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Flashing Back Through 43 Years of St. Louis Sports

This is flashback week on 101 ESPN. All of our shows will relive great moments from the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and 10s. Since I turned eight in the summer of 1970, I’ve had the good fortune of being a St. Louis sports fan for all of the decades we’re going to celebrate this week. And I have favorite moments from each decade. I’ve enacted my own rules here.  I can’t pick seasons, only moments. And for my purposes, decades will start with ones, even though some people like to start them with zeroes.

For the 70s, it was pretty much a lost decade for the Cardinals. There were some great individual achievements that included Bob Gibson’s no-hitter in 1971, Lou Brock breaking the single-season- and career stolen-base records, and Bob Forsch throwing a no-hitter, too.

The Blues had some great moments. Chuck Lefley scored a then-record 43 goals in 1975-76, eclipsing Garry Unger’s 41 tallies three years earlier. They also had a couple of dramatic playoff series wins, but nothing that stays in the mind’s eye forever.

In St. Louis, the 70s were a football decade. After three consecutive 4-9-1 seasons to start the decade, Don Coryell turned things around in his second season, leading the Big Red to a 7-0 start and a 10-4 season in ’74. Then they went 11-3 and won the division in ’75 and had another 10-4, although they missed the playoffs in 1976.

In 1977, with the community totally invested emotionally, the Cardinals started off 1-3, with losses at Washington and at home to Dallas getting them to that record. Then they took off, ripping off victories over Philadelphia, New Orleans, the Giants and Minnesota. They were 5-3 as they went to Dallas for a Monday night battle with the 8-0 Cowboys. Dallas grabbed a 14-3 halftime lead, but the Cardinals rallied in the second half.  Wayne Morris capped a long drive with a one-yard run, and it was 14-10 entering the fourth. Moments after Efren Herrera hit a field goal to make it 17-10, Jim Hart hit Mel Gray for a 49-yard touchdown bomb.

Gray had split the middle of the Cowboy defense, and after he scored, he came out of the end zone to about the two-yard line, where Dallas safety Charlie Waters had fallen down, and spiked the ball right above Waters’ helmet. It was awesome. Hart hit Jackie Smith for the game-winning TD to complete the rally, and the Cardinals energized all of St. Louis with a 24-17 win, Dallas’ first loss. After the game, Terry Metcalf came on live TV for an interview with a red T-shirt that said “Cowboys eat bird $#%!” Everyone was into it.

After one more win, the season unraveled into a disaster and Coryell left. But that sight of Gray spiking the ball at Waters’ head has never left my mind. That’s my favorite 70s moment.

In the 80s, you’d think it would be the Cardinals winning their first World Series since ‘67 that would top my list. That was the ’82 team, and I was an on-field usher at Busch Stadium. The final out – Bruce Sutter striking out Gorman Thomas – was a great moment, but it wasn’t No. 1

There were spectacular Blues moments – Mike Crombeen’s double-overtime winner to win a playoff series against Pittsburgh in ‘81, and the Monday Night Miracle with Greg Paslawski tying the game and Doug Wickenheiser getting the winner against Calgary in OT in the ’86 playoffs.

We also had some great football Cardinal moments in the 80s, including Roy Green’s 70-yard touchdown catch in Dallas in 1984 that pretty much put away the Cowboys in that game, or J.T. Smith’s touchdown that capped a 28-point fourth quarter against Tampa Bay in 1987, giving the Big Red a 31-28 win in the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL history.

For me, though, my favorite 80s moment comes from my favorite baseball season. Nobody expected the 1985 Cardinals to be good, but they thrilled St. Louis by winning 101 games and going to the World Series. My favorite moment was Ozzie Smith’s home run against the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLCS. The series was tied 2-2, and the game was tied 2-2 in the ninth inning. Everyone was settling for extra innings in the late afternoon when the switch-hitting Ozzie hit the first left-handed home run of his career and elicited Jack Buck’s famous “Go crazy, folks! Go crazy!” call. Of course, the next day Jack Clark hit his pennant-winning homer, which stands as a lot of people’s favorite 80s moment. But mine is Ozzie’s.

The 90s is really tough. In hockey, we had Brett Hull scoring 50 goals in 50 games, and his incredible 86-goal season.

In football, we had the announcement that the Rams were coming to town, and their incredible first home game as the St. Louis Rams. We also had the amazing journey of 1999. I could list 10 moments from that season that would stand as possibilities for best moment: Isaac Bruce’s third touchdown in the first quarter against San Francisco would rank as one, along with Dre Bly’s interception return in the NFC clinching game in Carolina; Bruce’s touchdown in the first playoff game in St. Louis; Bly’s interception in the NFC Championship; the resulting touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl; Kurt Warner to Bruce to put the Rams ahead in the Super Bowl; and Michael Jones’ tackle to win it. The 2000 opener would win a lot of decades, too.

But my favorite ‘90s moment is the best moment I’ve ever been at. After the Cardinals traded for Mark McGwire at the deadline in 1997, most of us just assumed that at some point he would eclipse Roger Maris’ 1961 record of 61 home runs. Sure enough, on 1998’s opening day, he hit a grand slam against the Dodgers. And he kept hitting, and hitting, and hitting homers. In the first four games he hit one each.  Three against Arizona, a 545-footer against Florida off the Post-Dispatch sign in center field, and three against Philadelphia. He was amazing.

On Sept. 7, he hit two homers to tie Maris. The next day, with friendly home-run rival Sammy Sosa and the Cubs in town, McGwire stepped into the box against Steve Trachsel with two outs in the fourth inning. He ripped the first pitch down the line and over the left-field wall for No. 62. It was a remarkable moment. My moment of the 90s.

Many people, including friends of mine, have decided to retroactively try to change their emotions in regard to that night. It was fun. Just because we subsequently found out he was using steroids doesn’t change that night for me. Seventy balls still went over the fences that season, and it was awesome.

My 2000s moment comes from baseball, too. It’s pretty easy, actually. The Rams spent half the decade being good, but regressed in a major way. The Blues spent half the decade as perhaps the worst team in the NHL, earning a top overall draft pick in 2006.

Albert Pujols provided us numerous moments by himself. His three-homer game in Chicago, his dramatic, game-winning playoff homer in Houston, and his 400th career homer in Washington in 2010.

Also in 2006, the Cardinals overcame a nearly disastrous September to win the World Series. The key moment of that postseason, and my favorite moment of the decade, was Adam Wainwright’s strikeout of Carlos Beltran to wrap up the National League pennant. Yadier Molina had hit a tiebreaking two-run homer in the top of the ninth, and Wainwright came on to close it out. He loaded the bases with two outs, but caught Beltran looking at a nasty curve to wrap up the league title. The Cardinals would go on to win the World Series over Detroit in five games, but the indelible image I have of that season, and that decade, is Wainwright raising his arms in triumph after striking out Beltran.

This decade has been all too brief, but we do have a highlight. Sure, the Rams are on the rebound and the young Blues are hopefully ascending, but the Cardinals’ consistency is remarkable. In 2011, they staged one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history, advanced to the World Series, and then played the best Series game ever in Game 6.

Without question, David Freese’ 11th-inning, game-winning homer stands out as the moment of this decade, and it’s going to be difficult to beat in the remaining seven years. The fact that it set up a world championship the next night makes it all the more special, so it’s one of the great moments in STL sports history.

It’s been a great run over the last 43 years. I hope you enjoy our flashback week on 101 ESPN.