Position: Defensive Back
Born: November 26, 1947, New Point, Missouri
Played For: St. Louis Cardinals (1969-1982)
The St. Louis Cardinals bolstered their secondary with the selection of cornerback Roger Wehrli in the first round of the 1969 draft. Wehrli went on to spend his entire 14-year National Football League career with the Cardinals.
The Big Red made Wehrli their first choice (19th overall) after his All-America senior season at the University of Missouri, when he picked off 10 passes as well as leading the nation in punt returns that year. Wehrli, utilizing his speed, finesse, and strength, easily made the transition to the NFL and became a steadying force on the Cardinals defense. His reliable and durable play at the right cornerback position forced opposing quarterbacks to avoid his area, which later cost him some years before he would be elected into the Hall of Fame because his numbers weren’t gaudy enough.
He earned a starting role with the Cardinals as a rookie and contributed three interceptions and led the team in punt returns. The following season, he picked off a career-high six passes – a feat he would match in 1975 – to earn his first All-Pro and All-NFC honors. He also was named to the first of seven Pro Bowls that year.
A native of New Point, Mo., he was recruited by Mizzou after a stellar career at King City High School where he lettered in football, basketball, and track. Wehrli was a two-time All-Big Eight player and was the Big Eight Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. That same year, he was a unanimous All-America selection.
Roger had 10 career interceptions at Mizzou with seven coming in his senior season. He also returned both kickoffs and punts. In 1968, his 40 punt returns and 12-yard return average led the nation. To finish off an 8-3 season, Wehrli had a decisive interception to help lead the Missouri to a 35-10 victory over the Alabama in the Gator Bowl.
After being drafted by the Cardinals, Wehrli led or tied for the team lead in interceptions four times during his career. He registered an interception in all but two seasons during his career and amassed a total of 40 interceptions that he returned for 309 yards. He returned two of his steals for touchdowns – one on a 53-yard return in 1974 against the Washington Redskins and the other against the Minnesota Vikings in 1979.
From 1974 to 1976, Wehrli picked off 12 passes as the Cardinals put together a string of three straight double-digit win seasons (10-4 in 1974, 11-3 in 1975, and 10-4 in 1976) that included back-to-back NFC East titles in 1974 and 1975. He intercepted three Roger Staubach passes, including two in the fourth quarter, during a key 31-17 win over division rival Dallas on December 7, 1975. In doing so, he was the first Cardinals player since Hall of Famer Larry Wilson in 1966, to record three picks in one game.
In 1977, Wehrli again led the Cardinals in interceptions with five that included an interception in four straight St. Louis wins. In 1981, with the Cardinals defense struggling, Wehrli was moved to the left cornerback position. In his first start on the left side, he made four tackles and broke up two passes as the Cardinals shutout the Buffalo Bills, 24-0, to begin a four-game winning streak.
Besides his ability to cover receivers, Wehrli had a knack for finding the ball and recovered 19 fumbles during his career – a franchise record. Wehrli was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1970s, earned first-team All-Pro recognition five times (1970, 1974, 1975, 1976, and 1977) and was named All-NFC five times.