Twenty-five years ago, as the baseball Cardinals headed toward the National League championship, the football Cardinals opened their last season in St. Louis.
Both franchises received spectacular years from players named Smith.
Shortstop Ozzie Smith batted a team-high .303 with 40 doubles and 43 stolen bases, leading the baseball Cardinals to the 1987 pennant, St. Louis’ third in six years. Smith also led NL shortstops in fielding percentage (.987) and won the Gold Glove Award.
Wide receiver J.T. Smith led the NFL in receptions (91) and receiving yards (1,117) and was third in touchdown catches (eight), helping the football Cardinals showcase one of the most potent attacks during the 1987 season.
With the opening of the 2012 NFL season near, we devote this post to the 25th anniversary of the 1987 St. Louis football Cardinals. Coached by Gene Stallings, they averaged 24.1 points per game, allowed an average of 24.5 points per game and finished 7-8 (tied with the Cowboys and Eagles for second place in the NFC East) before moving to Arizona the following year.
J.T. Smith, quarterback Neil Lomax and running back Stump Mitchell made the ’87 football Cardinals an entertaining, if not a championship-caliber, club. Lomax led the NFL in passing yards (3,387) and completions (275) and was third in touchdown passes (24). Mitchell rushed for 781 yards and made 45 receptions.
On Sept. 13, while David Cone and the Mets were beating the baseball Cardinals, 4-2, at Shea Stadium to move within 2.5 games of first-place St. Louis in the NL East, the football Cardinals opened the regular season with a 24-13 victory over the Cowboys at Busch Stadium II.
Lomax threw a pair of touchdown tosses to wide receiver Roy Green, and a defense led by ends Freddie Joe Nunn and Curtis Greer held to one touchdown a fearsome Dallas offense that featured quarterback Danny White and running backs Herschel Walker and Tony Dorsett. It was the first time Lomax and Green had combined for more than one touchdown pass since 1984, The Sporting News reported. Boxscore
The football Cardinals split their first four games, then lost three in a row. They spent the rest of the season trying to get back to the .500 mark while reports circulated that team owner Bill Bidwill was looking to shift the franchise to Phoenix, Baltimore or Jacksonville.
On Dec. 13, two months after the baseball Cardinals had defeated the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series, the football Cardinals defeated the New York Giants, 27-24, in their home finale before 29,623 at Busch Stadium II.
Vai Sikahema returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown, sparking the Cardinals to a 27-10 lead against a Giants team coached by Bill Parcells and defensive coordinator Bill Belichick and featuring quarterback Phil Simms.
Mitchell rushed for 111 yards, the first time since 1985 that a running back (Eric Dickerson) had gained 100 yards against the Giants. “Our offensive line just knocked them around,” Lomax told The Sporting News. Boxscore
Bidwill was unhappy with the 54,000-seat capacity of Busch Stadium II. Still, it was uncertain whether Cardinals fans had witnessed the franchise’s final game at St. Louis. Reported The Sporting News:
Bidwill was still investigating the possibility of moving while local businessmen were preparing a final proposal aimed at convincing him to stay.
For the fifth time since it first appeared the team would leave, Bidwill was surrounded by security people during the game and sat in the box of the visiting owner.
As quarterback Neil Lomax left the field, fans waved to him and Lomax waved back. He said, “If we’re leaving, I was waving goodbye. If we’re staying, I was waving hello.”
Bidwill appeared upbeat. “It was a great crowd,” he said. “The team played well and the crowd really responded. I was delighted.”
Two weeks later, Dec. 27, 1987, the St. Louis football Cardinals played their last game. The Cowboys beat them, 21-16, at Dallas behind two touchdown runs by Herschel Walker. Boxscore
In mid-January, Bidwill annunced he was moving the franchise to Phoenix, ending the football Cardinals’ 28-year stay in St. Louis.