“If you are a coach, you coach; if you are a scout, you scout,” Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill once said. “We believe in a policy of separation.”
More times than not, that policy did not work for the St. Louis Football Cardinals.
After the 1973 NFL draft, the Cards promoted Kentucky native George Boone to the position of director of player personnel. From 1974 to 1987 only the Green Bay Packers had fewer collective Pro Bowl appearances among their draft picks.
And only three teams saw a higher percentage of their number one draft choices fail to develop into quality players.
(Editor’s Note: Jim Hanifan became the Cardinals head coach on January 30, 1980. Below is Coach Hanifan’s account of how he was hired. It was taken from an excerpt of his book Beyond Xs and Os: My Thirty Years in the NFL)
My name had come up when there were openings for head coaching jobs in the NFL, and i really thought if I kept my nose clean I would have a shot at getting one of those jobs. I just didn’t think it would be in St. Louis.
Even though I really did want the job, it still caught me a little off guard when Don (Coryell) walked into my office and said Bill (Bidwill) had called to request permission to speak with me. I didn’t hear from him until a week later. We were coaching at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, and after the game I was back in my hotel room packing and getting ready to leave for the airport when Bill called. We agreed to meet two days later in San Diego.
The day that Bill arrived, it was pouring down rain. I agreed to meet him in a parking lot, because he wanted to be very secretive. I told him to follow me, and we would stop off and have lunch at a Mexican restaurant that was on the way to my house. It was managed by my friend Ray Ogas, who now works for the Rams.
Twenty four years before the St. Louis Football Cardinals moved to Arizona, the Bidwill brothers almost relocated to Atlanta.
In April of 1964, Bill and Stormy Bidwill denied a Nashville Banner report of the Cards interest in moving to the Georgia capital.
“No. 1, I’d rather not comment. No. 2, neither I nor my brother ever has talked to the person who carried the story. No. 3, we’re not contemplating any change,” Cards vice president Bill Bidwill told the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
However, a month later, Bidwill admitted that he had received a “fine proposal” from Atlanta to play in their new $18,000,000 stadium starting in 1965.
The Bidwill brothers wanted to stay in St. Louis, but had a number of concerns. First, they weren’t happy with the length of the proposed 30 year lease in an unproven football market. They also weren’t happy with the rental agreement of 12% of the gate revenue and the 5% city tax on ticket sales.
Bill Bidwill called him “one of the great defensive players we had.”
Dale Meinert was a three-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker with the Cardinals from 1958-1967. He was a college star at Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) and was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1955. But instead of playing in the NFL, the Lone Wolf, Oklahoma native decided to play in the CFL for Frank “Pop” Ivy and the Edmonton Eskimos, where he won a Grey Cup Championship.
In1958, after spending a couple of years in the Air Force, Meinert rejoined Pop Ivy with the NFL Chicago Cardinals. He played offensive line his first two seasons, but defensive coordinator Chuck Drulis converted him to linebacker in 1960.
“I guess they figured I wasn’t big enough to play guard,” the 215 pound Meinert said in Bob Burnes book Big Red, “and I sort of agreed with them because those defensive tackles kept looking bigger and bigger.”
It was a decision the Cardinals and Meinert would not regret. The tall rangy linebacker intercepted a pass in his first start against the Rams in 1960 and quickly developed into an aggressive tackler and pass defender. He was named team MVP in 1961 and earned Pro Bowl selections in 1963, 1965, and 1967. He did a brilliant job quarterbacking the Big Red defense and calling all the plays.
Long, long ago in a place called the Civic Center Busch Memorial Stadium, a couple of minor miracles occurred.
Bill Bidwill bought the nifty Golf Cart shaped like a football helmet, featuring a giant Cardinal bird head decal. He strolled into our PR office, smiled and asked if I’d like to drive the new golf cart. “Heck yes!”, I said. I didn’t bother to tell him I’d never driven one before!
It was parked outside the double doors separating the football and baseball offices in the stadium. He showed me how to start it, where the brake and the go pedal was. He told me to have fun.
I was terrified. What if I wrecked it? He went back into the offices and I turned the key. Off I went, at a snail’s pace to begin. Down the main concourse I went, wearing a huge smile, I am sure.
The longer I drove it, the more confidence I gained and the faster I went. That was a big stadium, with a whole lot of concrete concourses, which took me up to the top of the stadium, around it and then back down. I grew braver with each passing moment.
By the time I was coming down the last ramp, it was floored! And just as I came into view of the parking place across from the baseball home plate netting, the door opened and a young man walked into my path. I screamed “Woman at the wheel”, he turned his head, saw me and set a new land speed record to safety on the other side of the concourse, behind the net.
That was a historic moment. To this day, I maintain that the Cardinal golf cart and I scared the SPEED into LOU BROCK. It might have been about the time he started stealing bases and setting records. ‘Nuff said.
(Editor’s Note: Lori Greenstein served as the Football Cardinals Assistant Public Relations Director from 1965-1971)
The Missouri Governor’s Cup was awarded to the winner of the annual meetings between the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs.
The first Governor’s Cup game was played two seasons after the NFL/AFL merger agreement in 1966. The contest was played on August 17, 1968 at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City in front of 47,462 fans. The Chiefs held on for a 13-10 victory.
The Chiefs pretty much dominated the Governor’s Cup series with a preseason record of 13-6-1. The Chiefs held 3-1-1 regular season advantage over the Big Red as well.
Here is a summary of the 20 preseason Missouri Governor’s Cup games played between the Chiefs and Cardinals.
(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.”
After ten years of co-owning the St. Louis Football Cardinals, Charles “Stormy” Bidwill had had enough. Either he or his brother Bill had to go.
The Bidwill brothers took over the Cardinals after their mother had suddenly passed away in 1962. Violet Bidwill Wolfner was the first female owner in NFL history and she left most of her multi-million dollar estate, including the football team, to her sons. The brothers already held titles of President and Vice President, but Violet’s husband, Walter Wolfner, essentially controlled the team. After being pushed out after Violet’s death, Wolfner filed a lawsuit claiming the brothers were illegally adopted as babies. This shocked Stormy and Bill who had not known they were adopted until they heard about it in Probate Court.
Judges ultimately ruled against Wolfner which resulted in the Bidwills assuming full control of the Grid Birds in early 1963.
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.
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.
Violet Bidwill became the first woman to own an NFL franchise after her husband passed away in April 1947. Charles Bidwill had purchased the Chicago Cardinals in 1933 and would eventually acquire horse and dog tracks in Chicago and Florida, all of which Ms. Bidwill inherited at the time of Charley’s death.
Violet Bidwill was born Violet Fults in Red Bud, IL (40 miles southeast of St. Louis) on January 10, 1900. Her father died when she was just four years old and her mother worked as a waitress. Violet met Chicago sportsman Charley Bidwill in the 1920s and were soon married. Charles “Stormy” Bidwill Jr. was born in 1928 and younger brother William (Bill) Bidwill was born three years later. The boys would later learn, after Violet’s death, that they had been adopted.
Violet was a tall, beautiful, soft-eyed woman, who former Cardinals head coach Jim Conzelman and others described as so shy that she was uncomfortable except in the presence of her family and close friends. Youngest son Bill would acquire this same trait.
The NFL was coming off another strike and the Big Red were on a three-game losing streak. They were facing a bad Tampa Bay team and owner Bill Bidwill was talking about leaving town. It’s a wonder that even 22,449 fans showed up to see the Cardinals play the Buccaneers on a dreary, rainy Sunday in early November.
And like many fans, the Cards were no-shows themselves for the first three quarters of the game spotting the Bucs a 28-3 lead. As St. Louis Post Dispatch columnist Kevin Horrigan wrote, “As the fourth quarter began, the Bucs are up by 25 points and it’s so quiet you can hear the cheerleaders, which is a bad sign. NFL cheerleaders are designed to be seen, not heard.”
But the game was far from over.
The Big Red erupted for four touchdowns in the final 12:42 to win the game
31-28. It was the largest fourth quarter comeback in NFL history.
“Just another laugher,” said Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill who was accompanied by detectives after receiving a death threat prior to the game.
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).