Do As we move closer to the 2023 NFL Draft (April 27-29), The Big Red Zone is looking back on each of the 28 St. Louis Cardinals drafts (1960-87). This installment focuses on the 1977 Draft, which was held May 3-4 in New York.
In March 1977, the Cardinals brought in Steve Pisarkiewicz for a pre-draft visit at Busch Stadium. The former University of Missouri quarterback spent the day being quizzed about defensive coverages, getting a physical evaluation, and throwing passes on the field. The visit wrapped up with a dinner at the stadium club, where Cardinals Director of Operations Joe Sullivan and head coach Don Coryell dined with Zark, his mom, and his McCluer High football coach.
“It was a great day, actually,” Zark recalls in an April 2023 interview with the Big Red Zone. At least until the end.
During dinner, Pisarkiewicz recalls, “Coryell leaned over to me—I’ll never forget—and said, ‘Hey, Steve, I want to thank you for coming in and spending the day with us. I know being from St. Louis you’re probably a longtime Cardinals fan. I just want to wish you luck in your career. We’re not going to go after a quarterback this year, but we wanted to get some information on you and we’re glad you came in. All the best to you.’”
After Don Coryell left the NFL Cardinals, he appeared in St. Louis one time as an opposing head coach. It was an experience he could have done without.
On Nov. 20, 1983, Coryell brought the San Diego Chargers to Busch Stadium to play the Cardinals.
This was no tender homecoming. Too much weird mojo, and too many factors Coryell couldn’t control, not the least of which was an injured quarterback.
In five seasons with Coryell as their head coach, the Cardinals were 42-27-1 and reached the playoffs twice. “We weren’t the best football team when Don was here,” his quarterback, Jim Hart, said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “but we were the most exciting. We did the unexpected.”
Coryell departed following the 1977 season after a falling out with club owner Bill Bidwill. Subsequently, the Cardinals had four consecutive losing seasons before going 5-4 in strike-shortened 1982.
From his first regular-season game as a head coach in the NFL with the St. Louis Cardinals, Don Coryell showed signs of being special. He got the Cardinals to play with confidence and collective pride.
When he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Feb. 9, 2023, Coryell correctly was hailed as an innovator whose offenses with the Cardinals, and later the San Diego Chargers, were thrilling to watch and nerve-wracking to defend.
Those progressive schemes were just part of his skillset. Coryell also was an effective leader who got players to buy into his philosophies and to execute consistently within a framework of selfless collaboration.
Meet the new boss
The season opener between the Cardinals and Eagles on Sept. 16, 1973, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia marked the NFL head coaching debuts of Coryell and Mike McCormack.
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.
(Excerpt from February 20, 1978 Edition of Sports Illustrated)
HIS PLAYERS HAVE LITTLE USE FOR ST. LOUIS OWNER BILL BIDWILL, AND THE TEAM IS DISINTEGRATING. COACH DON CORYELL AND ALL-PRO GUARD CONRAD DOBLER ARE GONE. TERRY METCALF MAY BE THE NEXT DEFECTOR.
Written by Joe Marshall
Above the hallway leading to the offices of the St. Louis Cardinals’ coaches in Busch Memorial Stadium there is a new ceiling. A leak caused the old ceiling to collapse back on Dec. 10. For St. Louis, more than the roof fell in that day. The Cardinals were springing leaks all over the place. On the heels of a 26-20 loss to Washington that ended his team’s playoff hopes, St. Louis Coach Don Coryell leveled a verbal blast at local fans and the Cardinal management. “I’m not staying in a place I’m not wanted,” Coryell raged. “I’d like to be fired. Let me have a high school job.”
Last Friday, two months to the day from Coryell’s outburst, the Cardinals patched up one of their leaks by announcing that through a “mutual agreement” between Coryell and and team owner Bill Bidwill, Coryell would no longer be the coach. Unfortunately, Bidwill’s patchwork wasn’t as neat as the handiwork on the ceiling. For the last two months the Cardinals, who under Coryell had been one of the NFL’s most successful and exciting teams, have been in turmoil, and the once dazzling Cardiac Cards were being called the Chaotic Cards.
The record has stood the test of time. And it might just stand for the rest of time.
When Jim Bakken retired from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1979, after 17 seasons in the NFL, he was the franchise’s all-time scoring leader with 1,380 points.
Forty-four years later, that hasn’t changed. Bakken still holds that record—and he may never let go of it. Of the 49 players below him on the team scoring list, most are retired or playing for another team. The only exceptions are 37-year-old kicker Matt Prater (42nd with 137 points) and quarterback Kyler Murray (tied for 47th with 120 points).
“I guess I didn’t really think about that,” Bakken says when asked if he ever imagined his record would last this long. Actually, he takes more pride in a single-game NFL record he set.
On September 24, 1967, a windy day at Pitt Stadium in Pittsburgh, Bakken kicked seven field goals (18, 24, 33, 29, 24, 32 and 23 yards) in a 28-14 victory over the Steelers. (He attempted two more field goals into the wind that missed their mark.)
“The doctors with the Bills told me that the Cardinals were telling everyone that I had mental problems and that’s why I couldn’t get along with people,” Ahmad Rashad said, his voice inflecting both laughter and anger at the same time.
It is easy to understand how Rashad could drive other people crazy, like cornerbacks. Willie Brown, the All-Pro of the Oakland Raiders, wound up talking to himself after Rashad turned him in circles and tied his shoelaces together during the Monday Night Game of the Week on ABC-TV.
Even Howard Cosell, given to hyperbole on some things as mundane as a stadium hot-dog vendor, was going nuts over Rashad’s two-touchdown performance that gave the Buffalo Bills a 21-20 victory. “In Buffalo,” Cosell raved, “the acquisition of Rashad is being termed the ‘Steal of the Century.'”
The victims of this outlandish thievery are the Cardinals, whose state of mind may be more in question than Rashad’s considering that they traded him straight up for second-string quarterback Dennis Shaw last January. Not that Shaw isn’t a competent professional; it’s just that Rashad has the talent to become one of the greatest receivers in the National Football League.
“Coryell was an innovator, but he was more than that. He was a coach who turned around the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Diego Chargers and made both into offensive juggernauts—not just good, but record-setting offensive teams.”– John Turney
NFL Historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal writes about how the chances of former Big Red head coach Don Coryell making the Pro Football Hall of Fame appear to be slipping.
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.
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.”