As we move closer to the 2023 NFL Draft (Thursday-Saturday), The Big Red Zone is looking back on each of the 28 St. Louis Cardinals drafts (1960-87). This installment focuses on the 1978 Draft, which was held May 2-3 in New York.
Of the 139 kicking specialists drafted in the NFL before 1978, only two—placekicker Charlie Gogolak (1966) and punter Ray Guy (1973)—were selected in the first round. On May 2, 1978, the Cardinals increased that number to three when they took Arkansas dual kicker Steve Little with the 15th overall choice.
Before you go saying, Just another dumb move by George Boone, consider that all of the Cardinals’ hierarchy was on board with the pick.
“It was a unanimous decision,” first-year head coach Bud Wilkinson told reporters, using an analytical explanation for defending the pick.
Wilkinson pointed out that in 1977, the Big Red’s average field position for an offensive position was their 32-yard line, and that they netted only a little more than 31 yards in net punting. (Actually, the Cardinals’ net punting average had been 32.8 yards—10th best in the NFL and slightly better than the league’s 31.8 average—but let’s not quibble).
“That’s a loss in field position that’s difficult to make up. And those are figures that can be improved,” Wilkinson said, tossing out phrases such as position football and cumulative yardage.
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: 80-71
80. JOE CHILDRESS (RB)
The “Old Pro” Joe Childress was an All-American running back at Auburn before being the Chicago Cardinals top draft pick in 1956. The big fullback/halfback was an understudy of Ollie Matson and John David Crow early in his career, but led the Cardinals and finished sixth in the NFL in rushing in 1963 with 701 yards. He also finished second on the team in rushing in 1964. Childress was an excellent blocker and receiver out of the backfield as well, averaging over 14 yards per reception. Childress was released after an injury plagued 1965 season and joined former head coach Wally Lemm in Houston where he coached from 1966-1970.