SI Vault
Edwin Shrake
November 09, 1964
Pennants have not recently flown over the city of St. Louis. This year the baseball Cardinals brought one home, and the football Cardinals may bring another from the scramble of the NFL Eastern Division
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November 09, 1964

Two Flags For The Cardinals?

Pennants have not recently flown over the city of St. Louis. This year the baseball Cardinals brought one home, and the football Cardinals may bring another from the scramble of the NFL Eastern Division

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In preparation for the Giants, Crow spent much of last week viewing old movies of himself. "I'm trying to figure out if I'm doing anything different," he said. "It could be that I haven't been using the guards right. I have to follow the guards wherever I go and make my cuts off their blocks. Traps, wheel blocks [in which the center blocks over on the tackle and a guard pulls to block the middle linebacker], sweeps, everything the guards do dictates what I do, and I haven't been doing it the way I know I'm capable of doing it.

"I want to be part of this club," Crow said. "If we win this year, we're going to win for a long time. We're moving into an era of championships. We won't be one-shotters like Philadelphia or Chicago because we have a lot of youth. We have poise and confidence. Those are the marks of the great teams. With the great teams, like Green Bay was, you see them come onto the field and you can feel their poise and confidence. You can't imagine them losing a game. Well, this Cardinal team is going to be like that."

If Crow is right, much of the responsibility for the Cardinals' new status will rest on the slender shoulders of Quarterback Charley Johnson, a young Texan with cold, gray, unblinking eyes. Johnson studies defenses with those gunfighter's eyes as if daring them to make their move. But when the defenses do make sudden, unexpected moves—as the Cowboys did two weeks ago while beating the Cardinals 31-13—Johnson's eyes often go right on staring without knowing exactly what they are seeing. He does not yet have the experience to find alternate receivers quickly under a thundering rush such as the Giants presented him. A quarterback like Johnny Unitas of Baltimore can create a play where there is none. Johnson, in only his fourth season as a pro, has to stay with the plan.

But Cardinal Coach Wally Lemm keeps his offense fairly static. Lemm, like Vince Lombardi of Green Bay, installs his offense in training camp and sticks with it. He believes the Cardinals have the personnel to make it work. The offense relies on execution rather than on deception or surprise. And at operating such an offense, Johnson is a capable mechanic with a good arm.

At New Mexico State, Johnson called the plays for a backfield of Bob Gaiters, Pervis Atkins and Bob Jackson, all of whom had more glittering reputations than Johnson but none of whom made it as a pro of Johnson's class. When Johnson arrived at his first training camp the Cardinals looked at his thin, slight frame and waited to be convinced. The fact that he was working toward a doctorate in chemical engineering—which he expects to receive in another year at Washington University with a thesis on extruder dynamics—sounded suspiciously unathletic. "But we have confidence in him," Crow said. "You can see the poise in Johnson this year. He sets up strong."

However, Johnson now has one less receiver that he was counting on, and it is a very important deletion from the Cardinal offense. Split End Sonny Randle, who underwent surgery last week, was Johnson's favorite target on the deep pass. Randle had gained an average of 20.7 yards on each of his 25 catches this year and had scored five touchdowns. He was the man who got the compliment of double coverage.

With Randle out, a particularly heavy load has fallen on Tight End Jackie Smith and Flanker Bobby Joe Conrad. At Texas A&M, Conrad played in the shadow of Crow. But Conrad—who was once called "the best touch football player in America" by his college coach, Bear Bryant—has blossomed as a professional since he became a spread receiver. Last year, with the defenses nervously conscious of Randle, Conrad led the NFL with 73 catches. He is a quiet, grinning country boy who owns a feed store near his home town, Clifton, Texas (pop. 2,230). "I run a few old mama cows on a little piece of land down there, too," Conrad said last week. "It's only 250 acres. In some parts of the country I guess they'd call that a ranch. But down home it's only a little farm, not worth talkin' about."

The Cardinal defense can help make up for any offensive failure caused by the loss of Randle when the blitz is working well. The Cowboys designed their offense for their second Cardinal game on the theory that St. Louis would blitz most of the time. Dallas eventually forced the Cards into a more conservative defense. Against New York, the Cards tried a five-man line with two linebackers and managed to tackle a fast-throwing Tittle for a loss only once. This put a tremendous responsibility on the defensive backs, and the Cardinals have some good ones. Perhaps the best is 5-foot-9, 168-pound Corner Back Pat Fischer, the most consistent performer in a competent secondary. Fischer is adept at tracking such receivers as Jimmy Orr, Bobby Mitchell and Tommy McDonald, and he astonished the crowd at Cleveland this year by spearing the 228-pound Jim Brown head on, lifting him and hurling him backwards. "We didn't even try to throw into Fischer's area," said Dallas Cowboy Coach Tom Landry. "It's a real dogfight for a receiver to try to beat Fischer. We thought there were easier ways to play the Cardinals than to challenge him." The Cardinal veterans are as astonished by Fischer as the opposition is. "The veterans cut him from the squad two years ago," Crow said. "But Pat refused to give up and now he does a great job."

After six years in which nothing but an injury could, and often did, keep him out of the starting backfield, Crow has found new competition this season. The competition weighs 230 pounds and is named Willis Crenshaw. The Cards drafted Crenshaw as a future in 1962. "Going over our roster in the spring, we thought the best chance Crenshaw had to make the team was as a linebacker," Wally Lemm said. "Then we saw him as a running back in the two college all-star games this summer, and that's where we put him. He's a bull of a back."

Crenshaw, a St. Louis native who played at Kansas State, is the Cards' most exciting runner at this point—even in competition with Joe Childress, Prentice Gautt, Thunder Thornton, Bob Pare-more and John David Crow. He is all knees and elbows when he runs, and after a tackier gets past those flailing extremities there is an impressive amount of muscle to contend with. "Trying to get your arms around his thighs is like tackling anybody else around the waist," said Dallas Linebacker Chuck Howley. At a recent Junior Quarterback Club meeting in St. Louis, a young fan stood up and asked Crow why Crenshaw has not been allowed to play more. "He asked the wrong man that question," Crow said later. "I'm concerned about playing myself."

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