They Called Him Dirty: Conrad Dobler

(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.’ ”

Conrad Dobler was named “Pro Football’s Dirtiest Player” by Sports Illustrated in 1977.
Continue reading

Big Red Tragedy: J.V. Cain

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.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Former Cardinal Vai Sikahema honored for work as TV news anchor

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 Cardinal Vai Sikahema honored for work as TV news anchor

Bob DeMarco: Tough, Opinionated, Outspoken

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.

Bob DeMarco was an All-Pro center who played 9 seasons in St. Louis.

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).

Continue reading

Big Red Legends: Roy Green

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.

Roy Green returned this kick 106 yards against the Dallas Cowboys in 1979.
Continue reading

Big Red Tough Guy: Dan Dierdorf

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.

Dan Dierdorf played four games in 1977 wearing a modified face mask to help protect his broken jaw.
Continue reading

Why Dave Butz Left The Cardinals

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).

Dave Butz was the Cards 1st round pick in 1973 out of Purdue where he was an All-American.

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.”

Continue reading

Bonnie Sloan: First Deaf Player in NFL

“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.

Bonnie Sloan was All-Ohio Valley Conference lineman at Austin Peay (Photo APSU Athletics)
Continue reading

Why the Cardinals Signed Sam Etcheverry

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.

Former CFL legend Sam “The Rifle” Etcheverry signed with St. Louis in 1961.
Continue reading

How Bing Devine tried coaxing Kirk Gibson to Cardinals

Great flashback to the 1979 NFL draft. The Cards already made some excellent picks when they took a flier on Michigan State All-American wide receiver Kirk Gibson.

RetroSimba

In 1979, Kirk Gibson rejected a chance to play for the St. Louis Cardinals.

kirk_gibsonThat’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…

View original post 591 more words

Pete Retzlaff matchups vs. Cardinals were NFL classics

RetroSimba

Pete Retzlaff was a Philadelphia Eagles receiver who was difficult to defend because of the precise pass patterns he ran and his reliable hands. Initially a flanker and split end, Retzlaff became a tight end and was instrumental in transforming the position.

During his 11 NFL seasons (1956-66), all with the Eagles, Retzlaff developed a respect for St. Louis Cardinals safeties Jerry Stovall and Larry Wilson. In 1965, Retzlaff told The Sporting News, “St. Louis has the toughest defensive backs. Larry Wilson was real tough when he played me, but now I find Jerry Stovall even tougher to shake. Jerry has to be the most improved player at his position in the league.”

Retzlaff later told the Akron Beacon Journal, “Once, after we’d played in the Pro Bowl, Larry Wilson told me he always said I was the toughest tight end he ever tried to cover.”

Retzlaff had multiple impressive…

View original post 1,164 more words

Big Red Legends: Jim Hart

From undrafted free agent to one of the most prolific passers in NFL history, Jim Hart’s career had more than its fair share of challenges. The Chicago area native had to overcome fan favorite Charley Johnson in the late 60s, the Bob Hollway era in the early 70s, a career threatening shoulder injury in 1973, and #1 draft pick Steve Pisarkiewicz in 1979. But he could not beat his last challenger, Father Time, which is still undefeated.

Jim Hart played 18 seasons for the Cardinals. Only two other QBs had more passing yards than Hart when he retired.

After losing his starting job to Neil Lomax, the Big Red released the 39 year old Hart in 1984. He would retire a year later as the team’s all-time leading passer, throwing for 34,665 yards and 209 TD passes. Only Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton had thrown for more yards than Hart.

Continue reading

Big Red Legends: Larry Wilson

From a seventh round draft pick to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Larry Frank Wilson played the game with sheer determination, guts, and maximum effort. He played thirteen seasons with the Cardinals earning 8 Pro Bowls and was named to five All-Pro teams. He is a member of the 1960s All Decade Team and is still the organization’s all-time leader with 52 interceptions.

Larry Wilson takes the field for the final time in 1972.

EARLY LIFE

Wilson was born and raised in Rigby, Idaho where he faced adversity as a youngster. His mother died of spinal meningitis when he was just ten years old and his father was a truck driver, so Larry helped rear his younger brother, John. As a teen, Larry worked ten-hour days harvesting potatoes, but his father encouraged him to play sports. Larry was a tremendous all around athlete, earning 16 letters in high school. He broke the state high jump record and was a very good baseball and basketball player.

Continue reading

Where are they now: Neil O’Donoghue

A very good article on former Big Red kicker Neil O’Donoghue by Ian McCourt of the Guardian. Neil is currently living a quiet life in Florida and appears to be doing well.

Neil O’Donoghue: From ticket collector in Dublin to NFL field of play

Ian McCourt@ianmccourt

Fri 9 Sep 2016 05.00 EDTLast modified on Mon 27 Nov 2017 02.59 EST

Neil O’Donoghue playing for St Louis Cardinals
 Neil O’Donoghue’s time at St Louis Cardinals was a bumpy one. Photograph: George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Neil O’Donoghue was 17 years old when he was working as a ticket collector in Heuston station, Dublin, while playing part-time for Shamrock Rovers. Never much of a student, prospects were few and far between for him and Ireland seemed small and suffocating. He had already worked as a labourer in London when one day, he was approached by his brother’s friend, who asked him if he was interested in a scholarship to the US. O’Donoghue decided to chance his arm. “My idea was to come over here for a year and have a good time,” he says. “As it turned out, I fell in love with the place.”

Continue reading