J.V. Cain (James Victor) was drafted in the first round, seventh overall in the 1974 NFL Draft. It was a surprise selection for the then-St.Louis Cardinals. They had just won their first ever division title, their season ending after losing to the Minnesota Vikings 30-14 in the divisional round. Jackie Smith was still on the roster, and the offense was the team’s better half. However general manager George Boone decided to pull the trigger anyways, stating that “We [the Cardinals] didn’t feel we could pass up a guy like that“.
Nonetheless he made the most of his time as a backup, making spectacular catches and racking up over 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns in his four years with the team. He was set to take over Smith’s role in the passing game in 1978 after Smith “retired” and then joined the Dallas Cowboys on their Super Bowl run where Smith became the “sickest man in America”. It didn’t happen as he had surgery to repair an Achilles injury(paywall).
“I just wish to God that they (the Cardinals) have all the luck in the world without me,” he said. “There was a lot riding on my shoulders this year and I thought I was ready to handle it. I thought I’d be coming through.”
–J.V. Cain, via Tom Barnidge of St.Louis Post-Dispatch
J.V. Cain really did leave it all on the field.
Cain would go on to miss the 1978 season, and would start training as soon as he could. Fast forwarding to the offseason the next year in 1979, he was at practice and getting used to making all those amazing one-handed stabs that he had made throughout his career. It was a nighttime practice at Lindenwood College when Cain suddenly collapsed.
Teammates and coaches gathered around Cain, confused by what had transpired as apparently had been a lighter practice that evening. He was momentarily revived on the field using CPR, and was taken off to St.Joseph’s hospital and would end up passing away just two hours later. Absolutely devastating to a man who was a devout Christian who believed in the Bible and had such a positive outlook on life. He died on his 28th birthday, and the cause of death was a rare heart condition.
Cain’s number 88 is retired by the team, and only four players ever had worn the double eight on their chest. He was a great man and was respected by all, and one of his last wishes was “I don’t want people to forget about me…And maybe say a prayer for me”.
We surely haven’t forgotten, nor will we ever. Rest easy J.V.
Thanks to thebigredzone.com and the St.Louis Post-Dispatch for their incredible work on Cain’s story.