There was no better all-purpose running back in the late 1950s/early ’60s than the Cardinals’ John David Crow. The 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pounder was strong, had quick feet, great balance, was an excellent receiver, fantastic blocker, and may have been the best passer on the team for a couple of seasons.
“He’s big and strong and tough,” Chicago Cardinals head coach Frank “Pop” Ivy told the Chicago Tribune about his star running back in 1959. “I’ll tell you, he’s what we call a wiggler. It’s an almost indefinable quality. When the opposing defense is tight, he’ll bull his way into a hole, then suddenly wiggle through for extra yardage.”
Legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once called John David Crow “the finest player” he ever coached. Crow won the Heisman Trophy while playing for Bryant at Texas A&M in 1957. Later that year the Chicago Cardinals selected him as the second overall pick in the 1958 NFL Draft.
The rookie scored his first career touchdown when he recovered a fumble in the endzone against the New York Giants in the 1958 season opener. The following week he dashed for an 83-yard touchdown on the first play of the game and later added another score in a 37-10 win over Washington.
“He used that wiggle I was talking about,” Ivy explained after the game. “After he got into the secondary, he had no blocking at all. He was strictly on his own. He wiggled past a couple of defensive backs, and then simply outran everybody to the goal line.”
Crow scored a 91-yard touchdown a week later and was well on his way to rookie of the year honors, but a knee injury would slow him down and limit him to only 8 games his freshman season.
PENNANTS HAVE NOT RECENTLY FLOWN OVER THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS. THIS YEAR THE BASEBALL CARDINALS BROUGHT ONE HOME, AND THE FOOTBALL CARDINALS MAY BRING ANOTHER FROM THE SCRAMBLE OF THE NFL EASTERN DIVISION.
In St. Louis last week a bunch of guys with sledgehammers were knocking down an old burlesque house to clear ground for a new stadium, which means that by the spring of 1966 night baseball and Sunday afternoon football will have replaced sex in at least one area of the leafy and pleasant town on the banks of the Mississippi River. For the citizens of St. Louis, who sat 18 years in the gloom of Busch Stadium waiting for their baseball Cardinals to win another World Series, the new stadium is a merit badge for patience. A further reward may be granted to St. Louis fans before the first graffito is scratched into the concrete of the new stadium. The football Cardinals leaped off to a flourishing 3-0-1 record in the NFL’s Eastern Division.
Frustrated about lack of playing time under head coach Wally Lemm, Big Red star running back John David Crow requested a trade after the 1964 season.
Crow won the Heisman trophy at Texas A&M in 1958 and was later the Chicago Cards first pick in the NFL draft. The team moved to St. Louis in 1960 where Crow became a star. His 1,533 total yards and 5.9 yards per carry were tops in the league in 1960 and he scored scored 17 touchdowns in 1962.
However, Crow struggled with injuries during his time in St. Louis. In 1961 he suffered a broken leg. In 1963 a knee operation limited him to just nine carries.
(Editor’s note: This story is a reprint from the January 1966 issue of Sport Magazine and was written by John Devaney.)
In sports, some success stories begin with a dream. Here is how one dream of playing professional football came true — at almost impossible odds.
By JOHN DEVANEY
The quarterback was sitting bare-chested, on the edge of the rubbing table. He was holding a white towel to his face, and a large crimson stain was slowly spreading over the towel because blood was pouring from a gash in his chin. The quarterback didn’t seem to notice the blood. He was staring at the floor with the rapt concentration of someone watching scenes from his life flash, one by one, on a movie screen.
This was Charley Johnson, St. Louis Cardinal quarterback, in the visitor’s clubhouse at Yankee Stadium one afternoon late this October. Minutes before he had run off the field, plunging almost blindly through the swirling crowd, after New York had beaten St. Louis 14-10. Twice in the game’s closing minutes Johnson had brought the Cardinals inside the Giant 25, and twice he had failed to get the touchdown that would have won.
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: 30-21
30. PAT FISCHER (CB)
Pat Fischer was the Cards 17th round draft pick in 1961 out of Nebraska. The 5’9″ cornerback was given little chance to make the team, however he impressed coaches with his desire and played special teams for a couple of years before getting his chance to start full time. In 1963, Fisher had 8 interceptions and then followed that up with his best season of his career in ’64 when he picked off 10 passes and scored three TDs He was named to the Pro Bowl and earned All-Pro honors in ’64. He left the Big Red over a salary dispute in 1967 and signed with Redskins where he played 11 more seasons. Fischer finished his seven year St. Louis career with 29 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries and 4 touchdowns.
Excellent recount of how the Big Red reportedly turned down an offer of Jim Brown for John David Crow. In hindsight, the Cards should have made this trade, but Crow would have been a Hall of Famer himself if not for injuries in 1961 and 1963.