SI Vault
Mark Mulvoy
November 27, 1967
Nothing about young Jim Hart of the Cardinals is exactly as it is supposed to be. Maybe that is why the rookie has ripened into a pro quarterback several years ahead of schedule
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November 27, 1967

Peach Fuzz With A Difference

Nothing about young Jim Hart of the Cardinals is exactly as it is supposed to be. Maybe that is why the rookie has ripened into a pro quarterback several years ahead of schedule

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Although almost everything about Hart seems miscast, many football people are beginning to consider him the best young quarterback to play in the NFL since Johnny Unitas took over for George Shaw in Baltimore back in 1956. And he still is so young that he does not even know how to dress like a star quarterback. In contrast to the veterans, who wear conservative businessmen's suits and look as though they have just come from a client's meeting in the conference room at Batten, Barten, Dursten and Osborn, Hart arrives for practice every day looking, for the most part, like a college sophomore. His slacks are cuffed; he wears cordovan wingtips with laces and pulls cashmere V-neck sweaters over button-down oxford shirts, open at the top. And he's a brown-bagger: for lunch at Card practice he carries two ham sandwiches and a bag of potato chips packed by his wife Mary.

The ingenuousness may be purposeful. "This all worries me, being the No. 1 quarterback," he said after the Redskin game. "This could go to your head, you know, and you could change your whole personality. I try to convince myself every day that I'll always be the type of person I am now and I was last year. I'm going to work at not getting a big head. It could ruin you."

Hart has a double personality, the one he exhibits on the field—confidence and cockiness, but never with a swagger—and the one he shows everywhere else—concern for his contemporaries and regard for the proper way to live.

"He's a cocky kid when he puts on that uniform, but not that kind of cocky," says Ken Gray, the Cardinals' good offensive guard. "I mean, he's confident, and he's the boss. Johnson was confident, but he never showed it. This boy shows it to us. We kid him in the huddle and everything, but we want to make sure he never gets hit."

Against Philadelphia, Hart took a little too much time to throw a pass, and a defensive lineman enveloped him in a gorilla hug and threw him to the ground, bruising one of his ribs. Hart walked back to the huddle, shaking his head, and said, "Gee, guys, that hurt." Bob Reynolds, the tackle, muttered, "Kid, you can't take 10 seconds back here," and everyone laughed.

"He hasn't chewed us out yet for anything," says Irv Goode, the other starting guard, "but you know he will one of these days. Just like Charley used to do on occasion. I expected this kid to be scared and nervous, just a bit, you know, like any other 23-year-old would be, but he wasn't."

His youth does not make Hart humble. "They have a job to do," he says, "and I have a job to do. And the quarterback has got to be the boss on the field." He does not scare, either, as Ray Nitschke, the middle linebacker for the Packers, found out when he tried to intimidate Hart in Green Bay territory. "We had a fourth down and one," says Hart, "and when I came up over center there was Nitschke, dancing around and daring me to 'come right at me, kid." You should have seen him—that big gap in his mouth behind his face mask yelling at me. No, I didn't run at him. We went the other way and got the first down."

Each week, while Hart has been learning to turn such challenges into advantages, Charley Johnson, free from his military duties on weekends, has been suited up on the sidelines, but now as the Cards' No. 2 quarterback. In constant contact with Hart, Johnson has counseled him about the defenses, what plays might work and other intelligence. But he has played only a few minutes as Hart's understudy.

"I see him standing there on the sidelines, all alone," says Hart, "and I know it hurts him not being out on the field. This was his team. He grew up here with these same players. This was going to be their year, and now he is doing his military service."

After their victories the Cardinals, like all pro teams, generally celebrate with a party at a player's house. A few weeks ago the boys were heading for a celebration at Billy Gambrell's. As Gambrell was leaving the clubhouse, he motioned to Hart, "See you at my place." Hart looked at Gambrell rather quizzically and said, "I don't know if I can make it, Billy, I've got to see what Mary's got planned." Gambrell, a tough little flanker whose curly hair stands straight on his head, acted as if he could not believe what he had heard and walked back toward Hart. "Listen, you're the quarterback around here," he said. "You're the boss. You make the plans. Hear?"

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