As we move closer to the 2023 NFL Draft (April 27-29), The Big Red Zone is looking back on each of the 28 St. Louis Cardinals drafts (1960-87). This installment focuses on the 1971 Draft, which was held January 28-29, 1971 in New York.
This was a bountiful draft for the Cardinals even though 10 of the 17 players they selected never played in the NFL. Cornerback Norm Thompson (1st round), offensive tackle Dan Dierdorf (2nd), wide receiver Mel Gray (6th) and defensive end Ron Yankowski (8th) all had long, productive careers for St. Louis.
Consider their combined numbers: 42 seasons, 509 games, 10 Pro Bowls, four All-Pro teams, and one Hall of Fame enshrinement.
Thompson set a major college record in 1969 with 259 interception returns on five picks for Utah. He added seven more interceptions for 73 yards in 1970. Still, he figured he would be a second- or third-round pick. Imagine his surprise when the Cardinals took him 17th overall.
“He walked around the house scratching his head … he couldn’t believe it,” Thompson’s wife, Gwen, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
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: 40-31
40. J.V. CAIN (TE)
This may be a sentimental pick, but J.V. Cain was on the verge of becoming a superstar before tragically passing on his 28th birthday in 1979. Cain was the 7th overall pick in the 1974 draft out of Colorado. The speedy tight end was the Big Red rookie of the year in ’74 and had breakout seasons in ’76 and ’77 combining for 51 catches, 728 yards, and 7 TDs. His most memorable catch came in the 1977 home opener when he snagged a one handed pass from Jim Hart for a TD against the Chicago Bears. Cain’s number “88” is one of the few numbers retired by the Cardinals organization.