The first sign that this was going to be an inauspicious weekend for the Big Red came when their Ozark Airlines charter touched down on the icy runway at Appleton International Airport—yes, that’s what they call it—less than 24 hours before their Super Bowl Tournament game against the Green Bay Packers.
The pilot tried the brakes, but they wouldn’t cooperate. The plane kept skidding down the runway. I gripped the seat handles tightly while behind me several Cardinals players screamed out in terror.
Finally—miraculously—the plane came to a stop. When it made a left turn to head for the terminal, it was only about 15 yards from a chain link fence at the end of the runway.
Shaken but safe, the players and coaches departed the plane—thanking the pilot as they exited—and boarded buses that would take them to the Paper Valley Hotel (where most Packers opponents stayed) in Appleton.
The Missouri Governor’s Cup was awarded to the winner of the annual meetings between the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs.
The first Governor’s Cup game was played two seasons after the NFL/AFL merger agreement in 1966. The contest was played on August 17, 1968 at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City in front of 47,462 fans. The Chiefs held on for a 13-10 victory.
The Chiefs pretty much dominated the Governor’s Cup series with a preseason record of 13-6-1. The Chiefs held 3-1-1 regular season advantage over the Big Red as well.
Here is a summary of the 20 preseason Missouri Governor’s Cup games played between the Chiefs and Cardinals.
He was known as “Jet Stream” in St. Louis, but at Henderson State University they called Roy Green the “Green Machine.”
“Every now and then we’ll be talkin’ about the ol’ days and someone’ll bring up the Monticello game and how incredible Roy was,” Green’s college coach Ralph Carpenter said in a St. Louis Post Dispatch story back in 1981.
Carpenter was referring to the Green Machine’s performance against the University of Arkansas-Monticello in 1978. Green returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, a punt 65 yards for a touchdown, and returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown. He even blocked a field goal late in the game.
“There was nothin’ he couldn’t do. Nothin’,” Carpenter said.
Green was a NAIA All-American cornerback at Henderson State. He intercepted 9 passes his senior season and averaged over 13 yards on punt returns and almost 22 yards on kick returns.
Green was a speed burner, running the 40 yard dash in 4.3 seconds. The Cardinals drafted the Magnolia, Arkansas native in the fourth round in 1979 as a defensive back. He played in all 16 games his rookie season and was named the top return specialist by The Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly.
From undrafted free agent to one of the most prolific passers in NFL history, Jim Hart’s career had more than its fair share of challenges. The Chicago area native had to overcome fan favorite Charley Johnson in the late 60s, the Bob Hollway era in the early 70s, a career threatening shoulder injury in 1973, and #1 draft pick Steve Pisarkiewicz in 1979. But he could not beat his last challenger, Father Time, which is still undefeated.
After losing his starting job to Neil Lomax, the Big Red released the 39 year old Hart in 1984. He would retire a year later as the team’s all-time leading passer, throwing for 34,665 yards and 209 TD passes. Only Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton had thrown for more yards than Hart.
The NFL was coming off another strike and the Big Red were on a three-game losing streak. They were facing a bad Tampa Bay team and owner Bill Bidwill was talking about leaving town. It’s a wonder that even 22,449 fans showed up to see the Cardinals play the Buccaneers on a dreary, rainy Sunday in early November.
And like many fans, the Cards were no-shows themselves for the first three quarters of the game spotting the Bucs a 28-3 lead. As St. Louis Post Dispatch columnist Kevin Horrigan wrote, “As the fourth quarter began, the Bucs are up by 25 points and it’s so quiet you can hear the cheerleaders, which is a bad sign. NFL cheerleaders are designed to be seen, not heard.”
But the game was far from over.
The Big Red erupted for four touchdowns in the final 12:42 to win the game
31-28. It was the largest fourth quarter comeback in NFL history.
“Just another laugher,” said Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill who was accompanied by detectives after receiving a death threat prior to the game.
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: 20-11
20. PAT TILLEY (WR)
Pat Tilley played 11 seasons for the Big Red and retired as the second leading pass catcher in team history. The Louisiana Tech product was the Cards 4th round pick in 1976 and shared the team rookie of the year honor with Mike Dawson. Tilley scored his first NFL touchdown in the ’76 season opener against the Seahawks. Teammates Mel Gray and Roy Green got all the headlines, but Tilley led the team in receiving from 1978-1982 earning one Pro Bowl appearance in 1980. He started every game but one from 1978-1985. His best season was in 1981 when he caught 66 passes for 1040 yards and three TDs. Tilley finished his career with 469 receptions, 7005 yards and 37 touchdowns.
The St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Redskins met at RFK Stadium on December 16, 1984. The stakes were simple. A Big Red victory would give them their first NFC East title since 1975 and their first home playoff game. A loss would end their season. Turnovers and mistakes gave the Redskins a 23-7 halftime lead and it appeared the Cardinals would soon be dusting off their golf clubs. But, as it turned out, the Cards were not ready to give up.
“At halftime, we said that anybody who didn’t think we couldn’t win the game shouldn’t go back out.” — Big Red safety Benny Perrin.
The Big Red came out on fire in the second half. After a slow start to the game, Neil Lomax shredded the Washington secondary going 25 of 28 for 314 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the with 468 passing yards, his best day as a pro. It was the most passing yards ever given up by a Redskin defense. “We were a little nervous; this was our first big game for most of us. Once we got our timing down in the second half, things opened up a little bit.”