|CAREER RUSHING YARDS||YARDS|
|Ottis Anderson (1979-1986)||7,999|
|Jim Otis (1974-1978)||3,863|
|Stump Mitchell (1981-1987)||3,758|
|Johnny Roland (1966-1972)||3,608|
|Terry Metcalf (1973-1977)||3,438|
|Wayne Morris (1976-1984)||3,373|
A few months after the 1961 signing of legendary Canadian Football League quarterback Sam “The Rifle” Etcheverry, the St. Louis Cardinals traveled north of the border to play an exhibition game with the Toronto Argonauts. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the first time the NFL and CFL hooked up. The New York Giants tangled with the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1950 and 1951. And the Chicago Cardinals beat the Argos in 1959 by a score of 55-26.
In 1960, the Cardinals relocated from Chicago and finished 6-5-1 in their inaugural season in St. Louis. The offense featured star running back John David Crow and wide receiver Sonny Randle. However, quarterback play was inconsistent and below average. As a matter of fact, the 1960 trio of John Roach, King Hill, and first round pick George Izo would all be playing elsewhere by opening day of the 1961 season. Etcheverry, who threw for over 30,000 yards and 183 TDs with the Montreal Alouettes, was brought in to lead the team to an NFL Championship. Unfortunately, Sam injured his throwing shoulder on his first pass in training camp and struggled during his two seasons in St. Louis.
The Cardinals practiced 12-man football for 10 days in preparation for the exhibition game with the Argonauts. The game would be played in accordance with Canadian rules. CFL fields are 10 yards longer, 15 yards wider and also feature 25 yard end zones. Games are played with 12 starters. Big Red head coach Frank “Pop” Ivy was no stranger to CFL football. He won three consecutive Grey Cups with the Edmonton Eskimos before taking over the Chicago Cardinals in 1958. Assistant coach Ray Willsey played quarterback for a season in Edmonton as well. So, the Big Red were not only bigger and stronger than their opponent, the coaching staff had experience with CFL rules and style of play.
Former Big Red head coach Jim Hanifan and a few stars from yesteryear spoke at today’s National Football Foundation Luncheon at Lombardo’s Restaurant in St. Louis. Hanifan along with former players Johnny Roland, Tim Van Galder, Irv Goode, Eric Williams, and Bob DeMarco talked about their careers in St. Louis and the differences in today’s game and the one they played in the 1960s and 1970s.
As everyone may have guessed, Coach Hanifan was the star of the luncheon telling the packed house how he fell in love with the St. Louis community and the fans after arriving in 1973. “When I first arrived here with Coach Coryell, it took a little while to get used to the area and the people. At the conclusion of that first season, we went 4-9-1. Even with a poor record, there was something special taking place at that time. When I looked into the locker room, I could see the players getting involved in the game and getting involved in the community. And, I myself, had that same experience. Being around the people in the community and truly enjoying being in St. Louis. I used to say, ‘What in the hell do I see here that makes me feel this way?’ You know… there are no mountains, no oceans here… forget about that. So, it has to be the people. The people are what makes St. Louis so great. And that’s why I continue to live here after I retired.”
Former Big Red Pro Bowl center Bob DeMarco recounted playing at old Busch Stadium (Sportsman’s Park) and how fans in the temporary bleachers would offer the players some bourbon on cold Sundays in the mid-60s.
Many thought Mel Gray was too small and had questionable hands coming out of the University of Missouri in 1971. However, no one could question his speed and athleticism. In high school, Gray tied Jesse Owens’ record with a 9.4 in the 100 yard dash and he later became an All-American in track and field at Mizzou. Gray was working in a California book store in 1971 when a friend informed him that he had been drafted. He initially thought he was headed to Vietnam, but soon discovered the St. Louis Cardinals had selected him in the 6th round of the NFL draft. Gray spent the next 12 seasons in St. Louis burning NFL secondaries, delighting fans, and fighting with Big Red management (as did many other players). I recently sat down with Mel Gray to chat about his time at Mizzou and career with the Big Red.
Q: You’re a California native. How did you end up at Mizzou?
GRAY: I wasn’t a bad kid, but I got in trouble a lot because of the guys I hung out with. My mother wanted me to leave. I could have gone to USC or UCLA, but my mother said, “no, I want you out of California.” And Mizzou was the only school who would let me play football and run track. (Gray spent his freshman year at Ft. Scott Jr. College in Kansas)
Q: Was there a culture shock moving from California to the Midwest?
GRAY: When I signed with Missouri it was 80 degrees and sunny. But by November (1968) it was 10 degrees. I never experienced anything like it. I stayed in my room for two weeks under an electric blanket. One day, the coaches knocked on my door and asked me why I wasn’t in class. I said “have you been outside?” So they went over and looked in my closet, looked at each other, and then left. I climbed back under the covers and thought they were going to send my butt home! But they came back later with boxes of thermal underwear, sweaters, socks, scarves, jackets… It definitely took a while to get used to the cold weather!
Fox2 interview with former Big Red QB Jim Hart from 2015. Hart was in town for his annual Jim Hart Celebrity Golf Tournament that benefits Sunnyhill, Inc.
ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – It’s been three decades since Jim Hart was calling signals for the Football Cardinals. Before that, he spent almost two decades at quarterback for the Big Red. Now retired to Naples, Florida, he comes back to St. Louis every year for the Jim Hart Celebrity Golf Classic. It’s a fundraiser for Sunnyhill, Inc. which provides services for adults and children with disabilities. That’s where I caught up with Jim for a visit about everything from his […]
Great story on Packer Hall of Famer Jim Taylor and his performance against the Big Red in 1962. Mark Tomasik is a must follow and is the best baseball Cardinal blogger out there!
The punishing rushes of Green Bay Packers fullback Jim Taylor shredded a daring defense of the St. Louis football Cardinals.
Taylor, who died Oct. 13, 2018, at 83, was a bruising rusher for the championship Packers teams of the 1960s. Paired in a backfield with “Golden Boy” halfback Paul Hornung, Taylor was a powerful force who twice led the NFL in rushing touchdowns and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 1962, Taylor topped the NFL in rushing yards with 1,474 in 14 games. He faced the St. Louis Cardinals for the first time that season and his rushing and pass-catching skills were key to enabling the Packers to overcome a challenging defensive scheme.
The Cardinals and Packers each had 1-0 records entering their game on Sept. 23, 1962, at Milwaukee County Stadium. The Packers were the reigning NFL champions and the Cardinals were looking to establish themselves as contenders.
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The conclusion of my interview with former Big Red All-Pro center Tom Banks. Tom talks about his final years in St. Louis, his adventure into the USFL, today’s game, and his health, and retirement.
Q: Bud Wilkinson was hired after Don Coryell left in 1977. It was a rough couple of years for the Big Red in 1978/1979. What are your memories of Coach Wilkinson?
Banks: I don’t know if you saw this, but I was quoted in the paper saying, “insanity prevails.” (laughing) I thought it was a good laugh. But I really liked Bud. He was in a bad situation and he knew it right away. He did everything he could to change it, but there was just nothing he could do. Bud went in there and really tried to make things better. But, in the Cardinal organization, back in those days, you had to change their (management’s) attitude toward the players. And Bud learned pretty quickly that that wasn’t going to happen. So, I really think that he got so frustrated, he kept going in there trying to work with management and saw no results. Bud was really a good guy, and I know it was very frustrating for him, but it got to the point where he said the wrong thing to somebody and they told him to pack his bags and he was gone. But, he was trying to do the right thing.
Q: J.V. Cain was a future star tight end for the Big Red. He missed the ’78 season with an injury and then tragically passed away on the field in training camp in 1979. Tell me a bit about J.V. and your memories of that practice.
Banks: Actually, I was holding out here in Birmingham when J.V. passed away. I came up for the funeral, of course. J.V. was just a wonderful man and a great player, but I feel to this day, he was a better person than a player. Just feel so strongly about that. For that to happen to him… we all realized it could happen to any of us. That’s a sobering feeling. He had learned a lot from Jackie (Smith) and having them both there for a few years was terrific. But on his 29th birthday? I mean what a shock for all of us. I’ll never forget that Dan (Dierdorf) called me and told me and I just sat there and cried. He was one of the good guys.
Part 2 of my interview with former All-Pro center Tom Banks. We discuss the Cardiac Cards and his teammates. Yes, there will be a Part 3, as we spent another 25 minutes on the phone again on Friday!
Q: Let’s talk about the Cardiac Cards and the offensive line. You guys set an NFL record by allowing only 8 QB sacks in 1975 and you also blocked for the NFC’s leading rusher that season, Jim Otis.
Banks: It was a great offensive team. We had great receivers, Metcalf and Otis in the backfield, plus Steve Jones was the third back who came in on short yardage situation that gave us some real power. The main thing was Jim Hanifan put this group together. It was my sixth year, Dan’s fifth, Conrad’s fourth, Bob Young had been around awhile, and Jim developed Roger Finnie to take Ernie’s (McMillan) place and it was just a really good offensive line. We started running the ball consistently up the middle and we had outside ability so it really opened up the passing game so much because they had to play the run first. When you have to play the run, you can’t pin your ears back and rush the passer. The main thing is we worked to get that running game better every day. You know, people talk about wanting to emphasize running the ball effectively, but it comes down to one thing. You’ve got to get down and dirty every day. And it’s hitting, and now I don’t think they put pads on during the week, but that’s the only way to do it.
Q: Talk about some of your fellow offensive lineman. You mentioned Bob Young earlier. How about Conrad Dobler?
Banks: Conrad got cut in training camp in 1972 and we reminded him of it all the time. He was a defensive lineman in college and had no experience playing offensive line. He had no technique. He tried to do things the way the coaches told him, and he didn’t do very well, so they let him go. We had some injuries and he came back a couple of weeks later. He decided he was going to kick somebody’s ass every day. And that’s what he did! (laughing) Our defensive guys hated him. They hated practicing against him. Conrad’s theory was “I tried it your way and it didn’t work, now I’m going to try it my way.” And he knew one thing. “If I kick this guy’s ass across from me, someone’s going to pat me on the back and say good things about me.” And that’s what he did.
Tom Banks is arguably the greatest center in Big Red history. He was a team leader and outspoken critic of management which made him a fan favorite during his playing days in St. Louis. Banks tells it like it is (and still does) and the fans loved him for it. The All-Pro center was drafted in the eighth round out of Auburn in 1970 and played 11 seasons for the Cardinals (1970-1980). After missing his rookie season due to a broken ankle, Banks became one of the top NFL centers in the mid-70s anchoring an offensive line that only gave up 8 sacks in 1975. He earned Pro Bowl honors from 1975-1978. I recently spoke with Tom about his time at Auburn, his days in St. Louis, and finishing his career with the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL.
Q: Tom, tell us a little about your father, Tom Banks Sr.? I understand that he was a pretty good ball player himself.
Banks: My dad came out of WWII and went to Jones Junior College in Mississippi. It was impossible to get a scholarship to a major school because of all the veterans coming back from war. He was an undersized offensive lineman at 185 pounds, but he became a Junior College All-American. He took a year off to work in the steel mill when I was born and said it was the best decision he ever made because it made him realize to value education. He went to Auburn in 1949 and earned a scholarship. He played in the first Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL in 1951 and I was in the stands sitting on my mom’s lap. I was only 2 and a half years old. Later we became the first father-son to play in the Senior Bowl (Banks played in the 1970 game).