(Editor’s note: This story is a reprint from the January 1966 issue of Sport Magazine and was written by John Devaney.)
In sports, some success stories begin with a dream. Here is how one dream of playing professional football came true — at almost impossible odds.
By JOHN DEVANEY
The quarterback was sitting bare-chested, on the edge of the rubbing table. He was holding a white towel to his face, and a large crimson stain was slowly spreading over the towel because blood was pouring from a gash in his chin. The quarterback didn’t seem to notice the blood. He was staring at the floor with the rapt concentration of someone watching scenes from his life flash, one by one, on a movie screen.
This was Charley Johnson, St. Louis Cardinal quarterback, in the visitor’s clubhouse at Yankee Stadium one afternoon late this October. Minutes before he had run off the field, plunging almost blindly through the swirling crowd, after New York had beaten St. Louis 14-10. Twice in the game’s closing minutes Johnson had brought the Cardinals inside the Giant 25, and twice he had failed to get the touchdown that would have won.
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 go 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: 90-81
90. Donny Anderson (RB)
Donny Anderson was acquired for MacArthur Lane in 1972 and scored 25 TDs in just three seasons in St. Louis. Anderson lead the team in rushing in 1972 and finished second in the league with 13 TDs in 1973. The versatile Anderson also was team co-leader with 41 receptions in ’73. He was the Green Bay Packers first round draft pick out of Texas Tech in 1965 and was a member of their Super Bowl teams in 1966-1967.
Prentice Gautt is a name that may not be familiar to younger generations of football fans. But the former Oklahoma Sooner, Cleveland Brown, and St. Louis Cardinal running back was a pioneer in the 1950s, becoming the first African-American to play football at OU, joining the team just one year after most racial restrictions were lifted at the school.
Gautt became a two-time All-Big Eight running back, led the team in rushing his junior and senior seasons, and earned MVP of the 1959 Orange Bowl. He was named an Academic All-American his senior season.
Although Gautt excelled on the gridiron, he faced many of the same racial obstacles encountered by Jackie Robinson off the field. Many local restaurants refused to serve him and he was not allowed to stay in some hotels with the rest of the team. Gautt also went through verbal and physical abuse at OU, including late hits in practice.