As exciting as the Cardinals’ offense was during Don Coryell’s tenure as head coach (1973-77), the defense was a poor stepchild. And for good reasons.
During the Coryell years, the Big Red defense ranked 26th (last in the NFL) in total defense in 1973, 17th in ’74, 18th in ’76, 12th in ’76 and 24th in ’77. The only defensive player who was selected to the Pro Bowl during that span was cornerback Roger Wehrli.
A frustrated Coryell once said that the Cardinals had only two defensive players who could start for the New York Giants. The joke was that all of the defensive starters went up to Wehrli and said, “You and me, right Rog?”
But older Big Red fans might remember that the Cardinals had several good defensive players in their first 10 seasons in St. Louis (1960-69), when Chuck Drulis was the defensive coordinator.
Drulis joined the Cardinals in 1956, when the team was still in Chicago, and coached 16 seasons (through 1971), serving five different head coaches. Tragically, Drulis died at the age of 54 on August 23, 1972 when he suffered a massive heart attack on the team’s charter flight from St. Louis to Houston for an exhibition game.
While Cardinals safety Larry Wilson rightfully became a national darling, many believed Jimmy Hill was the best cornerback in the NFL in the early 1960s.
The Dallas, TX native was a star offensive end at Booker T. Washington High School where he was named to the all-Texas team in 1945 and 1946. He caught 134 passes and scored 16 touchdowns or the Bulldogs and also set a high school record in track and field in the low hurdles.
Hill attended Sam Houston State College in Austin, TX where he starred in four sports. He was named All-American honorable mention in 1948 and 1949 as a running back and once ran for 5 touchdowns in a game. In addition to football, Hill was a sprint champion in track racking up a 9.5 mark in the 100 yard dash and also starred on the baseball and basketball teams. He was named the school’s best all-around athlete his last three years in college.
Hill was good enough in baseball as a pitcher to garner interest from the Washington Senators and Cleveland Indians. In 1950, he was offered a contract by the Montreal Alouettes to play football in the Canadian Football League and the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League, but he decided to teach and coach football after college.
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: 50-41
50. BENNY PERRIN(S)
The late Benny Perrin was the Cards 3rd round pick in 1982 out of Alabama where he won two National Championships under Bear Bryant. Perrin had 9 INTs and two fumble recoveries during his 4 year NFL career and was the Big Red co-rookie of the year in ’82. Perrin started his first 41 NFL games, but a nagging knee injury cost him half the season in ’85 and would ultimately force him to retire the following training camp. Perrin was a gritty player, a team leader, and played through numerous injuries in his short career. He battled CTE for several years before passing away in 2017.
An encounter with St. Louis Cardinals defensive back Jimmy Hill put Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr out of action.
Starr, who led the Packers to five NFL championships and twice was named winner of the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award, died on May 26, 2019, at 85. A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Starr played in 10 postseason games and the Packers won nine of those.
On Oct. 20, 1963, the Packers played the Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis and Starr started at quarterback for the 44th consecutive game.
In the third quarter, Starr was flushed out of the pocket by the Cardinals’ pass rush and took off running. After a gain of 15 yards, Starr was headed out of bounds when Hill swung a forearm into him. The force of the blow knocked both Starr and Hill off their feet.