Roger Wehrli - NFL Media Conference Call Transcript

07/17/2007

THE MODERATOR: We have Roger on the line. Let's open it up for questions.

Besides corner, how many years were you a holder? Can you talk about that last home game, the fake against the Giants?
Well, yeah, Larry Wilson was the holder when I first came in for the Cardinals. I played with him for four years. I guess my fifth year I started holding, and then held for the rest of my career.
Yeah, the last home game that I played, we were playing the New York Giants. We noticed in the films that they rushed real hard on one side if they had this certain formation. We always had the fake field goal in, but very seldom used it. We decided to have it a go that week because of the way they rushed.
When I saw the formation up there, the coach had given us the go ahead on it. We called it, it was successful, and I was able to run a fake field goal in for a touchdown in my last home game.

How special was that? Maybe the Giants aren't thinking this creaky old guy is going to pull this off.
It was great. We had had a little ceremony before the game. Mel Grey and I both retired that same year. They had a little ceremony before the game. We came out, said hi to the fans. They had a little ceremony there. Then being able to run it in for a touchdown in the end zone at that same game was just something special.

Can you even describe the feeling you get when you think about being a part of the Hall of Fame?
Well, not really. I mean, it's really kind of beyond words or beyond explanation. It's just wonderful and you’re proud to be able to call yourself a Hall of Famer, to know that you're in there with the guys that were heroes to you when you were growing up, heroes even when you're playing. You see the guys that you play against that are already in there. So, you know, it just makes you feel humble, thankful and proud all in the same sentence. It's just a great feeling to be with those guys.

Who were your heroes?
Well, gosh, growing up I wasn't the type of guy that just followed sports a hundred percent all the time. I mean, you watched on TV and you watched guys like Bart Starr, those guys. The Green Bay Packers were kind of the team that everybody watched when I was a kid, I guess, with those guys.

The local team that we had were the Kansas City Chiefs. That's really the only pro football game I had ever gone to. I think I went up to a game in Kansas City when I was in junior high. We sat in the end zone. I think it was Fred Arbanas who came across the back of the end zone and caught a ball right in front of us. It was amazing to see those guys play. I never dreamed I'd play on the same field that they played on.

You remember Arbanas catching a pass in front of you?
He came across. I guess it was probably Lenny Dawson throwing the ball. Looked like he was throwing it right as us. We were in the seats right in the end zone there. Arbanas comes across the back of the end zone and makes the catch. I thought those guys were the biggest guys in the world. I never dreamed I'd be someday playing on the same field with them.

In all probability, you're probably the last St. Louis Cardinal going into the Hall of Fame. What does that mean to you?
It's so special going in with the three guys that are already there who were teammates of mine. Those are guys I respected and enjoyed playing with. Larry Wilson is going to be the one to introduce me. Jackie Smith and Dan Dierdorf were also my teammates, Jackie for half of my career and Dan basically all of my career. We were teammates and great friends.

It's wonderful to be a part of that group, joining them there in the Hall of Fame. We had some great teams in the mid '70s, a lot of guys you look at and think, well, maybe they might have a chance to be in there like Jim Hart, Mel Grey, Otis Anderson. But who knows. I pretty much had thought it had passed me by. All of a sudden I was voted in. It was a dream come true.

Did you ever think in terms of the Hall of Fame when you were playing?
No, I don't think it even I can't even remember a time that it really entered my mind. After I retired, you go years when you're introduced at banquets, they'll say, “Future Hall of Famer.” As the years went on it got to be “Should be Hall of Famer” whenever you're introduced at a function or banquet.

Like I say, it was my 20th year of eligibility. I pretty much thought it had possibly passed me by. When you're nominated each year, especially you make it to the final, it obviously puts a sense of hope in your mind. You think about the possibility. It had reached a point where I really thought I probably wouldn't make it. All of a sudden in that last year things went right and I got voted in.

How do you deal with that waiting period, wondering?
It's just something that, like I say, when you first get in that situation, you're thinking that maybe it might happen. As the years go by, you certainly still have the hope in your mind, but you just kind of deal with it like it’s out of my control.
I played on the field, left everything out there that I could, and hopefully it's enough. If it is, great. If not, well, I'm satisfied with what I did.

Was it important to you to play all 14 of your NFL seasons with the Cardinals?
Well, yeah, it was very fortunate. I feel very fortunate to have been able to do that. Very few players are able to say that. Actually fewer now than in the years that I played. Wasn't quite as much movement back then as far as players. There was no free agency to speak of. Well, really none. They didn't have the salary cap situation. There wasn't really any bargaining from one team to another because you just didn't have that free agency aspect of the game.

You know, all the factors that come into play now where players, even though they wanted to stay with the same team, ended up getting moved or traded, those situations weren't in existence back then. A few more players did play longer with the same team I think.

It was great for me because I am a Missouri native and played at the University of Missouri. You know, it enabled my parents, who live in Missouri, to come to most all the games, especially the home games. It was just nice to be able to stay in your home state.

You mentioned some of the great teams you played on in the '70s. Is there an anecdote or two you remember about those teams, something about that time?
Well, it was a great time here in St. Louis to play because the fans were wonderful. The baseball team was down a little bit in the mid '70s. We really had the fan backing. I remember the first division championship we clinched. I guess we were coming back or flying back in, the game was in New York, and the fans had just mobbed the airport. There were a lot of fans out there. They had to bring us in at the annex building because they just had so many fans, they were mobbing the airport there.

Those times were great times with coach Don Coryell. They nicknamed us the Cardiac Cardinals. Good years we had through the mid '70s, it was just a joy to be here and play.

Is it sad for you they're in Arizona now?
Oh, yeah. Certainly all the alumni players that live here in St. Louis hated to see them go. In fact, all the fans basically hated to see them move to Arizona.

I mean, I'm still a Cardinal fan and enjoy watching them win. With the new coach, they have a lot of optimism for this upcoming season. Hopefully they'll do well.

How detached do you feel? Pro football team in St. Louis, but they're the Rams, and the team you're associated with is in Arizona. Do you feel disenfranchised?
It's a little bit odd obviously with the Rams being here but not being a veteran alum of the Rams. I guess the positive side to it, if you want to throw a positive side, I get to have two celebrations. The Rams have been very cordial to the old Cardinal players that are here. The guys that played here in St. Louis, they've honored them up on their Wall of Fame. They're going to do that with me this year. Then I get to have another celebration out in Arizona when we have the ceremony out there for all that. I guess that's a plus side of it. Obviously the negative side is you don't have your home team alma mater here in the same town to be a part of each and every week.

How frustrating was it to have no home playoff games and you never enjoyed a playoff win?
Yeah, that's certainly the downside of our years here in St. Louis. We really felt like we had a great team going there in the mid '70s. We were just hoping and wished we could continue with the same organization, Don Coryell, the players we had, through the late '70s. As players, we looked at it like we could have really brought a championship home to St. Louis at that point.

You know, that didn't happen. Ended up, you know, with a new coach and a new system, basically a rebuilding program. That momentum we had pretty much fell apart.

What was the highlight of your career?
I mean, obviously this election I think is the highlight of my career.

During your playing days.
Playing days, I think the highlight was the '74, '75, '76 years right through there. You have to look at those teams we had, the players that we had on those teams, the joy that we had of winning 10 games, 11 games I think three years in a row.

How is the speech coming?
Oh, it's coming fine. I think maybe we put a little bit too much emphasis on the speech. I'm just going to thank the people that have had an influence in my life and in my football career. I’m going to enjoy the time.

How much time do they give you?
I think it's about eight minutes. They want us to be eight to ten minutes. In the past, people have gone longer than that at different times. I think the schedule is such that they want us to keep them pretty short and sweet this year.

Interesting year for St. Louis in that former athletes who played here are getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. Does that mean anything to you?
All those guys I know and I'm happy for. Also Norm Stewart is going into the Basketball Hall of Fame, long time University of Missouri coach.
It's great to have people that you know get honored. Certainly all those guys are very deserving and I'm very happy for them.

Who are some defensive backs that you really like today, guys that play the game like you played it?
Oh, gosh, you know, I don't really follow it that much. I know Champ Bailey is one of the top backs. I see him on TV. But being out of it for so long, I'm not going to any training camps to actually watch the guys play, other than watching the games on TV. I don't follow it all that closely as far as knowing the guys.

When Roger Staubach said you kind of were the original cover corner, what does that mean to you? What did you bring to that position?
I think it's a situation where obviously you have to be able to cover one on one. Being the type of cornerback, as defensive coordinator, making the defensive calls, they can count on you to be able to cover your man so the calls maybe can put you in a one on one situation and they can give help to other people in the secondary.
You never know what the other quarterbacks are thinking, but hopefully you can be a cornerback that the offense will be a little bit leery about passing toward, maybe take away a part of the field that they would like to utilize.

You mentioned getting honored by Arizona and by the Rams. Would that be when Arizona plays in St. Louis? Do you know the date the Rams will honor you?
No, they're not going to do it on that same date. There are two different dates that they’re going to happen.

Do you know which one is going to be in St. Louis?
Yes, let me look at my calendar. In St. Louis, it's going to be September 16th against the 49ers.

And Arizona, do you know when that is going to be?
The Arizona Cardinals on October 14th.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Roger, for joining us. We'll see you in August.

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