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.”


Coach Charley Winner was never fully accepted by fans or players despite a fine pedigree and resume


Despite beefing up the attack with an influx of new players, and featuring the rushing tandem of Johnny Roland and MacArthur Lane, the 1970 Cardinals became one of the biggest disappointments in fans’ memories. They raced off to a very fast and strong start, including two defeats over the vaunted Dallas Cowboys, yet collapsed in the home stretch to finish third in their division. A Monday Night Football telecast that produced a 38 – 0 roasting of the Cowboys led to a memorable lament from Don Meredith in the broadcast booth and St. Louis fans could not forgive Winner for defeating a Dallas team that went to the Super Bowl, yet plummeted rapidly in the standings in the season’s final weeks. Some players blamed Winner’s inability to make a decisive stand on the Johnson vs. Jim Hart quarterback situation as a cause for dissension. Others felt that Winner, acclaimed as the nicest of individuals even by his harshest critics, allowed the players to much latitude leading to an undisciplined team. Dave Meggyesy’s book proved to be more problematic than the player himself had been while with the Cardinals in his final seasons as the sensational, national coverage painted the entire team as drug using, racist, sex-obsessed players, applying generalizations rather than accurate reporting. Predictably, Winner was fired and a new coach was brought in.     


Cardinals quarterback Charley Johnson’s leadership was undermined by Coach Winner’s use of him and young Jim Hart, leading to dissension among teammates. The brilliant and well liked Johnson at his own request, was traded to the Oilers after the 1969 season 


The Winner years were over, but the Cardinals troubles were not. Two years under Bob Hollway led to numerous trades and personnel moves, most which proved to be non-productive. The Bidwell brothers who had worked so long together as co-owners of the team grew apart over disagreements related to team management and Bill bought out brother Stormy, becoming sole owner in 1972. It wasn’t until the hiring of offensive guru Don Coryell that the Cardinals finally seemed to utilize the talent they had, and became a legitimate contender for division crowns and the development of recognized all star players on both sides of the ball. It was the Air Coryell Cardinals that I was privileged to see, became a fan of, and with a number of players, knew as training partners. It often baffled me however, that they received much less than full support from the citizens of the St. Louis area and it was that lack of support that led to their eventual move to Arizona. One of the constants of the organization throughout their tenure in St. Louis was the wonderfully straight forward uniform design that while typical of that period of time, still stood out as classic, classy, and attractive.

Cardinals standout back Johnny Roland was an underrated performer for many seasons 


The simplicity of the all red home jerseys with white front, rear, and sleeve numbers remained in stark contrast to the increasing trend of adding various design changes to the striping, side panels, numeral outlines, and alternate colors that many of the teams adopted. The Cardinals often played exciting football and by the Coryell years, played good football, and it was a sad day when the team departed the Gateway City.