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Wehrli known for competitiveness and smarts

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At the University of Missouri, Roger Wehrli played cornerback as a junior and led the nation in punt returns. He was moved to free safety as a senior and led the nation with 10 interceptions. Still he was not regarded as a first-round NFL talent, even after he switched back to cornerback and played a solid bowl game against Alabama.

 

The reason he was somewhat of an unknown at Missouri was because then-head coach Dan Devine had rules limiting how much NFL scouts could watch practice. So we didn't have as good a feeling about Wehrli until people saw him in the postseason all-star games.

 

To show you what kind of competitor he was, Wehrli played in both the Senior Bowl and the Hula Bowl prior to the 1969 draft. He was thought to have good but not great speed. So he ran a 40-yard dash for scouts at the Hula Bowl, and ran a 4.59 - on grass, after practice. And that was good enough to vault him from a second- or third-round prospect up into the first round. He was the 19th overall pick of the St. Louis Cardinals.

 

We thought he'd be better at safety, but as it turned out he started at cornerback for the Cardinals and enjoyed a Hall of Fame career. You won't hear otherwise from fellow Hall of Famer Roger Staubach, who was just one of many quarterbacks who learned to look to the other side of the field when playing St. Louis.

 

Staubach learned that lesson the hard way in 1975. Dallas played Pittsburgh in Super Bowl X that season, but most people have forgotten that we made the playoffs as a wild card that year. On Dec. 7, in the third-to-last game of the season, we played St. Louis in a game that essentially would determine the NFC East champion. All Wehrli did that day was intercept Staubach three times in a 31-17 Cardinals win.

 

St. Louis lost to the Rams in the playoffs, and Dallas beat the Rams in the NFC title game to earn the Super Bowl trip.

 

As Staubach and others would attest, Wehrli was a very, very smart player. When dealing with a talented corner, a good quarterbacks have to resort to looking him off, trying to trick him any way they can. But there was no fooling Wehrli.

 

Staubach often compared him to another Hall of Fame cornerback, Steelers great Mel Renfro.

 

Wehrli was one of those guys who just made plays. He had 40 career interceptions, returning two for touchdowns, and he also recovered 19 fumbles - which is still a team record. He also returned punts for the Cards.

 

His superb instincts and ball skills were matched by his character and leadership skills. His performances against the Cowboys over the years probably contributed greatly to his seven Pro Bowl selections as well as his place on the NFL's team of the '70s.

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