Cardinal Great Larry Wilson Passes Away at 82

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for St. Louis sports fans. We lost baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock on September 6 and on Friday we learned of the passing of former Big Red great Larry Wilson.

Wilson played college ball at the University of Utah and was the Chicago Cardinals 7th round draft choice in the 1960 NFL draft. He went on to a 13 year Hall of Fame career in St. Louis.

The Rigby, Idaho native played in 8 Pro Bowls and was named first team All-Pro five times. He was selected to the NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, the 75th Anniversary Team, and the NFL 100 All-Time Team. Wilson was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1966 and is the all-time Cardinals leader in interceptions with 52. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978.

Wilson was a member of the Cardinals organization as a player, coach, and executive for over 40 years. He was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor in 2006.

Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill had this to say about Wilson.

“Besides my father, Larry Wilson was the most influential male figure in my life. He was someone who truly lived his faith and demonstrated it daily in the kindness he showed every single person he met. Any of us lucky enough to be in his orbit – whether that was for a few minutes or four decades – was always better off from the experience. I will remember Larry Wilson first as a fantastic person but then obviously as one of the greatest players the National Football League has ever seen. It’s fitting that his passing coincides with the league’s 100th birthday because his toughness and the way he revolutionized his position make him one of our game’s most unforgettable figures. Whether on the field playing with casts on both hands or brightening the lives of every person he knew, Larry’s selflessness defined who he was and how we will all remember him.”

Larry Wilson is survived by Nancy, his wife of 40 years, as well as daughter Christie, son Larry Jr., numerous grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Remembering the ’66 season with 66 days till the Cardinals’ season opener

We are one day closer to the start of the 2020 NFL season. As of today, Thursday, there are 66 days until the Arizona Cardinals are supposed to open …

Remembering the ’66 season with 66 days till the Cardinals’ season opener
The 1966 St. Louis Football Cardinals

Big Red Tough Guy: Dan Dierdorf

One of the all-time great Big Red memories is when Hall of Fame safety Larry Wilson played a game with two broken hands against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1965. Not only did Larry play with casts and layers of gauze on both hands, but he also intercepted a Bill Nelson pass during the game. It’s the stuff that legends are made of. And of course Larry Wilson is a legend.

But many people have forgotten that Wilson’s teammate, and fellow Hall of Famer, Dan Dierdorf once played with a broken jaw. In fact, he missed only two games after suffering the injury against the Minnesota Vikings in 1977.

Dan Dierdorf played four games in 1977 wearing a modified face mask to help protect his broken jaw.
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Bonnie Sloan: First Deaf Player in NFL

“This kid is an athlete. He’s got a real good chance to make our football team,” claimed Cardinals Personnel Director George Boone after drafting Bonnie Sloan in the 10th round of the 1973 NFL Draft.

Not only did the 6’5″, 260 pound defensive lineman make the team, he was the starting defensive tackle in the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The odds are long for any late round draft pick to make it in the NFL. The Cardinals already had three established defensive tackles in Bob Rowe, John Richardson, and Fred Heron, and they drafted Dave Butz with their top pick. But, Sloan had to overcome a larger obstacle. He was deaf.

Sloan was born in Lebanon, TN. His parents discovered that he was deaf when he was almost two years old. He learned to read lips and say words before the age of three and later learned to play football. Sloan earned all-state honors as a tight end and defensive tackle at Litton High School.

“We just thought football would be good therapy for him,” his mother told the New York Times. “We never thought he’d develop as he did.”

Sloan played college ball at Austin Peay where he was named team MVP and earned All-Ohio Valley Conference honors. In four seasons at Austin Peay, Sloan never jumped offside. His college line coach, Ray Thomas, felt that he should have been a fourth round draft choice at the very least.

“His deafness was definitely a factor in his not being taken until the tenth round,” Thomas told the Philadelphia Daily News.

Bonnie Sloan was All-Ohio Valley Conference lineman at Austin Peay (Photo APSU Athletics)
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Pete Retzlaff matchups vs. Cardinals were NFL classics

RetroSimba

Pete Retzlaff was a Philadelphia Eagles receiver who was difficult to defend because of the precise pass patterns he ran and his reliable hands. Initially a flanker and split end, Retzlaff became a tight end and was instrumental in transforming the position.

During his 11 NFL seasons (1956-66), all with the Eagles, Retzlaff developed a respect for St. Louis Cardinals safeties Jerry Stovall and Larry Wilson. In 1965, Retzlaff told The Sporting News, “St. Louis has the toughest defensive backs. Larry Wilson was real tough when he played me, but now I find Jerry Stovall even tougher to shake. Jerry has to be the most improved player at his position in the league.”

Retzlaff later told the Akron Beacon Journal, “Once, after we’d played in the Pro Bowl, Larry Wilson told me he always said I was the toughest tight end he ever tried to cover.”

Retzlaff had multiple impressive…

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Big Red Legends: Larry Wilson

From a seventh round draft pick to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Larry Frank Wilson played the game with sheer determination, guts, and maximum effort. He played thirteen seasons with the Cardinals earning 8 Pro Bowls and was named to five All-Pro teams. He is a member of the 1960s All Decade Team and is still the organization’s all-time leader with 52 interceptions.

Larry Wilson takes the field for the final time in 1972.

EARLY LIFE

Wilson was born and raised in Rigby, Idaho where he faced adversity as a youngster. His mother died of spinal meningitis when he was just ten years old and his father was a truck driver, so Larry helped rear his younger brother, John. As a teen, Larry worked ten-hour days harvesting potatoes, but his father encouraged him to play sports. Larry was a tremendous all around athlete, earning 16 letters in high school. He broke the state high jump record and was a very good baseball and basketball player.

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Cardinals Defensive Coach Chuck Drulis: Innovator, Controversial

Chuck Drulis was a defensive coach with the Cardinals for 16 seasons.

The late Chuck Drulis was known for his defensive talents. Some said that he was a generation ahead of his time. “He was a defensive genius,” linebacker Jamie Rivers told the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1972.

The Pennsylvania native was a star offensive lineman at Temple before playing seven seasons in the NFL for the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. He arrived in Chicago in 1956 as a defensive assistant under Cardinals head coach Ray Richards and would serve under five different head coaches until his sudden death in 1972. Drulis was also credited with two victories when he shared head coaching duties after Frank “Pop” Ivy resigned with two games left in the 1961 season.

WILDCAT

Drulis made his mark by devising the “safety blitz.” It involved a defensive back bursting through the offensive line just as the ball was snapped in a frantic attempt to sack the quarterback. Drulis called it the “Wildcat” and he had been tinkering with it for a couple of years, but needed a player who had the toughness and nerves of steel to successfully carry it out. That player arrived in 1960. Larry Wilson was drafted as a running back out of Utah in the eighth round of the draft, but was converted to safety by Drulis in training camp. After struggling early, Wilson showed just enough to make the team. He ended up starting 11 of 12 games his rookie season intercepting two passes.

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The Top 100 St. Louis Football Cardinals (10-1)

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: 10-1

10. Charley Johnson (QB)

QB Charley Johnson played 9 seasons with the Cardinals.

Pro Bowl QB Charley Johnson was the Cards 10th round pick out of New Mexico State in 1960. Johnson took over as starter in his second season and led the Big Red to a 30-15-3 record from 1963-1966. He led the NFL in completions (223), attempts (420), yards (3045), and TD passes (28) in 1964 when the Cards missed playing for the NFL Championship by a half game. He also led the NFL in fourth quarter comebacks in 1966 and 1968 and twice threw six touchdowns in a game during his nine year career with the Cardinals. A late season injury in 1966 cost the Cardinals another shot at a championship and a stint in the Army Reserves cost Johnson parts of two seasons during his prime as he lost his job to Jim Hart. Johnson was traded to Houston after the 1969 season and finished his career with the Broncos. Off the field, Johnson obtained a chemical engineering degree at New Mexico State and later earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at Washington University while playing with the Big Red.

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Larry Wilson and his amazing pick of a Bill Nelsen pass

Read about Larry Wilson’s infamous interception with two broken hands in a 1965 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Another great post by Mike Tomasik over at Retro Simba!

RetroSimba

Larry Wilson caused NFL quarterbacks to lay awake at night with worry and Bill Nelsen was no exception.

Nelsen, who died April 11, 2019, at 78, had a prominent role in the play that defined the Pro Football Hall of Fame career of Wilson, the St. Louis Cardinals safety who was as tough as any player in the NFL.

On Nov. 7, 1965, in a game between the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Wilson intercepted a pass from Nelsen while wearing casts on both fractured hands.

Wilson’s performance remains an enduring testament to his willpower and illustrates why he was so widely respected.

Mind game

Wilson, who played his entire professional career (1960-72) with the Cardinals, fractured his hands in a game against the New York Giants on Oct. 31, 1965, at New York.

Cardinals head coach Wally Lemm said Wilson would play the following…

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BIG RED ALL TIME TEAM ANNOUNCED

Almost 3000 votes cast for Big Red greats.

The St. Louis Football Cardinals called St. Louis home from 1960-1987 and although they didn’t enjoy a lot of success on the field, they definitely had their share of great players and characters. From Hall of Famers Jackie Smith, Larry Wilson, Dan Dierdorf and Roger Wehrli to Jim Hart, Conrad Dobler, Roy Green, and Terry Metcalf.

Facebook and Twitter fans recently had the opportunity to vote for the All-Time Big Red Team. Some may argue that this list should be called the All-Time Favorites Team, but I think the fans did a good job overall. Unfortunately, many players from the 1960s era didn’t get a lot of votes, but I’m guessing it’s because most Facebook and Twitter users are too young to remember the great offensive line of the 60’s like Bob DeMarco, Ken Gray, Irv Goode, and Bob Reynolds. However, Jerry Stovall, Pat Fischer, and Dale Meinert were voted to the team as well as Hall of Famers Jackie Smith and Larry Wilson.

The All-Time team is led by head coach Don Coryell who coached the Big Red from 1973-1977. The team was known as the Cardiac Cardinals as they always had a knack of coming from behind late in games. The Cards had 8 games decided in the final minute of play in 1975 and won seven of them. Coryell led the Big Red to NFC East Titles in 1974 and 1975.

The offense is led by #17, Jimmy Hart who is still the Cardinals all-time passing and TD leader. O.J. Anderson and Terry Metcalf were voted as the top running backs. O.J. is the all-time Cardinal rushing leader and there was no one in the NFL more exciting than Terry Metcalf in the 1970s. The most competitive position was wide receiver. Roy “Jet Stream” Green was the top vote getter, followed by the speedster Mel Gray and sure handed Pat Tilley. Of course the Hall of Famer Jackie Smith was voted the top tight end in a landslide over the late J.V. Cain. The offensive line is dominated by the group who only gave up eight sacks in 1975. Tom Banks was voted as top center, Conrad Dobler and Bob Young are the guards and Dan Dierdorf and Ernie McMillan are your tackles.

While the defense may not have as many big-names as the offense, there are two Hall of Famers in the secondary. The defensive line is represented by three members of the 1980s Cardinals. Al “Bubba” Baker and Curtis Greer who combined for 54 sacks in 1983-1984 are the defensive ends, and David Galloway and Bob Rowe are the defensive tackles. Former number one draft pick E.J. Junior was the top vote-getter at linebacker, followed by Larry Stallings, and a tie between Dale Meinert and Mark Arneson. Hall of Famer Roger Wehrli and Pat Fischer are the cornerbacks and Hall of Famer Larry Wilson and Jerry Stovall were the top vote-getters at safety.

The Cardinals all-time leading scorer, Jim Bakken was voted to the team as the kicker and Carl Birdsong the punter. Terry Metcalf edged Stump Mitchell as the all-time kick/punt returner. Metcalf set numerous NFL records returning kicks in 1975.

Congratulations to the All-Time Big Red Team members!

ALL-TIME TEAM3