As a fan of the St. Louis Rams, Jim Hart takes pride in the
Super Bowl title the team brought back to his home city last
year. Hart, 57, quarterbacked the previous St. Louis franchise,
the Cardinals, for 18 years, and wishes that team could have
delivered a championship. He gets oh-so-slightly heated when
asked what he and his former teammates think about the Cards,
who moved to Arizona 13 years ago. "We're Rams fans!" he says.
"This is our city." Yet Hart knows that neither Missourians nor
Arizonans feel much attachment to the St. Louis-era Cardinals.
"We sometimes get a little miffed that we aren't accepted by
The NFL had no interest in Hart when he graduated from Southern
Illinois in 1965. He went undrafted and didn't hook up with a
team until '66, when he made the St. Louis taxi squad thanks to a
tryout arranged by his college coach, Don Shroyer, a former
Cardinals assistant. A year later Hart, known to his teammates as
Peach Fuzz because his baby face rarely needed shaving, became
the St. Louis starter after Charley Johnson was called into the
Army. Hart threw 30 interceptions that fall but survived to
become one of the league's most prolific passers and the
undisputed leader of the high-scoring Cardiac Cards, named for
their frequent come-from-behind victories. A four-time member of
the Pro Bowl team, he led St. Louis to two division championships
in the mid-'70s, and by the time he retired in '84 at age 40, he
had attempted 5,076 passes and gained 34,665 yards through the
air--both third on the NFL career list at the time.
Hart eased the withdrawal pains of NFL retirement by doing radio
commentary on Bears games and by continuing his partnership with
offensive lineman Dan Dierdorf, a teammate for 13 years, in
Dierdorf and Hart's Steakhouse in St. Louis, which they opened in
1983 and is still in business. In '88 he returned to Southern
Illinois as athletic director, a job he held for 11 years before
assuming his current position as a special fund-raiser for the
university. Jim and his college sweetheart, Mary, celebrated
their 34th anniversary this month. With their three children
grown, two-year-old grandson Drae is a favorite visitor.
So what does a man who for decades has stayed devoted to his
family, his school and his city think about today's NFL? "It's
become such a big business," Hart says. "The players don't seem
to be having as much as fun as we had. There's not much loyalty
on either side now."
June 24, 2001