Hart heard. "I've only been married a few months now," he said, "and you can't tell brides what to do right off. It's got to be 50-50—a compromise." Gambrell, shaking his head, said, "I don't know. We asked him to play golf with us a few Mondays ago, and he said he'd have to check with Mary first. Imagine. Our fearless leader having to ask if he can play golf on his one day off. He'll learn."
But Hart does worry about what people think of him. He played on the taxi squad a year ago, and now when he walks past members without speaking cab boys might say to him, kiddingly, "Fame. Look what it's done to Jim Hart." It may be a joke to them. It is not to Hart, who wonders about himself and frets that he may be forgetting some of his old friends.
Oddly, the pressure of a game does not bother him; anyway not the night before, when he sleeps soundly. It is Friday night that kills him. "I play the game over at least three times," he says, "deciding what I'll call. I wake up tossing and turning, and one night I was awakened by my wife screaming. She said I was squeezing her head and holding it like a football. Really weird."
Nightmarish is the word that sprang to the minds of some when it was learned that the Cardinals were forced to replace their No. 1 quarterback with a lazy-faced kid the team called Peach Fuzz ("They always ask me if I've shaved yet this week," says Hart). The standard procedure with quarterbacks such as Hart has been to condition them to the subtleties of professional play by having them relay instructions from spotters in the press box to the coaches and players on the field. After a year or two of wearing a telephone headset they were supposed to be ready to put on a helmet and take their first tentative steps on the playing field. Gary Cuozzo, George Mira, Jack Concannon and Dick Shiner, among others, were brought along this way, and Coach Winner saw no reason to change the process for Jim Hart.
"You could see that someday he would be a good quarterback," says Winner, "because he did everything a good quarterback does. I was with the Colts when Unitas took over, and although Jimmy is not a Unitas—there'll never be another Unitas, not in our time—he certainly was the best young quarterback I had seen."
Then, in November of last year, Johnson suffered what had come to be regarded as his annual injury—this time to his right knee. Terry Nofsinger, an experienced back-up man, became the regular quarterback, and Hart began his apprenticeship as a telephone operator. He became a player for the first time in the fourth quarter of the final game, when St. Louis was losing by four touchdowns.
As promising as Hart was, the Cardinals were not nearly ready to rely on him. In the off season they traded Nofsinger to Atlanta and tried to acquire Bill Munson from the Rams, or Cuozzo, still with the Colts, to back up Johnson. Neither, however, was available, and St. Louis suddenly found itself in the precarious position of opening training camp with only a brittle Johnson and an untested rookie.
Hart's reaction to his promotion by default was, as his teammates were soon to discover, typical. Rather than being awed, he was determined to be a good guy. "At camp, I made up my mind to be patient and try to learn all about quarterbacking," says Hart. "I was not going to be like some other No. 2 quarterbacks and go around asking to be traded or else. Personally, I felt that we'd get far enough in front of some teams that I'd be able to play quite a bit."
That, it soon developed, became pro football's understatement of the year. To the horror of Cardinal fans, Johnson was called into the Army, and it seemed that disaster had struck. Even Hart, with all his confidence, did not expect to remain the No. 1 quarterback for long. "Right off," he says, "J thought they would try to trade for an experienced quarterback, because I didn't think they thought I was ready."
The St. Louis management thought about getting a veteran to play quarterback, but the players available, people like Earl Morrall of the Giants and Jim Ninowski, then with the Browns, did not strike them as the answer. "We really wanted someone to build on, to grow with," says Winner. "We could see that Hart had improved tremendously, though he still threw a lot of interceptions in camp, and it was a fairly simple decision. I just told him that he was our No. 1 quarterback and that we were going to go with him all the way. We all liked him. He had confidence in himself, and he could charge the other guys. There was no question he had the ability. We just didn't know if that ability was ready to come out yet."