(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.
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.”
Desperate for a front-seven playmaker, the St. Louis Cardinals selected big Dave Butz with the fifth overall pick in the 1973 NFL Draft. The 6 foot 7, 290 pound Chicago area native was an All-American defensive tackle and Lombardi Finalist at Purdue University and would ultimately end up in the College Football Hall of Fame (2014).
Big Red personnel director Abe Stuber told the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1973 that Butz “was our highest rated defensive player. He has the greatest potential of any defensive lineman in the country.”
Tom Banks is arguably the greatest center in Big Red history. He was a team leader and outspoken critic of management which made him a fan favorite during his playing days in St. Louis. Banks tells it like it is (and still does) and the fans loved him for it. The All-Pro center was drafted in the eighth round out of Auburn in 1970 and played 11 seasons for the Cardinals (1970-1980). After missing his rookie season due to a broken ankle, Banks became one of the top NFL centers in the mid-70s anchoring an offensive line that only gave up 8 sacks in 1975. He earned Pro Bowl honors from 1975-1978. I recently spoke with Tom about his time at Auburn, his days in St. Louis, and finishing his career with the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL.
Q: Tom, tell us a little about your father, Tom Banks Sr.? I understand that he was a pretty good ball player himself.
Banks: My dad came out of WWII and went to Jones Junior College in Mississippi. It was impossible to get a scholarship to a major school because of all the veterans coming back from war. He was an undersized offensive lineman at 185 pounds, but he became a Junior College All-American. He took a year off to work in the steel mill when I was born and said it was the best decision he ever made because it made him realize to value education. He went to Auburn in 1949 and earned a scholarship. He played in the first Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL in 1951 and I was in the stands sitting on my mom’s lap. I was only 2 and a half years old. Later we became the first father-son to play in the Senior Bowl (Banks played in the 1970 game).