ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – It’s been three decades since Jim Hart was calling signals for the Football Cardinals. Before that, he spent almost two decades at quarterback for the Big Red. Now retired to Naples, Florida, he comes back to St. Louis every year for the Jim Hart Celebrity Golf Classic. It’s a fundraiser for Sunnyhill, Inc. which provides services for adults and children with disabilities. That’s where I caught up with Jim for a visit about everything from his long career here and lingering injuries, to his old team and the Rams’ relocation rumors.
Despite setting passing records, Hart wasn’t drafted coming out SIU Carbondale in 1966. But his college coach was heading for a second coaching stint with the Cardinals and got Jim a tryout.
Hart came to camp as the sixth quarterback. He knew they would only keep three and thought his chances were very slim of making the team. Maybe he could attract the attention of another team and besides, he was paid a thousand dollars to be there. That would jump to $12,000 if he made the team.
Hart humbly calls it being in the right place at the right time. I’m sure his talent also left a mark. But after a cut here and military obligations there, he made the team and ended up backing up Charley Johnson. When Johnson left for a military commitment the next year, Hart moved into the starting job. It was not always smooth and other guys were brought in to compete. Then Don Coryell arrived. He picked Hart to be his guy and things took off from there. The Big Red put together 10-4, 11-3, 10-4 records over the next three years. Hart was selected for the Pro Bowl four straight years and named NFC Player of the Year in 1974.
He retired in 1984, before the Cardinals left for Arizona. Hart served as Athletic Director for SIU and later as Associate Chancellor. He opened some restaurants with teammate Dan Dierdorf in the St. Louis area. Hart says the Cardinals paid little attention to the older players and he eventually became a Rams fan. He felt like the Cardinals abandoned St. Louis and he’s bothered by the current rumors that the Rams might bolt for L.A. Hart feels if our town loses a second team, the NFL might not give us another chance.
Hart doesn’t live close to a pro team but says he really doesn’t enjoy attending games. The armchair quarterbacks in the crowd tend to get on his nerves. He says he wouldn’t be big enough, fast enough or strong enough to play today. All the quarterbacks are 6-3, 6-4 and 230 or 240 pounds and fast, he adds. Hart laughs about seeing some of the hits today and asking his wife if he got hit like that. She says “yes, you did.”
Hart played football for 27 years..4 in high school, 4 in college and 19 in the NFL and it’s taken a physical toll. He says he’s had three hip replacements, two back surgeries (one related to football) and needs a knee replacement. He does not have any lingering cognitive problems from four or five concussions. He thinks the league should have addressed the issue of concussions and brain injuries years ago and is glad to see a fund set up for players suffering long term damage from head injuries. Hart is on a secondary list and could be covered by the fund if needed down the road.
He says he has mixed feelings about kids playing the sport. That’s because if he had it to do over, he would probably play. But he advises parents that kids should wait until high school to start playing..that 6, 7 and 8 year old don’t know how to protect themselves.
Hart says he wouldn’t change anything in his career. Things happened quickly and nicely he states..to start as a free agent and end up playing 19 years in the NFL. He finished up with Washington his last year. And he adds that he never really got along with Bill Bidwill for some reason, but he thinks Michael Bidwill is doing a great job running the Cardinals in Arizona now.
Hart says he enjoyed coming back for the golf tournament. He gets to see a lot of his former teammates who participate and enjoys reminiscing with the people at the event about the Big Red’s days in St. Louis.
Despite playing before the pass happy era today, Hart put up some impressive career numbers. He passed for 34,655 yards and 209 touchdowns. He’s not in the Hall of Fame, but says it’s not something he dwells on.
For more information, clink on Sunnyhill Inc.