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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SI VAULT: HE DON’T GET NO RESPECT FROM HIS CARDINALS

(Excerpt from February 20, 1978 Edition of Sports Illustrated)

HIS PLAYERS HAVE LITTLE USE FOR ST. LOUIS OWNER BILL BIDWILL, AND THE TEAM IS DISINTEGRATING. COACH DON CORYELL AND ALL-PRO GUARD CONRAD DOBLER ARE GONE. TERRY METCALF MAY BE THE NEXT DEFECTOR.

Written by Joe Marshall

Above the hallway leading to the offices of the St. Louis Cardinals’ coaches in Busch Memorial Stadium there is a new ceiling. A leak caused the old ceiling to collapse back on Dec. 10. For St. Louis, more than the roof fell in that day. The Cardinals were springing leaks all over the place. On the heels of a 26-20 loss to Washington that ended his team’s playoff hopes, St. Louis Coach Don Coryell leveled a verbal blast at local fans and the Cardinal management. “I’m not staying in a place I’m not wanted,” Coryell raged. “I’d like to be fired. Let me have a high school job.”

Last Friday, two months to the day from Coryell’s outburst, the Cardinals patched up one of their leaks by announcing that through a “mutual agreement” between Coryell and and team owner Bill Bidwill, Coryell would no longer be the coach. Unfortunately, Bidwill’s patchwork wasn’t as neat as the handiwork on the ceiling. For the last two months the Cardinals, who under Coryell had been one of the NFL’s most successful and exciting teams, have been in turmoil, and the once dazzling Cardiac Cards were being called the Chaotic Cards.

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Coach Jim Hanifan Memorial Held in St. Louis

A golf outing and Memorial were held last week in honor of longtime Cardinals and Rams coach Jim Hanifan who passed away last November at the age of 87.

Many of Hanifan’s former players and fellow coaches attended the Thursday Memorial Service including Dan Dierdorf, Jackie Smith, Dick Vermeil, Carl Peterson, Luis Sharpe, Adam Timmerman, and dozens of others.

Jim Hanifan

Dierdorf and Vermeil gave eulogies, Jackie Smith sang Danny Boy, and countless stories were told by friends and family into the night.

On Wednesday, the first annual Jim Hanifan Memorial Top Golf outing was held to benefit Cherish. Many former players were in attendance such as Mel Gray, Johnny Roland, Joe Bostic, Irv Goode and Willard Harrell. A good time was had by all.

Hanifan’s daughter Kathy, son Jim, and grandson Austin were in town to participate in the celebration of his life.

Hanifan was the offensive line coach for the Cardinals from 1973-1978 and was head coach from 1980-1985. He later returned to St. Louis and became the offensive line coach for the Rams under Dick Vermeil in 1997 where he would remain until 2002. A couple of years later he moved to the Rams radio booth and became a beloved straight-shooting sidekick of Steve Savard. Hanifan remained in St. Louis until his death in 2020.

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Big Red In Memoriam

Dedicated to the former, players, executives, and broadcasters who were part of the St. Louis Football Cardinals family.

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Big Red Flashback 1962: Cards Hire Wally Lemm

(Editor’s Note: This is a short excerpt from Robert L. Burnes book Big Red: Story of the Football Cardinals, published in 1975 )

To present a picture of Wally Lemm, the best approach perhaps is to indicate what he was not as a coach. He was not, for instance, the bristling, driving type of coach Vince Lombardi was. Nor was he the perfectionist that Paul Brown always has been. Nor the fundamentalist that Tom Landry has been. Nor was he a devotee of the George Allen system which dictates that twenty hours of every working day, seven days a week must be a given over to making the football team a winner.

Wally Lemm with Big Red QB Charley Johnson in 1962

If he resembled any man, in approach to the job if not in flamboyancy, it was probably Jim Conzelman. Jim Conzelman always said “football is supposed to be fun” and Lemm echoed the sentiment. football was a major part of Jim Conzelman’s life, yet he walked away from the game several times and found other pursuits equally rewarding. So did Wally Lemm.

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Big Red Flashback 1980: Cards Hire Jim Hanifan

(Editor’s Note: Jim Hanifan became the Cardinals head coach on January 30, 1980. Below is Coach Hanifan’s account of how he was hired. It was taken from an excerpt of his book Beyond Xs and Os: My Thirty Years in the NFL)

My name had come up when there were openings for head coaching jobs in the NFL, and i really thought if I kept my nose clean I would have a shot at getting one of those jobs. I just didn’t think it would be in St. Louis.

Even though I really did want the job, it still caught me a little off guard when Don (Coryell) walked into my office and said Bill (Bidwill) had called to request permission to speak with me. I didn’t hear from him until a week later. We were coaching at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, and after the game I was back in my hotel room packing and getting ready to leave for the airport when Bill called. We agreed to meet two days later in San Diego.

The day that Bill arrived, it was pouring down rain. I agreed to meet him in a parking lot, because he wanted to be very secretive. I told him to follow me, and we would stop off and have lunch at a Mexican restaurant that was on the way to my house. It was managed by my friend Ray Ogas, who now works for the Rams.

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Why Frank “Pop” Ivy Left the Cardinals in 1961

(Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Robert L. Burnes’ book Big Red: Story of the St. Louis Football Cardinals. Frank “Pop” Ivy was a member of the 1947 NFL Champion Chicago Cardinals and was the St. Louis Cardinals first head coach after they relocated from Chicago. He led them to a 6-5-1 record in 1960, but the team fell apart in 1961 and he resigned with just two games left in the season.)

When Pop Ivy abruptly resigned with two games left in the 1961 season, the general public impression was that he had been fired.

Walter Wolfner (the Cardinals Director of Operations) denied it vigorously. “We had no fault to find with Pop’s work, especially considering the injuries. He was under no pressure from management. In fact, I was waiting until the end of the season to talk to him about a new contract. I was shocked when he told me he wanted out.” The coach maintained that no one had pushed him, no one had leaned on him to leave. “It was my own idea,” he said.

Frank “Pop” Ivy won three Grey Cups with the Edmonton Eskimos in the CFL before landing the head coaching job with the Chicago Cardinals. He compiled a 15-31-2 record in 3+ seasons.
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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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How Jim Hanifan survived crashing Bud Wilkinson’s Car Into a Train

By Bob Underwood

Most St. Louis football fans probably remember Jim Hanifan from his assistant coaching days with Don Coryell and the Cardiac Cards or when he was the Big Red head coach from 1980-1985. Younger fans may remember his time with the St. Louis Rams or later as the straight-shooting beloved analyst in the Rams radio booth with Steve Savard.

But some forget that Jim Hanifan was one of the few assistant coaches who stuck around for a year after Don Coryell left the Cardinals in 1978. Owner Bill Bidwill shocked the football world when he hired college coaching legend Bud Wilkinson, who led Oklahoma to three national championships and 14 conference titles. At the time, Hanifan had a year left on his contract, but he also had several offers to leave St. Louis.

Jim Hanifan (L) coached the Cards offensive line under Bud Wilkinson in 1978.

“I had options,” Hanny wrote in his book Beyond Xs & Os, My Thirty Years in the NFL. “At least six teams were vying for my services. I thought I was back in high school, being recruited all over again.”

Hanifan decided to stay in St. Louis and work under Wilkinson, a man who he once said “probably has more charisma than anybody I have ever met in my life.”

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