Ken Gray was part of the greatest draft class in Green Bay Packers history. The Texas native was taken in the 6th round of the 1958 draft along with future Hall of Famers Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke, and Jerry Kramer. The Packers also nabbed future All-Pro linebacker Dan Currie.
Gray and Kramer battled for a roster spot throughout training camp. A coach actually told Kramer that he would probably be traded because they had too many guards. But it ended up being Gray who was among the last cuts just before the start of the season. After his release, Packer head coach Ray “Scooter” McLean told Gray that he “would play somewhere in this league.”
“My heart went to my feet,” Gray said in a 2015 story in the Picayune, but what could I say? Those experiences make you a better person and better player.”
Based on the talent of both Kramer and Gray, the Packers should have kept both players as they would have made quite a tandem at guard over the next several years. The Packers went 1-10-1 in 1958 and McLean was fired and replaced with Vince Lombardi.
Meanwhile, Gray signed with the Chicago Cardinals and played defense his rookie season. He was moved back to guard in 1959, gained 30 pounds and was named to his first Pro Bowl two years later.
Most people are aware of the historic struggles the St. Louis Cardinals had when it came to the NFL draft. There were some very good drafts over the years (1979-1983 for example), but more times than not, the Big Red left their fans scratching their heads (“They drafted a girl!”).
I thought it would be fun to go back and rank the all-time Big Red draft picks by round. Many on this list were no-brainers, but there were a few very competitive rounds. I’m sure everyone will agree that some of the greatest names in Cardinals history are on this list, including four Cardiac Cards offensive lineman, and all four Hall of Famers. But I also learned something about the Cards top 16th and 20th round picks, Jimmy Lee Hunt and Tom Day. Both were released by the Cardinals and both went on to become stars in the AFL. Hope you enjoy!
ALL-TIME ST. LOUIS CARDINAL DRAFT PICKS BY ROUND
ROUND 1 – ROGER WEHRLI (1969)
Wehrli was a consensus All-American at Missouri when the Cards selected him with the 19th pick in the draft. He went on to a 14 year career in St. Louis that included 3 All-Pro and 7 Pro Bowl selections. He had 40 interceptions, 19 fumble recoveries and was the longtime holder for Big Red kickers. He returned a fake FG for a TD in his final NFL game in 1982. Roger Staubach called him the best cornerback he ever played against. Wehrli was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the 1970s NFL All-Decade Team.
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.
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).
With the NFL celebrating its centennial season in 2019, the league will soon be announcing its top 100 players of all-time. I thought it would be fun to look back and rank the Big Red’s top 100 players who played in St. Louis.
The Cardinals moved from Chicago after the 1959 season and played 28 years in St. Louis before Bill Bidwill moved to the desert in 1988. Several great players played under the arch during this period including four Hall of Famers.
These rankings are only based on the player’s time spent in St. Louis. Consideration was given to the player’s statistics, All-Pro/Pro Bowl selections, team leadership, and impact in the community. It is next to impossible to compare eras, so many of these picks were very difficult.
The Top 100 St. Louis Football Cardinals of All-Time: 20-11
20. PAT TILLEY (WR)
Pat Tilley played 11 seasons for the Big Red and retired as the second leading pass catcher in team history. The Louisiana Tech product was the Cards 4th round pick in 1976 and shared the team rookie of the year honor with Mike Dawson. Tilley scored his first NFL touchdown in the ’76 season opener against the Seahawks. Teammates Mel Gray and Roy Green got all the headlines, but Tilley led the team in receiving from 1978-1982 earning one Pro Bowl appearance in 1980. He started every game but one from 1978-1985. His best season was in 1981 when he caught 66 passes for 1040 yards and three TDs. Tilley finished his career with 469 receptions, 7005 yards and 37 touchdowns.
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 head coach Jim Hanifan
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.