At Oklahoma, it took Bud Wilkinson seven years to lose seven games. He could lose that many his first seven weeks here. The Cardinals are that bad.

They are bad for reasons that have little to do with Wilkinson. He is paying for the errors of others, and if his decision to return to coaching - after 15 years of sanity - was not a hasty one he may soon realize there were better places to resume being a legend.

Recent Cardinal drafts have been dreadful. Much of the team believes Scrooge was a wild spender, compared to the Cardinal owener Bill Bidwill. The Cards have not had a decent defense in years. With Terry Metcalf in Canada and J. V. Cain injured, they suddenly have no offense.

"They're a little like Baltimore," Redskin Coach Jack Pardee said after his team routed the Cards, 28-10, yesterday. "They're trying to figure out how to survive and get well at the same time."

The Cardinals lost here for the third straight year to the Redskins, but it was the first tiem defeat was obvious before final the play. Cardinal fans have discovered Wilkinson is mortal after all and many are livid about it.

In Busch Memorial Stadium, an enormous sign pointed toward a television booth where a man being paid by two NFL teams not to coach was working. It said; "Attention Dr. George A. Wanted in St. Louis."

A fan was more direct, yelling toward the owner's box in the fourth quarter: "Hey, Bidwill, go see Allen upstairs."

The Cardinals could bring in Vince Lombardi to coach the offense and Tom Landry to coach the defense and still be 0-3. Next week they play the Cowboys in Dallas, the next week they play the Dolphins in Miami, then they play the Colts, when Bert Jones figures to be healty. Then comes Dallas again.

"I think he's stayed level-headed," said offensive tackle Dan Dierdorf. "He's as upset as all of us, but I appreciate his not losing his calm and cool, his hanging in there."

And the state of the Cards?

"We've got to start from the very beginning and take it from there - and the guys not willing to do that had better be weeded out," Dierdorf said. "If we have to take the field with 15 guys, so be it, because the only way to start something is to go back to the beginning.

"I see people around me making a great effort - but nothing is happening. Why? And how can it be rectified? Some guys either are going to be extremely upset by this and fight on every down or they're going to cash in their chips and say, 'Wait 'till next year.'

"The guys ready to cash in their chips ought to get out now."

Wilkinson seemed to react to extreme adversity with the same wipe - on smile and plastic facade he shows in victory. Unlike his oklahoma years, he cannot solve his immediate problems with healthy and swift redshirts and his long-term problems by recruiting 16 tight ends and 42 defensive linemen and linebackers.

The St. Louis press was throwing him no hanging curves for questions. But he handled them with ease. His sideline manner suggested no inner turmoil. Now and then he would take his cap off and brush it against his leg - with dignity.

Wilkinson was out of coaching nearly long enough for a generation to grow up without him prominent on the nation's sidelines. But his impact on football was felt by even the youngest Redskins.

As a quarterback in junior high school, Brad Dusek ran wilkinson's offense. Harold McLinton was familiar with Joe Don Looney's looniness. The 3-4 defense came from Wilkinson's mind.

"Me? I had no idea who was coaching anywhere, baecua we were so far out in the boonies>" said Pardee, who was old enough and clearly good enough - to be recruited by Wilkinson. "We had no television out there in West Texsa, and all we got on radio was SMU."

But Dallas Hickman, who was barely 11 the last season Wilkinson coached, made a special point to rush from the Redskin bench and grab Wilkinson's hand when the game ended.

"I said: It's an honor to meet you. God bless you. Hand in there,'" Hickman said. "I'd never met the man, so I beelined it over there to be able to say I'd shaken hands with a legend. he didn't say anything."

There was a reason, two of them really; offense and defense. Many of the good passes Jim Hart threw were dropped. If Mike Thomas and John Riggins were not covered with barbed wire, Cardinal tacklers acted that way.

"My morale is excellent," Wilkinson said. "I think we're doing the best we can. There's no reason to go through how we got where we are. But we're not totally terrible, either."

Is the job more difficult than he'd imagined?


It will not soon get easier.