The 12th annual Jim Hart Celebrity Golf Classic and Casino Night was held on April 28th and 29th at the Legends Country Club in Eureka, MO. Several alumni and celebrities attended including Jim Hart, OJ Anderson, Roger Wehrli, Mel Gray, … Continue reading
Many thought Mel Gray was too small and had questionable hands coming out of the University of Missouri in 1971. However, no one could question his speed and athleticism. In high school, Gray tied Jesse Owens’ record with a 9.4 in the 100 yard dash and he later became an All-American in track and field at Mizzou. Gray was working in a California book store in 1971 when a friend informed him that he had been drafted. He initially thought he was headed to Vietnam, but soon discovered the St. Louis Cardinals had selected him in the 6th round of the NFL draft. Gray spent the next 12 seasons in St. Louis burning NFL secondaries, delighting fans, and fighting with Big Red management (as did many other players). I recently sat down with Mel Gray to chat about his time at Mizzou and career with the Big Red.
Q: You’re a California native. How did you end up at Mizzou?
GRAY: I wasn’t a bad kid, but I got in trouble a lot because of the guys I hung out with. My mother wanted me to leave. I could have gone to USC or UCLA, but my mother said, “no, I want you out of California.” And Mizzou was the only school who would let me play football and run track. (Gray spent his freshman year at Ft. Scott Jr. College in Kansas)
Q: Was there a culture shock moving from California to the Midwest?
GRAY: When I signed with Missouri it was 80 degrees and sunny. But by November (1968) it was 10 degrees. I never experienced anything like it. I stayed in my room for two weeks under an electric blanket. One day, the coaches knocked on my door and asked me why I wasn’t in class. I said “have you been outside?” So they went over and looked in my closet, looked at each other, and then left. I climbed back under the covers and thought they were going to send my butt home! But they came back later with boxes of thermal underwear, sweaters, socks, scarves, jackets… It definitely took a while to get used to the cold weather!
Part 2 of my interview with former All-Pro center Tom Banks. We discuss the Cardiac Cards and his teammates. Yes, there will be a Part 3, as we spent another 25 minutes on the phone again on Friday!
Q: Let’s talk about the Cardiac Cards and the offensive line. You guys set an NFL record by allowing only 8 QB sacks in 1975 and you also blocked for the NFC’s leading rusher that season, Jim Otis.
Banks: It was a great offensive team. We had great receivers, Metcalf and Otis in the backfield, plus Steve Jones was the third back who came in on short yardage situation that gave us some real power. The main thing was Jim Hanifan put this group together. It was my sixth year, Dan’s fifth, Conrad’s fourth, Bob Young had been around awhile, and Jim developed Roger Finnie to take Ernie’s (McMillan) place and it was just a really good offensive line. We started running the ball consistently up the middle and we had outside ability so it really opened up the passing game so much because they had to play the run first. When you have to play the run, you can’t pin your ears back and rush the passer. The main thing is we worked to get that running game better every day. You know, people talk about wanting to emphasize running the ball effectively, but it comes down to one thing. You’ve got to get down and dirty every day. And it’s hitting, and now I don’t think they put pads on during the week, but that’s the only way to do it.
Q: Talk about some of your fellow offensive lineman. You mentioned Bob Young earlier. How about Conrad Dobler?
Banks: Conrad got cut in training camp in 1972 and we reminded him of it all the time. He was a defensive lineman in college and had no experience playing offensive line. He had no technique. He tried to do things the way the coaches told him, and he didn’t do very well, so they let him go. We had some injuries and he came back a couple of weeks later. He decided he was going to kick somebody’s ass every day. And that’s what he did! (laughing) Our defensive guys hated him. They hated practicing against him. Conrad’s theory was “I tried it your way and it didn’t work, now I’m going to try it my way.” And he knew one thing. “If I kick this guy’s ass across from me, someone’s going to pat me on the back and say good things about me.” And that’s what he did.
Former Big Red greats tee off for a great cause.
It was a beautiful day for golf as many former Football Cardinal greats participated in the 11th annual Jim Hart Celebrity Golf Outing at The Legends County Club in Eureka, MO. This event benefits Sunnyhill, Inc. which provides services, programs, and opportunities for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
Former Mizzou head coach Gary Pinkel served as the honorary chairman of the event and drove the ball right down the middle of the fairway on the first tee. Hart and many of his former Big Red teammates such as Mel Gray, Roger Wehrli, Tim Kearney, Tim Van Galder, Johnny Roland, and Jim Otis were in attendance.
Hart currently lives in Naples, FL and only gets back to St. Louis about once a year. We talked about his induction into the Arizona Cardinals Ring of Honor and was surprised to learn that he did not see Bill Bidwill during his visit. However, you could tell he was honored and humbled by the ceremony last December. We also talked about the late great Bill Wilkerson who was Hart’s college teammate at SIU-Carbondale in the 1960s.
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!