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: 80-71
80. JOE CHILDRESS (RB)
The “Old Pro” Joe Childress was an All-American running back at Auburn before being the Chicago Cardinals top draft pick in 1956. The big fullback/halfback was an understudy of Ollie Matson and John David Crow early in his career, but led the Cardinals and finished sixth in the NFL in rushing in 1963 with 701 yards. He also finished second on the team in rushing in 1964. Childress was an excellent blocker and receiver out of the backfield as well, averaging over 14 yards per reception. Childress was released after an injury plagued 1965 season and joined former head coach Wally Lemm in Houston where he coached from 1966-1970.
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.
It was a beautiful day for golf as many former Football Cardinal greats participated in the 11th annual Jim Hart Celebrity Golf Outing at The Legends County Club in Eureka, MO. This event benefits Sunnyhill, Inc. which provides services, programs, and opportunities for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
Former Mizzou head coach Gary Pinkel served as the honorary chairman of the event and drove the ball right down the middle of the fairway on the first tee. Hart and many of his former Big Red teammates such as Mel Gray, Roger Wehrli, Tim Kearney, Tim Van Galder, Johnny Roland, and Jim Otis were in attendance.
Hart currently lives in Naples, FL and only gets back to St. Louis about once a year. We talked about his induction into the Arizona Cardinals Ring of Honor and was surprised to learn that he did not see Bill Bidwill during his visit. However, you could tell he was honored and humbled by the ceremony last December. We also talked about the late great Bill Wilkerson who was Hart’s college teammate at SIU-Carbondale in the 1960s.