY: When I signed with Missouri it was 80 degrees and sunny. But by November (1968) it was 10 degrees. I never experienced anything like it. I stayed in my room for two weeks under an electric blanket. One day, the coaches knocked on my door and asked me why I wasn’t in class. I said “have you been outside?” So they went over and looked in my closet, looked at each other, and then left. I climbed back under the covers and thought they were going to send my butt home! But they came back later with boxes of thermal underwear, sweaters, socks, scarves, jackets… It definitely took a while to get used to the cold weather!
Fox2 interview with former Big Red QB Jim Hart from 2015. Hart was in town for his annual Jim Hart Celebrity Golf Tournament that benefits Sunnyhill, Inc.
ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – It’s been three decades since Jim Hart was calling signals for the Football Cardinals. Before that, he spent almost two decades at quarterback for the Big Red. Now retired to Naples, Florida, he comes back to St. Louis every year for the Jim Hart Celebrity Golf Classic. It’s a fundraiser for Sunnyhill, Inc. which provides services for adults and children with disabilities. That’s where I caught up with Jim for a visit about everything from his […]
The punishing rushes of Green Bay Packers fullback Jim Taylor shredded a daring defense of the St. Louis football Cardinals.
Taylor, who died Oct. 13, 2018, at 83, was a bruising rusher for the championship Packers teams of the 1960s. Paired in a backfield with “Golden Boy” halfback Paul Hornung, Taylor was a powerful force who twice led the NFL in rushing touchdowns and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 1962, Taylor topped the NFL in rushing yards with 1,474 in 14 games. He faced the St. Louis Cardinals for the first time that season and his rushing and pass-catching skills were key to enabling the Packers to overcome a challenging defensive scheme.
The Cardinals and Packers each had 1-0 records entering their game on Sept. 23, 1962, at Milwaukee County Stadium. The Packers were the reigning NFL champions and the Cardinals were looking to establish themselves as contenders.