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.
Jim Brown played the last regular season game of his career at Old Sportsman’s Park (Busch I) and was ejected from the game for fighting with Joe Robb. Mark Tomasik breaks it down with an excellent story below. Interesting to see Robb talk about the mutual lack of respect between the players and Big Red management even in 1965. That was a common theme throughout their stay in St. Louis.
In the last regular-season game he played in the NFL, running back Jim Brown was ejected for fighting with a St. Louis Cardinals defensive lineman.
The incident occurred on Dec. 19, 1965, in the regular-season finale between the Cardinals and Cleveland Browns at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
Just before halftime, Brown and Cardinals defensive end Joe Robb hit and kicked one another. The referee tossed both from the game. Brown still finished as the NFL rushing leader for the eighth time in nine seasons.
Despite a stellar performance by Cardinals safety Larry Wilson, who intercepted three passes and returned one 96 yards for a touchdown, the Browns won, 27-24, and advanced to the NFL championship game against the Green Bay Packers. Video
Brown, 29, played in the title game, won by the Packers, and then retired from football, launching an acting career with a role in the film…
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: 40-31
40. J.V. CAIN (TE)
This may be a sentimental pick, but J.V. Cain was on the verge of becoming a superstar before tragically passing on his 28th birthday in 1979. Cain was the 7th overall pick in the 1974 draft out of Colorado. The speedy tight end was the Big Red rookie of the year in ’74 and had breakout seasons in ’76 and ’77 combining for 51 catches, 728 yards, and 7 TDs. His most memorable catch came in the 1977 home opener when he snagged a one handed pass from Jim Hart for a TD against the Chicago Bears. Cain’s number “88” is one of the few numbers retired by the Cardinals organization.