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 1965 Draft, which was held November 28, 1964 in New York.
For the second year in a row, the Cardinals’ draft turned out to be generally disappointing. Except for running backs Johnny Roland and Roy Shivers, both of whom had one more year of college eligibility (at Missouri and Utah State, respectively) and wouldn’t start their NFL careers until 1966, the team received minimal production from its 20 selections.
The Big Red made a play for Joe Namath, taking the Alabama quarterback with their first-round pick (12th overall), but lost him in a bidding war with the New York Jets, who made him the first overall pick in the AFL Draft. The Cardinals dispatched two representatives to Tuscaloosa, AL to meet with Namath in his dorm room and try to sign him to a contract. Namath told them he wanted a $200,000 annual contract and a Lincoln Continental convertible.
“They said, ‘Oh, my god.’ The two guys fell off the bed,” Namath recalled in a 2021 podcast on The Exchange. “They went into this ‘My god’ motion and then it made me feel like a, I don’t know, a jerk.”
(Editor’s Note: This story was authored by former St. Louis Globe Democrat sports writer Rich Koster and was originally published in Sport Magazine in July 1967)
To appreciate Johnny Roland’s talent, you must be aware of his shortcomings. In a game dominated by specialists, he has no specialty. He’s not as fast as Gale Sayers, as quick as Leroy Kelly, or as powerful as Ken Willard. He’s never run a 10 second 100 and when he throws a football it frequently wobbles or floats. On the longest run of his rookie year, a mere 50 yards from scrimmage, he was hauled down from behind in the open field. He tabulated over 80 yards rushing in only one game and he average an unspectacular 3.6 yards per carry over the season.
So how did the 6-2, 215-pound Roland emerge as the NFL’s Rookie of the Year? And what made him worth a $300,000 bonus contract to the St. Louis Cardinals?
Simple. He wins football games. He wins them the way Frank Gifford used to. And Paul Hornung. With the relentlessness of that 3.6 yard average and the lighting of the big play. He succeeds with versatility. He wins with his head . . . and heart.
A confirmed non-specialist in a world of specialists, Johnny Roland has his shortcomings on the football field. He doesn’t move too fast, he can’t run over people and he throws a wobbly option pass
“Some guys in this league play three or four games a season,” suggest Abe Stuber, who excavates college material for St. Louis. “Roland has shown he plays them all. He gives 100 percent all the time.. That puts him in a different category from the others.”
On the eve of the 2019 NFL Draft, let’s take a close look at the 31 St. Louis Football Cardinals first round draft picks.
The Big Red drafted four quarterbacks who combined to start only 5 games for the team. Two Hall of Famers were drafted, but only one actually suited up in St. Louis. Of the 31 top picks, 12 can be considered busts. Many of these picks were made by the late George Boone, who was the team’s long time player personnel director. He may or may not have had incriminating photos of owner Bill Bidwill.
And so, here’s my ranking of the Big Red first round draft picks, worst to first. Let me know what you think!
31. Kelly Stouffer QB (1987 – 6th Pick)
On the 10th anniversary of the Steve Pisarkiewicz pick, the Big Red reached for the relatively unknown Stouffer out of Colorado State who also admitted he was shocked to be taken that early in the draft. He also held out of training camp and never signed with the Big Red. He was traded a year later to Seattle for three draft picks where he started 16 games in four seasons.
30. Clyde Duncan WR (1984 – 17th Pick)
The Big Red passed on eventual rookie of the year Louis Lipps and drafted Duncan after one good college season at Tennessee. There was only one problem according to then head coach Jim Hanifan, “He couldn’t play.” Duncan, who was admittedly surprised to be a first round pick, held out of training camp and then suffered a shoulder injury. He caught only four passes in his career and was out of football after two season.
29. Steve Little K (1978 – 15th Pick)
It’s never a good idea to draft a kicker in the first round, but the Big Red were desperate to replace their all-time leading scorer Jim Bakken. They drafted Little out of Arkansas who had a big leg (kicked 67 yard FG), but was never able to transition to kicking FGs without a tee. Little lasted three forgettable seasons. After being released in 1980, Little was paralyzed after crashing his car on a rain slicked highway in St. Louis.
28. Fate Echols DT/OT (1962 – 6th Pick)
The Northwestern product arrived at training camp overweight and was cut before the season started. He was later resigned and played sparingly over the next two seasons before being released.
27. Larry Stegent RB (1970 – 8th Pick)
The Big Red drafted the injury prone running back out of John David Crow’s old school Texas A&M. The Cards drafted him despite Stegent playing very little his senior season. He was injured before training camp in the College All-Star game and then tore knee ligaments on his first preseason carry and was out for the year. He caught one pass in 1971 and tore up his other knee and never played another down in the NFL.