(Editor’s Note: This story was authored by former St. Louis Globe Democrat sports writer Rich Koster and was originally published in Sport Magazine in July 1967)
To appreciate Johnny Roland’s talent, you must be aware of his shortcomings. In a game dominated by specialists, he has no specialty. He’s not as fast as Gale Sayers, as quick as Leroy Kelly, or as powerful as Ken Willard. He’s never run a 10 second 100 and when he throws a football it frequently wobbles or floats. On the longest run of his rookie year, a mere 50 yards from scrimmage, he was hauled down from behind in the open field. He tabulated over 80 yards rushing in only one game and he average an unspectacular 3.6 yards per carry over the season.
So how did the 6-2, 215-pound Roland emerge as the NFL’s Rookie of the Year? And what made him worth a $300,000 bonus contract to the St. Louis Cardinals?
Simple. He wins football games. He wins them the way Frank Gifford used to. And Paul Hornung. With the relentlessness of that 3.6 yard average and the lighting of the big play. He succeeds with versatility. He wins with his head . . . and heart.
A confirmed non-specialist in a world of specialists, Johnny Roland has his shortcomings on the football field. He doesn’t move too fast, he can’t run over people and he throws a wobbly option pass
“Some guys in this league play three or four games a season,” suggest Abe Stuber, who excavates college material for St. Louis. “Roland has shown he plays them all. He gives 100 percent all the time.. That puts him in a different category from the others.”
It was sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2014, but Joe Bostic wasn’t exactly feeling the holiday spirit. He lay in a hospital bed at his home in Greensboro, N.C., unable to straighten out his legs, both of which were in braces. Double quadriceps surgery had made the former St. Louis Cardinals offensive lineman a prisoner in his own house.
While carrying a bag up some stairs, Bostic had slipped and his right quadriceps muscle had detached from the knee. When he shifted his weight to his left knee, that quadriceps also tore.
After surgery, Bostic was confined to bed for eight weeks.
“It was unbelievable,” says Bostic, who played for the Big Red from 1979-1988. “I was like, I don’t know if I can do this. I finally said, ‘God, you get me out of this bed, I’m going to keep moving. I’m not going to sit around on my rear end. I’m going to get going.
“He got me out of that bed, so I’ve been trying to keep my word.”
(Editors Note: This was a feature in the December 17, 1972 edition of Pro! Magazine written by St. Louis Post Dispatch writer Robert Sanford. It was Larry’s last NFL game and he was featured on the cover..)
(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.
“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…
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.”