From the time I was a real little kid, I LIKED football. I remember, as a six-year-old, watching Super Bowl III between the Colts and the Jets with my dad. And during the regular season, I was a St. Louis Cardinal fan.
I watched guys like Tim Van Galder, Gary Keithley and Gary Cuozzo play quarterback. I watched guys like McArthur Lane and Donny Anderson carry the ball, and good receivers like Ahmad Rashad and John Gilliam who blossomed elsewhere. And I watched three straight 4-9-1 seasons. But, I liked it.
I fell in loooovvveee with football in 1974. That’s when I became emotionally attached, completely invested, totally smitten. The Cardinals, under second year coach Don Coryell,
started off 7-0. It was one thing to beat Philadelphia and get win at Washington to start 2-0. To beat Cleveland and San Francisco was cool, but they hadn’t played anyone.
But then the Big Red beat the hated Cowboys to go 5-0, and they did it with flair. After blowing a 28-14 lead, the Cardinals leaned on their kicker, Jim Bakken, to hit a late field goal and win 31-28. The Cardiac Cardinals were born, and a 12-year-old boy in Creve Coeur was forever drawn in.
The next morning, the front page of the newspaper touted the victory. Not the front of the sports page, but the front of the whole paper! The start extended to 7-0, and a 10-4 season delivered something we hadn’t seen in St. Louis…a playoff team.
Coryell, with his high-flying offense, would go 11-3 and 10-4 the next two seasons before his departure after the 1977 campaign. I was crushed when he left, and hated when he went to San Diego. Why? Because Coryell’s teams had instilled in me an emotional attachment to the sport that lasts to this day.
There will be much talk about Coryell’s viability as a Hall of Famer upon his death yesterday at the age of 85. But today, that doesn’t matter to me. There’s one reason I have an intense passion for the NFL, and I trace it back to Don Coryell coaching the St. Louis Cardinals. RIP, coach.