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.