(Editor’s Note:Former St. Louis Post Dispatch columnist and Cards beat writer Jeff Meyers wrote this story a few years ago on Big Red guard Conrad Dobler and has been kind enough to share it here in the Big Red Zone)
As his autobiography “They Call Me Dirty” suggests, Conrad Dobler inflicted a world of hurt during his 10 years as a leg-whipping, eye-gouging, gut-punching, head-slapping and — famously — finger-biting offensive lineman in the brutal world of professional football.
Dobler dished it out but also took his share of hits. Knee and shoulder injuries put him on the operating table and broken fingers mangled his hands. Perpetual pain became part of his job description. Pain management was assigned to the coach. Playing with pain was the order of the day.
“Coaches get you motivated, they train you mentally to go out there and play through the pain,” the former All-Pro guard said. “It starts in training camp when you have to practice with injuries, You’ve heard the old saying: ‘Can’t make the club in the tub.’ The goal of the coaches is to get us in ‘playing shape,’ which means to reach a higher threshold of pain. You learn to live with it and say ‘it is what it is.’ ”
Desperate for defensive line help in the 1974 NFL draft, Big Red personnel director George Boone shocked everyone when he selected tight end James Victor Cain with the 7th overall pick in the draft.
“We didn’t feel we could pass up a guy like that,” Boone told the St. Louis Post Dispatch after the Cardinals picked the Colorado All-American.
The Big Red already had a pretty good tight end in future Hall of Famer Jackie Smith, so they worked Cain out at both tight end and wide receiver during his first training camp. And it didn’t take long for the tall, rangy Houston native to make an impression with his new teammates in St. Louis.
J.V. Cain caught 76 passes for 1014 yards and 9 touchdowns in four seasons with the Cardinals.
“You seldom see a wide receiver hit people all over the field the way J.V. does,” reserve quarterback Bill Bynum said. “He’s so big and strong that he can get down into the pattern quickly and doesn’t have to worry about having trouble releasing from the linebacker.”
“Cain is just super,” head coach Don Coryell said. “He catches everything. That’s what I like about him. He’s a tremendous athlete.”
(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.
Congrats to former Big Red kick returner Vai Sikahema for being inducted into the Emmy MidAtlantic Silver Circle Society for his 25 years of dedicated work in television news. Sikahema was a two-time Pro Bowl kick returner for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1986 and 1987. He was a 10th round pick out of BYU in ’86.
Arizona Cardinals fan might not remember Vai Sikahema’s days with the team because they were a long time ago. He was drafted when the team was still …
Former St. Louis Post Dispatch columnist and Cards beat writer Jeff Meyers wrote this story a few years ago on Big Red center Bob DeMarco and wanted to share it here.
There was a brief moment when Bob DeMarco considered becoming a TV sports analyst after football. None other than legendary broadcaster Jack Buck was encouraging him to give it a shot.
DeMarco, a 2-time All-Pro center, was a natural for the broadcast booth: gregarious, intelligent, outspoken. But with only three TV networks and no cable channels in the early ‘70s, analyst job openings were rare, and DeMarco needed to feed his family of four in Creve Coeur, Mo.
So when he retired in 1976 after 15 NFL seasons, he took a job selling deflocculants, a chemical additive that prevents flocculation in liquids (look it up).
He was known as “Jet Stream” in St. Louis, but at Henderson State University they called Roy Green the “Green Machine.”
“Every now and then we’ll be talkin’ about the ol’ days and someone’ll bring up the Monticello game and how incredible Roy was,” Green’s college coach Ralph Carpenter said in a St. Louis Post Dispatch story back in 1981.
Carpenter was referring to the Green Machine’s performance against the University of Arkansas-Monticello in 1978. Green returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, a punt 65 yards for a touchdown, and returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown. He even blocked a field goal late in the game.
“There was nothin’ he couldn’t do. Nothin’,” Carpenter said.
Green was a NAIA All-American cornerback at Henderson State. He intercepted 9 passes his senior season and averaged over 13 yards on punt returns and almost 22 yards on kick returns.
Green was a speed burner, running the 40 yard dash in 4.3 seconds. The Cardinals drafted the Magnolia, Arkansas native in the fourth round in 1979 as a defensive back. He played in all 16 games his rookie season and was named the top return specialist by The Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly.
One of the all-time great Big Red memories is when Hall of Fame safety Larry Wilson played a game with two broken hands against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1965. Not only did Larry play with casts and layers of gauze on both hands, but he also intercepted a Bill Nelson pass during the game. It’s the stuff that legends are made of. And of course Larry Wilson is a legend.
But many people have forgotten that Wilson’s teammate, and fellow Hall of Famer, Dan Dierdorf once played with a broken jaw. In fact, he missed only two games after suffering the injury against the Minnesota Vikings in 1977.
Desperate for a front-seven playmaker, the St. Louis Cardinals selected big Dave Butz with the fifth overall pick in the 1973 NFL Draft. The 6 foot 7, 290 pound Chicago area native was an All-American defensive tackle and Lombardi Finalist at Purdue University and would ultimately end up in the College Football Hall of Fame (2014).
Big Red personnel director Abe Stuber told the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1973 that Butz “was our highest rated defensive player. He has the greatest potential of any defensive lineman in the country.”
Ottis “O.J.” Anderson set numerous NFL rookie rushing records in 1979 including most yards in a debut (193) and most yards in a season (1605). He was named NFC Player of the Year and NFL Rookie of the Year.
St. Louis lost a broadcasting icon in 2017 when pioneering sportscaster Bill Wilkerson passed away at the age of 72.
Wilkerson’s career spanned over 4 decades and is most remembered for his work at KMOX radio where he got his start and made his name.
Big Red fans remember Bill calling Cardinals games starting in 1973 and continuing until the team left in 1987. He also served as color commentator for the baseball Cardinals, St. Louis Blues, St. Louis Spirits basketball, and was the longtime play by play voice of the Missouri Tigers.
After ten years of co-owning the St. Louis Football Cardinals, Charles “Stormy” Bidwill had had enough. Either he or his brother Bill had to go.
The Bidwill brothers took over the Cardinals after their mother had suddenly passed away in 1962. Violet Bidwill Wolfner was the first female owner in NFL history and she left most of her multi-million dollar estate, including the football team, to her sons. The brothers already held titles of President and Vice President, but Violet’s husband, Walter Wolfner, essentially controlled the team. After being pushed out after Violet’s death, Wolfner filed a lawsuit claiming the brothers were illegally adopted as babies. This shocked Stormy and Bill who had not known they were adopted until they heard about it in Probate Court.
Judges ultimately ruled against Wolfner which resulted in the Bidwills assuming full control of the Grid Birds in early 1963.
“This kid is an athlete. He’s got a real good chance to make our football team,” claimed Cardinals Personnel Director George Boone after drafting Bonnie Sloan in the 10th round of the 1973 NFL Draft.
Not only did the 6’5″, 260 pound defensive lineman make the team, he was the starting defensive tackle in the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The odds are long for any late round draft pick to make it in the NFL. The Cardinals already had three established defensive tackles in Bob Rowe, John Richardson, and Fred Heron, and they drafted Dave Butz with their top pick. But, Sloan had to overcome a larger obstacle. He was deaf.
Sloan was born in Lebanon, TN. His parents discovered that he was deaf when he was almost two years old. He learned to read lips and say words before the age of three and later learned to play football. Sloan earned all-state honors as a tight end and defensive tackle at Litton High School.
“We just thought football would be good therapy for him,” his mother told the New York Times. “We never thought he’d develop as he did.”
Sloan played college ball at Austin Peay where he was named team MVP and earned All-Ohio Valley Conference honors. In four seasons at Austin Peay, Sloan never jumped offside. His college line coach, Ray Thomas, felt that he should have been a fourth round draft choice at the very least.
“His deafness was definitely a factor in his not being taken until the tenth round,” Thomas told the Philadelphia Daily News.
It didn’t take long after the Cardinals moved to St. Louis in 1960 to realize they would need a new quarterback if they wanted to compete for an NFL Championship.
King Hill started the inaugural game in Los Angeles in 1960, but was benched at halftime. Backup QB John Roach was benched at halftime the following week. Hill, Roach and former Notre Dame star George Izo combined to complete only 44% of their passes and throw 25 interceptions in 1960. Some claimed that running back John David Crow threw the ball better than all three quarterbacks.
In 1979, Kirk Gibson rejected a chance to play for the St. Louis Cardinals.
That’s because he was committed to playing baseball, not football.
On May 4, 1979, the St. Louis football Cardinals selected Gibson, a wide receiver at Michigan State, in the seventh round of the NFL draft.
A year earlier, June 1978, Gibson had been chosen by the Tigers in the first round of baseball’s amateur draft and signed a $200,000 contract with Detroit. The outfielder spent the summer of 1978 playing for the Tigers’ Class A Lakeland (Fla.) team managed by Jim Leyland before returning to Michigan State for his senior football season.
Gibson established school single-season records for receptions (42) and receiving yards (806) in 1978. He finished his Michigan State football career with four-year totals of 112 receptions, 2,347 yards receiving and 24 touchdown catches, all school records.
Gibson would have been “a certain first-round pick” in the 1979…