The Rise of Charley Johnson

(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.

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Johnny Roland: All He Does Is Win Football Games

(Editor’s Note: This story was authored by former St. Louis Globe Democrat sports writer Rich Koster and was originally published in Sport Magazine in July 1967)

To appreciate Johnny Roland’s talent, you must be aware of his shortcomings. In a game dominated by specialists, he has no specialty. He’s not as fast as Gale Sayers, as quick as Leroy Kelly, or as powerful as Ken Willard. He’s never run a 10 second 100 and when he throws a football it frequently wobbles or floats. On the longest run of his rookie year, a mere 50 yards from scrimmage, he was hauled down from behind in the open field. He tabulated over 80 yards rushing in only one game and he average an unspectacular 3.6 yards per carry over the season.

So how did the 6-2, 215-pound Roland emerge as the NFL’s Rookie of the Year? And what made him worth a $300,000 bonus contract to the St. Louis Cardinals?

Simple. He wins football games. He wins them the way Frank Gifford used to. And Paul Hornung. With the relentlessness of that 3.6 yard average and the lighting of the big play. He succeeds with versatility. He wins with his head . . . and heart.

A confirmed non-specialist in a world of specialists, Johnny Roland has his shortcomings on the football field. He doesn’t move too fast, he can’t run over people and he throws a wobbly option pass

“Some guys in this league play three or four games a season,” suggest Abe Stuber, who excavates college material for St. Louis. “Roland has shown he plays them all. He gives 100 percent all the time.. That puts him in a different category from the others.”

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