By TJ Troup
Having sources to list the actual/accurate starting line-ups for teams historically is a challenge. Though team programs can shed light on this aspect; film is the key for obvious reasons.
When Jimmy Conzelman returned to coach the Chicago Cardinals in 1946 he made progress during the season in making his team into a viable respected opponent. Beating the Packers and Bears to close the season made the Cardinals winners for the campaign, and with an even stronger team in 1947 the Chicago Cardinals became champions.
During a thirty-seven game stretch the Cardinals posted a 28-8-1 record! Many teams win at home which the Cardinals did (12-3-1), yet more impressive was an outstanding road record of 16-5! When Conzelman did not return in 1949 Cardinal management attempted the flawed concept of co-coaches. Phil Handler was an experienced line coach, and had a long successful career, but he struggled as a head coach. His interaction with Buddy Parker was not a positive one, and when Buddy took over the last five games of 1949 the Cardinals suddenly returned to their winning ways. One of the victories was on the road in the Coliseum before 74,673. The thrilling 31-27 win over the conference champion Rams showcased that Chicago did indeed have two strong teams.
Though the Cardinals were demolished in the record-setting season-ending loss to the Bears; there was no doubt after four consecutive winning seasons the CHICAGO CARDINALS were a top-notch team with talent. Since there has never been anything concrete written about why Parker left to go to Detroit to be an assistant—can only surmise that this outstanding coach saw the "hand writing on the wall". Cardinal management would not give Buddy what he wanted, and he returned to a team where he had won a championship as a player.
Taking the reigns in 1950 for the Cardinals was Earl "Curly" Lambeau. Wow! A man who had won championships, and understood offensive football. Lambeau had talent at the skill positions on offense, and decided to make a change at quarterback. Paul Christman was traded to Green Bay, and the "triggerman" would be Jim Hardy. While Hardy had some impressive games with both the Rams in 1948, and the Cardinals in 1949; he was inconsistent, and that is where we start the 1950 campaign. Hardy set a league record for finding the wrong colored jersey as the defending champion Eagles pirated 8 passes in a 45-7 home loss at Comiskey.
Hardy rebounded in a Monday night contest against the pathetic green-clad Baltimore Colts. The man of the evening was end Bob Shaw, and since he has been mentioned, how did he become a Cardinal? When Steve Van Buren ran over, around the Rams defense through the mud in the Coliseum against in the title game of '49 Los Angeles front office knew a trade must be made.
Though Dick Huffman was an excellent tackle, he was effectively blocked on right side sweeps by Philadelphia. The Cardinals drafted Bob Reinhard with the 8th overall pick in 1950 and traded him to the Rams for Bob Shaw. Though Shaw had shined in '49 for Los Angeles (he caught 4 touchdown passes in the division-clinching win over Washington), he was deemed expendable.
There are times you have to trade quality to get quality, and this was an excellent trade by the Rams since Reinhard was one of the two best left defensive tackles in the league in 1950(the other was Weinmeister of NYG). So who replaces Shaw you ask? Elroy Hirsch had lost his left halfback position during the '49 season since he struggled running between the tackles. Since he had speed and moves...could he become an offensive end? Yes sir, and the 1950 Rams had yet another weapon in their arsenal.
This story is about the Cardinals so lets return to Shaw, and the Monday night victory. On page 42 of my out of print book "This Day in Football" the game is detailed on Steve Sabol's eight-year birthday. Back to back road losses have Chicago at 1-3 and they travel to Griffith Stadium to take on the Redskins.
The game film is a treasure trove of delights, and of course you may ask why? How the strategy unfolded, and the key plays of the game come to light, yet much more important having the complete game anyone can list and evaluate who played what position. Though would relish having even more complete Cardinal games for 1950 have enough resources to list the starting line-ups for Chicago for the season. Ready? Here goes....
CARDINAL DEFENSE: aligned in multiple fronts, yet usually they are in an over shifted 5-3-3 defense. Starting at left linebacker is rookie Bill Svoboda. He is walked off towards the flat, and aligned much deeper than other teams outside linebackers....at times he almost seems like a left corner? He had much to learn, but was willing, capable, and tough. Svoboda struggled defending sweeps, and deep passes as his responsibilities were daunting.
The left defensive end was veteran Bob Dove. He shed blocks easily, was excellent in pursuit, and was a capable pass rusher. Dove earned a trip to Los Angeles for the first pro bowl. The left defensive tackle was Bill Fischer. The big man had size, strength, and defended the run very well, but since he was a starter on offense; he was rested when Chicago was on defense, and as such rookie John Hock, and at times George Petrovich (his last year with team) filled in.
|Knox "Bull Dog" Ramsey|
Youngster Knox Ramsey started at middle guard, and battled every center he faced. The middle linebacker in the 5-3 was over shifted towards the tight end, and was handled by Gerry Cowhig in his only year as a Cardinal. Knox Ramsey's older brother rotated in at linebacker, and the emotional and combustible Buster Ramsey was a hustler who never backed down from anyone.
The right defensive tackle position was handled by Lloyd McDermott after the joined the team from Detroit. Also seeing playing time at this position were two men in their last year with Chicago; Plato Andros and John Goldsberry.
The right defensive end was quick, and resourceful Tom Wham. Though he was not chosen for the Pro Bowl, he sure had a nose for the ball as he recovered 9 fumbles over a 23-game span. Excellent at hounding the passer, and defending the sweep this lean veteran stands out in film study. He also is part of a league statistical error that should be corrected if Elias ever deems a trade viable.
The Cardinals right linebacker was a two-man rotation of equal playing time. Vince Banonis and Ray Apolskis were effective and mobile. Starting at right corner was swift rookie Don Paul. You don't see Don making strong tackles, yet was adequate in defending the run. His baptism by fire was key in the foundation of an excellent career at right corner; though most of it came with Cleveland.
Don Paul could, or should? have been rookie of the year as he gained 1,150 all-purpose yards, and intercepted four passes. During 1949 safety Bob Nussbaumer was the league leader in interceptions, and many of his "picks" were spectacular. Speed, and savvy coupled with his decisive instincts gave Chicago a centerfielder who could cover ground. Unfortunately, he was injured early in the year and was never, and I mean NEVER adequately replaced.
Coming over from the AAFC was NFL "rookie" Ray Ramsey and thought he would develop in the next few years, he did not help the Cardinals very much when he was on the field. Also attempting to play safety was left offensive halfback Fred Gehrke. His failures on defense were the main reason he left the team to join San Francisco during the year. Gehrke was rock solid as a corner on the 1945 Champion Rams, but he was not a safety.
Swift, athletic Mal Kutner if healthy would have filled in admirably for Nussbaumer but injuries curtailed his performance in his last year in the league. Kutner could still cover ground and intercepted three passes during the campaign. Finally, the starting left corner—diminutive Jerry Davis. Almost aligned like a left safety near the hash he had to help Svoboda on pass coverage to the outside, and take care of passes pitched inside the hash. Davis was an excellent pass defender, and though he lacked size, he was a determined tackler.
Evaluating the Cardinal defense is difficult since they had strong moments......allowing Cleveland and New York a combined 13 points in back-to-back mid-season clashes, but also "giving" up 51 points in the return match with the Giants, and 56 points to the single wing Steelers. Chicago could be resilient, and display toughness one week, and then be a sieve the next with out-of-position play, and poor tackling. The Cardinals allowed 217 yards a game rushing in seven losses, but only 122 yards rushing in five victories.
CARDINAL OFFENSE: Bob Shaw began the year as the starting left offensive end, but with Kutner missing much of the season at right end Shaw was moved there. Shaw was the complete package with enough speed to get open deep, and a plethora of moves to find the open areas against a zone, or beat man coverage. Four times during the year Shaw gained over 100 yards receiving, and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in his only season as a Cardinal.
Bill Fischer missed very few snaps on offense at left tackle, and his strong run and pass blocking is why he also went to Los Angeles for the Pro Bowl. Determining who the starter at left offensive guard is difficult since two men received equal playing time; George Petrovich, and rookie Ed Bagdon. Both men were adequate on their best day.
The starting center most of the time was rangy Bill Blackburn. His skills as a run and pass blocker were strong, but he would not be ranked as one of the top-notch centers in the league.
During the victory over Washington in October when the Cardinals had a commanding lead Blackburn played middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense. His vast experience and his ability to drop into the right area on pass coverage brings a question to mind?
Why did the Chicago Cardinals make a valid attempt to play the 4-3 since Bill could pursue well, and drop into coverage? Vince Banonis also played some at center to spell Blackburn. Right offensive guard was handled by Buster Ramsey, and he could and did make every block needed on running plays to the strong side.
Rookie Jack Jennings began the year as the right offensive tackle, but late in the year Plato Andros and John Goldsberry also saw significant playing time at the position. When Bob Shaw moved to right end rookie Fran Polsfoot became a starter at left end. He was outstanding as a route runner and displayed excellent hands. This youngster had a very bright future. Charlie Trippi was usually the left halfback, but twice during the year, he did not start. As the season progressed he was the key element in the Cardinal offense. Trippi ran well both inside and outside, and when called upon was excellent as a receiver. Fred Gehrke carried the ball plenty early in the year, yet as mentioned above was let go from the team.
Fullback Pat Harder was one of the better blockers in the league and could get outside when called upon, yet this Pro Bowl player was powerful on inside power runs, and traps. Elmer Angsman had speed, and been elusive in the past, and at the end of 1950 was selected for the inaugural Pro Bowl. The question is why? Angsman gained 128 yards rushing on 41 carries after five games, and finished the year gaining 5 yards on 12 carries. This might be the most questionable Pro Bowl selection in league history? Jim Hardy rebounded from throwing 8 interceptions to the Eagles to shredding the porous Colt secondary, but overall he continued to be inconsistent.
When accurate the Cardinals won as he threw just six interceptions in Chicago victories, but 25 interceptions in seven losses. Surprisingly he also was chosen for the Pro Bowl? Pro Football Archives lists Hardy as starting 11 games, but the reality is he started eight. Frank Tripucka started four games at quarterback, and though he forced passes into coverage just like Hardy he could also zip the ball all over the field to open receivers. The November 19th victory over Eagles in Philadelphia improved the Cardinals record to 4-5. On a frigid Thanksgiving day at Comiskey the Steelers came into Chicago and physically whipped the Cardinals the entire game. Could the Cardinals rebound and win their last two to finish with a breakeven season?
The crowd of 31,919 at Comiskey watched the Cardinals outplay their hated rivals...the Bears all afternoon winning 20-10 to force the Bears into a must-win situation to make the playoffs on the final Sunday(which they did).
The Chicago Cardinals traveled to the Steel City to take on Pittsburgh. Both teams stood at 5-6, and six years earlier they "combined forces" if that is the best way of stating it; to form Card-Pitt in 1944 (a disaster of major proportions). The Steelers again completely outplayed the Cardinals in a 28-7 victory. Summing up the year is a real challenge, but since the Chicago Cardinals would win just 14 of their next 60 games one would look upon the 1950 team as competitive and at times a tough opponent.