0

They will always be the St. Louis Cardinals to me

Several times during last week's NFC championship week, I referred to the Arizona Cardinals as the St. Louis Cardinals in conversations with friends and family before quickly correcting myself.

It wasn't because I've lost my mind or entered some type of sports time warp.

Nor have I been out of the sports loop for the last two decades.

It's just some habits are hard to break.

Growing up in the late 1960s and mid 1970s, I was weaned on professional sports while living in St. Louis.

When Gary Unger laced up his skates for the St. Louis Blues I cheered for every one of his slap shots, hoping the 100-mile-per-hour one-timer would some how find the back of the net. Often it did.

When Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson brushed back a batter with one of his nasty fastballs I cheered for the baseball Cardinals.

It was no different with the football Cardinals.

I wanted the hometown team to do well. I was lucky enough to watch the football Cardinals on many a Sunday in the old Busch Stadium, often battling bitter cold as my father treated me to the big game. Those trips to the stadium were better than Christmas in the mind of a young Henry Elementary School student, who would one day find away to turn his love of sports into writing about them so he could pay his mortgage.

Often, there wasn't a whole lot to cheer about if you were a young, or for that matter, any aged football fan in St, Louis.

Still, these gridiron warriors were my Sunday afternoon idols. Quarterback Jim Hart hooked up often with wide receiver Mel Gray. The passing and receiver combo worked enough magic to win the occasional big game and give even a young kid hopes that his hometown team would some how make it to the Super Bowl.

They of course never did.

Running back Terry Metcalf's poster adorned my room. No. 21 only played six full seasons in the NFL, including one with the Washington Redskins, but three of them were All-Pro years. Metcalf could do a little bit of everything, as he often returned punts and caught the ball out of the Cardinals' backfield in addition to taking the hand off and running away from the opposition.

Many kickers often fly under the radar, but Jim Bakken had a magical foot. He spent his entire career with the Cardinals, splitting the uprights for the team from 1962-78.

By the time he hung up his cleats, he had been named to four Pro Bowls and was a member of the NFL All-Decade team in the 1960s and 70s.

Standouts Roger Werhrli and Larry Wilson anchored the defense en route to earning a place at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton despite some lean years with the team.

The best thing that happened to the St. Louis Cardinals was Don Coryell. The college coach from San Diego State came to the NFL with his high-powered "Air Coryell" offense and led the team to the NFC East title in 1974 and 1975.

For a team that had struggled for years, Don Coryell could have run for mayor of the city and won in a landslide those two years. Although it was short lived success, for a 10-year-old kid, it was a great way to spend the 1974 and 75 seasons.

A week from Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals will try and do something the St. Louis Cardinals could never do-bring a Super Bowl title back home.

I will be cheering for them and remembering a bye-gone era. A time when I cheered for another Cardinals' team, dreaming they too could also get to play on the biggest stage in sports.

After all, everybody needs a trip down Memory Lane once in a while and I will take it with all Cardinal fans from the 1970s when this year's team takes on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the franchise's biggest game ever on Super Bowl Sunday.

Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at dgorman@news-daily.com)