In St. Louis last week a bunch of guys with sledgehammers were knocking down an old burlesque house to clear ground for a new stadium, which means that by the spring of 1966 night baseball and Sunday afternoon football will have replaced sex in at least one area of the leafy and pleasant town on the banks of the Mississippi River. For the citizens of St. Louis, who sat 18 years in the gloom of Busch Stadium waiting for their baseball Cardinals to win another World Series, the new stadium is a merit badge for patience. A further reward may be granted to St. Louis fans before the first graffito is scratched into the concrete of the new stadium. The football Cardinals leaped off to a flourishing 3-0-1 record in the NFL's Eastern Division. Although they lost three of their next four games to the powerful Baltimore Colts, the rising Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants, who seem to have come back from wherever they had been, they are by no means out of contention. The Cardinals are two games behind the Cleveland Browns, .071 percentage points ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles and one game ahead of Dallas. Cleveland still must play Detroit and Green Bay, two strong Western teams, on successive Sundays. The Cardinals have one more shot at the Browns and, fortunately, are through banging helmets against the West.
But if the Cardinals are to be successful, they will have to provide their quarterback, Charley Johnson, much better protection than he got last Sunday against the Giants. The New York pass rush reached Johnson 11 times for 96 yards in losses, and under pressure he threw three straight interceptions and three times overthrew receivers who were open deep for certain touchdowns. Giant Quarterback Y. A. Tittle, who had been written off as finished by observers of little faith, finally began to throw the way he used to. With the help of tough running by rookie Backs Steve Thurlow and Ernie Wheelwright, Tittle bombed the Cardinals 34-17. Facing the somewhat erratic Steelers this week, the Cardinals will have to win if they intend to keep St. Louis hoping for another pennant to fly beside the one the baseball team brought home.
The football Cardinals and the baseball Cardinals are the same in name and playing site only. The baseball team is owned by August Busch, the Budweiser baron, who is a quick man at handing out rejection slips. The football team is owned 90% by Charles and Billy Bidwill, who also own a piece of Sportsman's Park racetrack in Chicago and a couple of dog tracks in Florida, and 10% by Joseph Griesedieck of the Falstaff Brewing Corp. The relationship between the football and baseball organizations is not always one of warmth and camaraderie, especially when Billy Bidwill reflects on the playing conditions at Busch Stadium, where Gussie Busch is the landlord. "We've had three colors of grass on the field this year—light brown, medium brown and dark brown," Billy Bidwill said last week. "The only water that ever gets on it is the sweat that falls off our players."
The Bidwill brothers had a serious romance with Atlanta during the spring and summer, but they decided to keep their franchise in St. Louis. "There was no legal or financial reason why we didn't go to Atlanta. They offered us a better deal than we will have here," said Billy Bidwill. "But we're going to stick it out and wait for the new stadium. It will have a nice, simple, easy-to-remember name. They're calling it the Civic Center Busch Memorial Stadium, and they'll probably put a statue of Stan Musial out front. Nearly anything will be an improvement over the park we have to play in now. Busch Stadium is a terrible handicap to us."
Football fans who are not lucky enough to get one of the 16,000 seats between the goal lines can agree with that. But at a time when baseball owners are changing affections faster than college sweethearts, the fans applaud the Bidwills' decision to let the Milwaukee Braves have Atlanta and to remain in a town where they have been loved not always wildly but well.
Because the World Series occupied Busch Stadium until October 15, the football Cardinals had to play their first five games on the road. For the home opener the 8,000 seats in the temporary East stands had not yet been erected, and season ticket holders in that section had to watch the game on closed-circuit television in an auditorium at Washington University. But the Cardinals made them happy by providing a weird and winning climax—they scored two touchdowns in the last 24 seconds to beat the Washington Redskins 38-24—and the band at half time strutted over and paid tribute to St. Louis patience by playing a number directly to the empty, dismantled East stands.
Adversity never has bothered the Cardinals. They are used to it. In 1962 they lost more than a dozen players because of injuries. Last year Running Back Prentice Gautt was hurt in the opening game and did not play again, although the Cardinals finished 9-5 for their best record since 1948. This season Linebackers Larry Stallings, Bill Koman and Marion Rushing, Running Back Joe Childress and Corner Back Jimmy Hill have been injured, Running Back Bill Triplett is ill with a tubercular infection and Split End Sonny Randle—the Cards' most dangerous deep threat—is out of action completely because of a shoulder separation suffered two weeks ago in the game against Dallas.
But this may be remembered as one of the years John David Crow (see cover) stayed on his feet and—perhaps—rallied the Cards to victory. In seven seasons Crow, more than any other single player, has become identified in the public mind with the St. Louis team. An All-America at Texas A&M and winner of the Heisman Trophy and Walter Camp Award, Crow was the No. 1 draft choice of the then Chicago Cardinals in 1957. In his first game he tore loose on an 83-yard touchdown run. That same season Crow also caught a 91-yard touchdown pass. But then injuries forced him out of several games, setting a pattern of bad luck that has plagued him throughout his pro career.
In 1961 Crow broke a leg. In 1963 a knee operation limited him to nine carries. Perhaps because of injuries, Crow has never again been the blasting runner he was in 1960 when he rushed for 1,071 yards and a 5.9 average. But he scored 17 touchdowns in 1962 for a Cardinal record, and it must be more than coincidence that with Crow reasonably healthy this year the Cardinals did get off to their best start since the franchise was shifted to St. Louis before the 1960 season.
Crow has not been pleased by his own performance this year. Recovering from his knee operation, he put himself through an arduous training program at his home in Pine Bluff, Ark., where he is in the construction business, and reported to camp at a trim 214 pounds. "We have a flock of good running backs," Crow said last week, "and I was determined to get my starting job back. I was trying to concentrate on my blocking. I think I've had a fair year at blocking and have helped the club. But something has been wrong with my running. I've never been real fast and at 29 don't expect to get faster. But the trouble this year is my balance. The first guy who hits me, I go down."