The St. Louis Cardinals were hoping to rebound from a disappointing 5-9 record in 1965 as they faced the Philadelphia Eagles on September 11, 1966. St. Louis had a new head coach in Charley Winner and plenty of veteran talent in QB Charley Johnson, FS Larry Wilson, and SS Jerry Stovall, all returning healthy from injury-plagued seasons in ’65. There were capable receivers in split end Sonny Randle, flanker Bobby Joe Conrad, and TE Jackie Smith, and a good stable of running backs that featured a newcomer in rookie HB Johnny Roland out of Missouri (pictured at right).
The Eagles were coached by Joe Kuharich and were also 5-9 in ’65 but swept the season series with the Cards. The defense had lost two disgruntled veteran stars, LB Maxie Baughan and CB Irv Cross, who both were dealt to Los Angeles and would be difficult to replace. QB Norm Snead had a strong arm, although was prone to inconsistency, and HB Timmy Brown was an outstanding all-purpose back. TE Pete Retzlaff was a reliable veteran and among the best at his position and the line, anchored by OT Bob Brown, was a good one.
It was the first regular season game for the Cardinals at the new Busch Memorial Stadium and there were 39,066 fans in attendance. Following an exchange of punts to start the first quarter, the Eagles drove 76 yards in 14 plays that featured six carries for 33 yards by FB Israel “Izzy” Lang and a screen pass from QB Norm Snead to Timmy Brown for 21 yards. Sam Baker kicked a 23-yard field goal to give the visitors the early lead.
HB Roy Shivers returned the ensuing kickoff 33 yards and St. Louis, helped along by a 15-yard penalty on the Eagles, started off near midfield and advanced into Philadelphia territory. However, after reaching the two, they were moved back by a delay of game penalty and had to settle for a nine-yard Jim Bakken field goal to tie the score at 3-3.
The Cardinals missed an opportunity when Johnny Roland returned a punt 52 yards for an apparent touchdown, but the play was nullified by a roughing-the-kicker penalty. The Eagles got another break on an interception by CB Jim Nettles, and while there was a clip on the return, the visitors took possession at the St. Louis 47. Snead completed a pass to Lang for 24 yards before Brown broke away for a 23-yard touchdown. Baker added the extra point and the score remained 10-3 at halftime.
St. Louis was having difficulty jelling on offense and finally added another long Bakken field goal from 47 yards to narrow Philadelphia’s lead to 10-6 in the third quarter. As the game headed into the final period, the Cards put together another promising drive but, following a sack of Johnson by LB Harold Wells, they faced a third-and-33 situation. Johnson threw to Sonny Randle, who bobbled the ball that was then deflected by FS Joe Scarpati and Roland alertly made the catch for a 37-yard gain to the Philadelphia 16. Johnson connected with Jackie Smith for nine yards and a pass interference penalty by Nettles in the end zone moved the ball to the one, from where Johnson plunged over for a touchdown. Bakken kicked the point after and the home team was ahead for the first time by 13-10.
The Eagles responded with a drive that featured a Snead pass to Pete Retzlaff for 17 yards and Baker capped it with a 33-yard field goal to tie the score at 13-13 with 1:56 remaining to play. With time running out for St. Louis, Johnson completed two passes to Randle, one for six yards that converted a third down and another for 15. Three plays later, FB Willis Crenshaw ran for 10 yards as the defense keyed on Roland and Johnson connected with Randle for six more yards. A fumbled snap lost three yards and Bakken came on to attempt a field goal that was made shorter when the Eagles were flagged for encroachment. With five seconds left on the clock, Bakken’s kick was good from 27 yards and the Cards came away winners by a final score of 16-13.
St. Louis had the edge in total yards (278 to 254) and first downs (20 to 18). The Cards also suffered the game’s only turnover and the Eagles, not known for their pass rush, were credited with four sacks, to one by St. Louis.
Johnny Roland had an impressive debut, rushing for 53 yards on 8 carries, catching two passes for 40 yards, and gaining 50 yards on two kickoff returns and 16 on two punt returns for a total of 159 all-around yards. Charley Johnson completed 19 of 26 passes for 191 yards and gave up an interception while scoring the only St. Louis TD. Sonny Randle had 6 catches for 58 yards and Jackie Smith gained 62 yards on his five pass receptions.
For the Eagles, Norm Snead was successful on 9 of 25 throws for 129 yards with no TDs but also none intercepted. Izzy Lang (pictured at left), who was particularly effective in the first half, gained 65 yards on 16 rushing attempts and caught two passes for 33 more yards while Timmy Brown ran for 59 yards on 13 attempts that included a touchdown, caught a team-leading three passes for 32 yards, and with 23 yards on two kickoff returns went over the 10,000-yard mark in career all-purpose yards. Pete Retzlaff was held to two catches, but his 36 yards led the club.
St. Louis won its first five games and surged to 7-1-1 before Charley Johnson suffered a knee injury and a late-season slump had them ending up at 8-5-1 and fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The Eagles had an up-and-down year in which they finished strong for a 9-5 record that tied for second in the conference with Cleveland.
Johnny Roland went on to an outstanding rookie season, most notably rushing for 695 yards and leading the NFL with an 11.1 punt return average. His all-purpose yardage total of 1476 yards ranked fifth in the league and he received Rookie of the Year honors from UPI as well as selection to the Pro Bowl.