"A WORD ON THE ST. LOUIS FOOTBALL CARDINALS PART II"
HELMET HUT NEWS/REFLECTIONS November 2012:
A Word On The ST. Louis Football Cardinals Part II
By Dr. Ken
By the time I arrived in St. Louis in the late-1970’s, the Cardinals had survived the divisive turmoil of the 1967 and 1968 seasons and become a solid, competitive squad. Of course, an awful lot had occurred during the approximate ten year period in between. Jack Olsen’s book about the racial divide on the Cardinals provided a black eye that the organization, to its credit, attempted to solve quickly through trades, the formation of an athletes' committee to air grievances, and the public “outing” of the one assistant coach that a number of the players had identified as being a racist. In 1970, Ramparts Press published Out Of Their League by Dave Meggyesy and every NFL fan knew that “this Dave Meggyesy” was in fact, a St. Louis Cardinals linebacker who played from 1963 through ’69.
He retired after the ’69 season and took the next year off to write his book and until its publication, I don’t believe that most fans were aware of what was considered to be his “extreme” point of view. The explosive book was among the first to expose the violence that is inherent to the game of football. To those that played the game, it came as no surprise that players were subjected to conditions that produced injury, nor was it upsetting to most. Every athlete who steps onto a football field understands now as they did during Meggyesy’s years that included an excellent collegiate career at Syracuse, that one would engage in contact with large, strong, and fast individuals and that damage could be inflicted or sustained upon contact. Competition on a football field during practice or games is competition as it is every place else and one has to battle for playing time or the positive attention of teammates and coaches. Especially through the 1950’s and 1960’s there existed a code that was built upon a backdrop of physical and psychological toughness and included not leaving the field unless one absolutely was forced to. In the NFL, even high draft choices were released in training camp if it appeared that they would not produce as expected. In this present day, the marketing geniuses of the National Football League and each team would never allow a public relations nightmare like that come to pass. For marginal players and those with very limited talent, and I am including myself in that group, any decrease in the ability to produce, any mistakes, or an inability to perform due to injury often meant a permanent loss of one’s position. Thus, relative to today, I believe we played harder, endured more physical damage, and upheld what could be termed a “warrior” code. These were some of the negatives about football that Meggyesy highlighted in his book and what was termed “the brutality of the game,” shocked non-participants. For those of us who did this voluntarily and loved football, we thought all of these criticisms were actually positive attributes that better prepared us for the battles we deal with every day. Still, the book was a landmark volume that chronicled every seemingly negative aspect of football. Because Meggyesy was a Cardinals player, many attributed these negatives specifically to the Cardinals organization.
The “Charley Winner Regime” was frequently criticized for not winning enough relative to the talent on hand, and was punctuated by the lack of rapport between quarterback Charley Johnson and his head coach. Fans lambasted what they referred to as Winner’s “two play offense: gain no ground, pass on third down.”