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Oct. 17, 1980: On the day he is cut, Big Red kicker Steve Little is paralyzed in a car crash

Oct. 17, 1980: On the day he is cut, Big Red kicker Steve Little is paralyzed in a car crash

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Pick Six Kickeres in Draft Football

This 1978 file photo shows St. Louis Cardinals kicker Steve Little. An All American at Arkansas, where he tied an NCAA record with a 67-yard field goal, Little was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals with the 15th overall pick in 1978. (AP Photo, File)

On Oct. 17, 1980, the same day he was cut by the St. Louis Cardinals football team, kicker Steve Little was involved in an auto accident that would leave him paralyzed. Here is our coverage of the team's reaction to the news.

It was the longest night of Dave Stief's life.

He talked with his friend, Steve Little, about 9 p.m. Thursday.

"He wanted to get Jim Hart's phone number so he could return some golf clubs before he left for Arkansas," said Stief.

Stief and Little, 1978 draft choices of the football Cardinals, were a twosome. It used to be a threesome, but Steve Pisarkiewicz was cut and went on to Green Bay. Thursday morning, Little was released by the Big Red. So the placekicker was saying his goodbyes the rest of the day and evening. Little and punter Larry Swider were involved in a little get-together at a downtown bar with some other friends.

Earlier, Little dropped by to see linebacker John Barefield, who is recovering from knee surgery at Barnes Hospital.

"When I left him, he was fine," said Swider. "That's why this is such a shock to me. He said he wasn't going to be down (because of his release) and he said, 'I can kick in this league. I know I can.'"

Swider said he left Little about 11:30 p.m. "He said he was going to see Dave Stief," the punter said. Stief was supposed to meet Little at the kicker's condo in Maryland Heights.

"I got there about 10 o'clock and I waited until 11:30," said Stief. "But he never showed." So Stief went home and, about four hours later, his telephone rang. It was Cindy Little, Steve's wife.

"She wanted to know how to get to St. John's (hospital)," said Stief, who then learned that Little had been involved in an automobile accident. Then, about 5:30 a.m., Cindy Little called Stief again. "She said to come on over because they're afraid he might be paralyzed," he said.

So Stief went to the hospital. He was shellshocked from the events of the last 24 hours. He remembers Cindy, who was in a state of shock, telling him that her husband kept asking for her to hold his hand.

"She was holding his hand and he didn't know it," said Stief, sighing. "He had no feeling."

The other players heard the news of the accident Friday morning as they came to the stadium for meetings and a practice session.

When they went out to practice, they knew only that Little was in serious condition with possible paralysis.

"As you can expect," said Swider, "I didn't feel much like practicing. But I did. It's my job. I was hoping and praying there was a chance that it (the paralysis) would be reversible."

When the Cardinals finished the practice session, even sadder news awaited them. Little's injury was called total paralysis from the shoulders down. It was permanent paralysis, said the doctors, and he was having trouble breathing because of the damage to his spinal cord. He was listed in critical condition.

"I heard about the wreck this morning on the radio," said Swider, his voice quavering. "I was hoping it was just bumps and bruises." Swider, who was picked up by the Big Red on waivers from the Detroit Lions before the season began, was Little's replacement as the team's punter. Little had handled both the punting and placekicking last year. Then, on Wednesday, Little lost his other kicking job in a duel with free-agent Neil O'Donoghue. Little was placed on waivers Thursday morning and O'Donoghue was signed.

"I feel for him as a person," said O'Donoghue, "but this had absolutely nothing to do with football. I don't feel responsible for it in any way. I'd feel bad if it happened to anybody."

O'Donoghue recalled how he felt when he was released by the Buffalo Bills a couple of years ago. "I probably could have been in the same situation," he said. "I felt a load relieved from my shoulders and I cut loose. I'm sure I did something I shouldn't have done and I'm thankful to the Lord for protecting me."

Swider said Little was in a positive frame of mind Thursday night and "was not drunk, not when I left him."

1978: Steve Little

Who drafts a kicker in the first round? The Big Red couldn't resist drafting this duo-threat kicker and punter. He made fewer than half his field goals. Hours after the team cut him in 1980, he was involved in an auto accident that left him paralyzed.

"Some people have asked me if I thought he might do something crazy," said Swider. "He was in a great mood. That was the farthest thing from his mind. He loves life too much; he never would do a thing like that."

The last time Stief talked with Little he wasn't sure what kind of mood his friend was in. "I didn't know if he was putting on a front or what," said Stief, trying to explain the jovial attitude he sensed. "He was a real moody guy.

"Everybody's got feelings and emotions and people were giving him a hard time about being a No. 1 and getting cut."

Last Sunday, Little missed two field goals and one of his extra-point kicks was blocked, which prompted a tremendous chorus of boos from the 50,000 fans at Busch Stadium.

Monday, Stief said he sensed a change in Little's mood. He said Little was quiet and introspective, more so than ever before.

"It was his all-time low," said Stief. "I'm sure as far as what he was doing last night (Thursday), he was feeling no pain."

Stief, a 24-year-old wide receiver, said there is a lesson to be learned from all of this and, for one, he said he's seen the light. "This really sets an example for all of us," said Stief. "It can be taken away from you so quickly if you abuse yourself.

"He was proud of himself. He had a lot of things going for him. He was good looking, a No. 1 draft pick from Arkansas. It's a sad story. What will he do from here?

"I guess he's lucky to be alive, if you can call that luck irreversible 100 percent paralysis. You've got to go through life never really being able to know if you're going to be able to move again."

When Stief was in high school, a friend of his was caught in a crossfire during a robbery at a service station. He was struck by a bullet and suffered a paralyzing injury. His friend has adapted well to life as a paraplegic. "I pity him not one bit," said Stief.

Stief then thought about Little and wondered if he could accept being crippled for life.

"How did he accept being cut?" asked Stief. "This is a lot bigger challenge than being cut. He could have gone on and won the Super Bowl. If he would have met me last night at 10:30, he'd be home packing to go to Arkansas right now.

"It's really a sad story. The whole Steve Little story had to come down to this."

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