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.”
After Cardinals management decided not to retain star running back Terry Metcalf in 1978, new head coach Bud Wilkinson searched the entire season for an outside threat to complement the inside running of Wayne Morris and Jim Otis. That problem was solved in 1979 after the Big Red selected Ottis Jerome (O.J.) Anderson with the eighth pick in the 1979 NFL draft.
“His durability, his speed, his attitude, his ability to catch the ball,” a pleased Bud Wilkinson told the St. Louis Post Dispatch after the Cards chose the West Palm Beach, Florida native. “There were so many factors. This is something we’ve been discussing for three months. There was no doubt who we wanted. The question was whether he’d be available.”
Cardinals personnel director George Boone added, “We feel that he has the great moves that we’ve been hunting for. We haven’t had those in quite a while.”
“I always believed I was the No. 1 back in the country,” Anderson told the Post Dispatch. “I was happy to be picked in the first round, but I wasn’t surprised.”
Playing in the shadow of Chuck Foreman at the University of Miami (FL), Anderson set several school records including Foreman’s single-season rushing record in 1978.
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.”
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.
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).
Jimmy Burson passed away on August 2 at the age of 81.
Burson was the Cardinals’ eleventh-round selection in the 1963 NFL draft. He was an outstanding offensive back at Auburn where he set a school record with a 105-yard kickoff return.
The Cardinals switched the Georgia native to defense where he gained a starting role at cornerback in 1964 and intercepted three passes. He also returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers. The fleet corner picked off five passes in 1965 and two more in 1966.
The Cardinals traded Burson to the Washington Redskins in 1968, but he was soon after acquired by the Atlanta Falcons. Burson intercepted four passes in 1968 before calling it a career.
Following his playing career, Burson began coaching at the high school level in The Atlanta area. The highlight of his career was a 12-year stint as head coach at Milton High School from 1974-1985.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a five-part series of stories remembering Jim Hart, the Cardinals’ all-time passing leader.)
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:
There was no better all-purpose running back in the late 1950s/early ’60s than the Cardinals’ John David Crow. The 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pounder was strong, had quick feet, great balance, was an excellent receiver, fantastic blocker, and may have been the best passer on the team for a couple of seasons.
“He’s big and strong and tough,” Chicago Cardinals head coach Frank “Pop” Ivy told the Chicago Tribune about his star running back in 1959. “I’ll tell you, he’s what we call a wiggler. It’s an almost indefinable quality. When the opposing defense is tight, he’ll bull his way into a hole, then suddenly wiggle through for extra yardage.”
Legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once called John David Crow “the finest player” he ever coached. Crow won the Heisman Trophy while playing for Bryant at Texas A&M in 1957. Later that year the Chicago Cardinals selected him as the second overall pick in the 1958 NFL Draft.
The rookie scored his first career touchdown when he recovered a fumble in the endzone against the New York Giants in the 1958 season opener. The following week he dashed for an 83-yard touchdown on the first play of the game and later added another score in a 37-10 win over Washington.
“He used that wiggle I was talking about,” Ivy explained after the game. “After he got into the secondary, he had no blocking at all. He was strictly on his own. He wiggled past a couple of defensive backs, and then simply outran everybody to the goal line.”
Crow scored a 91-yard touchdown a week later and was well on his way to rookie of the year honors, but a knee injury would slow him down and limit him to only 8 games his freshman season.
OJ starred at the University of Miami and was the Cards top pick in 1979. The Florida native made a big splash in his NFL debut with a 193 yard performance against the Dallas Cowboys. He would set league rookie records for rushing yards (1,605), rushing attempts (331), and the most 100 yard rushing games in a season with 9. He was named first team NFL All-Pro, consensus NFL Rookie of the Year, NFC Player of the Year, and team MVP. Anderson became the first running back to twice rush for 100 yards against the Dallas Cowboys.
OJ became the Cardinals’ all-time leading rusher in 1981 when he broke fellow St. Louis Sports Hall of Famer Jim Otis’ record of 3,863 yards.
Many remember hard-hitting Big Red special teamers like “Dr. Doom” John Barefield and Ron Wolfley, but a long forgotten “wedge-buster” from the 1960s was Mal Hammack.
Malcolm “Mal” Hammack started his career with the Chicago Cardinals in 1955. The Roscoe, Texas native played college ball at the University of Florida where he was second team all-SEC fullback. Chicago drafted him in the third round and wanted him to play linebacker, however, his weight of 200 pounds was on the light side, even in 1955.
Hammack was used sparingly at linebacker his rookie season and was soon moved to full back where he would play most of his career. But he earned his mark on special teams. Hammack was a fierce competitor, loved contact, and was known for his body-jolting blocking and tackling. He was the lead Kamikaze and captain of the special teams.
“I like to go down on punts with a chance to kill the ball close in or maybe jolt the ball out of a receiver’s hands,” Hammack told Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post Dispatch in a 1966 interview, “but I believe the most satisfaction is in peeling back to help block for a punt return, hopeful that it might go all the way. The most satisfaction, that is, next to winning.”
PENNANTS HAVE NOT RECENTLY FLOWN OVER THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS. THIS YEAR THE BASEBALL CARDINALS BROUGHT ONE HOME, AND THE FOOTBALL CARDINALS MAY BRING ANOTHER FROM THE SCRAMBLE OF THE NFL EASTERN DIVISION.
In St. Louis last week a bunch of guys with sledgehammers were knocking down an old burlesque house to clear ground for a new stadium, which means that by the spring of 1966 night baseball and Sunday afternoon football will have replaced sex in at least one area of the leafy and pleasant town on the banks of the Mississippi River. For the citizens of St. Louis, who sat 18 years in the gloom of Busch Stadium waiting for their baseball Cardinals to win another World Series, the new stadium is a merit badge for patience. A further reward may be granted to St. Louis fans before the first graffito is scratched into the concrete of the new stadium. The football Cardinals leaped off to a flourishing 3-0-1 record in the NFL’s Eastern Division.
There may have been no player more respected in the Big Red locker room than Wayne Lee Morris. The six-foot-200 pound running back was a quiet, unassuming leader who did whatever the coaches asked of him.
The Cardinals selected Morris in the 5th round of the 1976 NFL draft out of Southern Methodist University. But the team was already stacked at running back with Pro Bowlers Terry Metcalf and Jim Otis as well as solid backups Steve Jones and Jerry Latin. Morris was hardly guaranteed a roster spot.
“In high school they had me starting on the varsity as a sophomore,” he told Tom Barnidge of the St. Louis Post Dispatch after the draft. “In college, I joined the varsity as a freshman. Now I’m trying to join it again. I hope this is one more stepping-stone.”
Morris was well-known in Dallas. He rushed for 3623 yards in three seasons at South Oak Cliff High School and was named an All-American in three different publications.
At SMU, he was the nation’s top freshman rusher with 884 yards and went on to set the school’s career rushing record. He ran for 154 yards in his first varsity game against Wake Forest and racked up 202 yards against Texas his senior season.
Morris knew that he would once again have to prove himself in the NFL.
Former St. Louis Cardinals defensive lineman Luke Owens grew up in Cleveland and wanted nothing more than to beat his boyhood favorites. However, the Big Red were winless in ten games against the Browns since Luke had joined the team in 1958.
“You’ve got to live around those guys most of the year the way I do to appreciate the chest-puffing, back slapping adulation they get,” Luke told the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1963. “I get tired of it. We’ve tied ’em a couple of times, but never beat ’em. I’d like to blow ’em right into the lake (Erie).”
But on November 17, 1963, Big Luke finally saw his longtime dream come true when the Cardinals defeated the Browns 20-14 at Municipal Stadium.
“It’s like Christmas for me,” Owens said in the locker room as his teammates presented him the game ball.
Owens was a star two-way player at Kent State University and was selected in the third round by the Baltimore Colts in the 1957 NFL draft. He played in eleven games at defensive tackle his rookie season, but was released by the Colts at the end of the year.
The record has stood the test of time. And it might just stand for the rest of time.
When Jim Bakken retired from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1979, after 17 seasons in the NFL, he was the franchise’s all-time scoring leader with 1,380 points.
Forty-four years later, that hasn’t changed. Bakken still holds that record—and he may never let go of it. Of the 49 players below him on the team scoring list, most are retired or playing for another team. The only exceptions are 37-year-old kicker Matt Prater (42nd with 137 points) and quarterback Kyler Murray (tied for 47th with 120 points).
“I guess I didn’t really think about that,” Bakken says when asked if he ever imagined his record would last this long. Actually, he takes more pride in a single-game NFL record he set.
On September 24, 1967, a windy day at Pitt Stadium in Pittsburgh, Bakken kicked seven field goals (18, 24, 33, 29, 24, 32 and 23 yards) in a 28-14 victory over the Steelers. (He attempted two more field goals into the wind that missed their mark.)
(Editor’s Note: Story updated at 6:52 PM 01/26/2022)
Tim Van Galder passed away this morning at his St. Charles, MO home after a long battle with cancer. He was 77 years old.
The lovable, confident, handsome Wisconsin native was affectionately known as TVG. He was the St. Louis Cardinals 6th round draft choice in 1966 out of Iowa State. Van Galder spent time on the team’s taxi squad early in his career and served in the Army for a couple of years, before returning to the Cardinals in 1971.
“I waited for camp to start,” he told Jim Barnhart of The Pantagraph in 1973. “The Cardinals had (Jim) Hart and (Pete) Beathard. Another fellow and I were trying for the third quarterback spot. But this fellow was injured in a motorcycle accident and I got the third string job.”
Van Galder got his big break in 1972 when he was named starting quarterback in the season opener against Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts. TVG completed 10-15 passes for 110 yards in the Cards 10-3 upset victory. “The defense won the game,” Tim quipped after the contest.
Jim Brown played the last regular season game of his career at Old Sportsman’s Park (Busch I) and was ejected from the game for fighting with Joe Robb. Mark Tomasik breaks it down with an excellent story below. Interesting to see Robb talk about the mutual lack of respect between the players and Big Red management even in 1965. That was a common theme throughout their stay in St. Louis.
In the last regular-season game he played in the NFL, running back Jim Brown was ejected for fighting with a St. Louis Cardinals defensive lineman.
The incident occurred on Dec. 19, 1965, in the regular-season finale between the Cardinals and Cleveland Browns at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
Just before halftime, Brown and Cardinals defensive end Joe Robb hit and kicked one another. The referee tossed both from the game. Brown still finished as the NFL rushing leader for the eighth time in nine seasons.
Despite a stellar performance by Cardinals safety Larry Wilson, who intercepted three passes and returned one 96 yards for a touchdown, the Browns won, 27-24, and advanced to the NFL championship game against the Green Bay Packers. Video
Brown, 29, played in the title game, won by the Packers, and then retired from football, launching an acting career with a role in the film…
Pat Fischer was a jack of all trades in college while playing for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. He started at quarterback and defensive back his senior season and was a fabulous kick returner. The Omaha native still holds the Cornhusker record with a career average of 18.3 yards per punt return. He was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1974.
The diminutive Fischer stood just 5 foot-9 inches and was deemed by many to be too small to play in the pros, however the St. Louis Football Cardinals drafted him in the 17th round of the 1961 NFL draft.
“I was selected in the 17th round of the draft, so whenever anyone would ask I could say that I was drafted. I didn’t have to say the round, just saying that I was drafted by an NFL team was enough to impress people,” Pat told the Washington Times in a 2008 interview.
Several St. Louis Football Cardinals alumni met for their annual Christmas Party on Sunday, December 19 at Circa Pub & Grill in Des Peres, MO. Circa is owned by former quarterback Jamie Martin who played 16 seasons in the NFL, … Continue reading →