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Playbook's list of our favorite 'Cardinals'

3/12/2013
Our favorite Cardinals include Bob Gibson, Tara VanDerveer and John Elway. AP Photo, USA Today Sports Images

The College of Cardinals began its conclave at the Vatican on Tuesday to determine who will next guide the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

The papal selection process is shrouded in secrecy and intrigue, and the announcement of each vote is made public via smoke -- white for "deal" and black for "no deal."

With that in mind, Playbook has created our own "College of Cardinals," and we offer a list of our most intriguing living "Cardinals." These are men and women whose sports success was rooted in teams based in ornithology -- or the color red.

There is some method to this March madness. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York and considered to be a possible replacement for Benedict XVI, grew up as a passionate fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. He once called witnessing Stan Musial's 3,000th career hit in a game against the Cubs in 1958 as an 8-year-old boy a defining moment of my life.” Dolan also helped preside at Musial's funeral in January.

Catholic universities have enjoyed tremendous recent success. Gonzaga, a Jesuit institution, began its second week atop the AP college basketball rankings Monday and clinched the WCC's automatic NCAA tourney bid with a victory over Saint Mary's. According to its mission statement, Gonzaga "is an exemplary learning community that educates students for lives of leadership and service for the common good. In keeping with its Catholic, Jesuit and humanistic heritage and identity." It also does pretty good off the break.

The seven Catholic basketball-only schools in the Big East last week officially announced they were leaving the conference and taking its name with them. Two Jesuit schools, Marquette and Georgetown, grabbed the Big East regular season championship on their way out the door. Two other Catholic schools, Creighton (Missouri Valley) and Iona (MAAC) also secured automatic NCAA bids.

On the football field, Notre Dame finished the regular season 12-0 before meeting its maker in the BCS title game.

It's also been a good year for college Cardinal(s). The secular Louisville Cardinals and QB Teddy Bridgewater routed the University of Florida in the Sugar Bowl. The school is also ranked No. 4 in this week's AP basketball poll. The Stanford Cardinal women's basketball team (31-2) won the Pac-12 title Saturday and will likely be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.

With all that in mind, here's our list of current and former Cardinals who stand out in the world of sports and could always offer their services if their Catholic counterparts at the Vatican get bogged down after a few hundred ballots.

Andrew Luck

Cardinal connection: Stanford QB

Comment: Here's proof that patience is a virtue. Peyton Manning's eventual replacement in Indianapolis scored big by skipping the 2011 NFL draft and staying at Stanford. During Luck's 2012 NFL rookie season, the Colts went 9-3 during coach Chuck Pagano's 12-week absence to fight leukemia. Divine intervention? Perhaps. Luck had a 54.1 completion percentage and, according to ESPN The Magazine, was a more effective runner than RGIII.

Whitey Herzog

Cardinal connection: St. Louis manager

Comment: Led the Cardinals to three National League pennants (1982, '85 and '87), winning a World Series against Milwaukee in '82. His Cardinals may have won another against the Royals five year later, but fell prey to some devilish umpiring thanks to Don Denkinger. Whether St. Louis fans have offered Denkinger forgiveness probably depends on whom you ask.

John Elway

Cardinal connection: Stanford QB

Comment: Won two Super Bowls with the Broncos after his playing days with Stanford. He has taken over as the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations and used some divine guidance, along with about $96 million, to bring Peyton Manning into the fold. Things were simply divine this season until the last minute of the fourth quarter against Baltimore in the AFC playoffs.

Bob Gibson

Cardinal connection: St. Louis pitcher

Comment: Put the fear of God in hitters across the National League for 17 seasons, leading St. Louis to World Series titles in 1964 and '67 as MVP both times. There was plenty of fire and brimstone in the way Gibson pitched. And as Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver once famously put it: "Bob Gibson is the luckiest pitcher in baseball. He is always pitching when the other team doesn't score any runs." Amen.

Tiger Woods

Cardinal connection: Stanford golfer

Comment: No one is without sin, although some sins are more public than others. PGA coach Susie Meyers told ESPN just last week that Tiger "lost his soul" while winning all those tournaments earlier in his career. Tiger appears to be on the road to public redemption. He recently golfed with President Obama and wowed crowds with his convincing win this past weekend at Doral.

Dan Dierdorf

Cardinal connection: St. Louis offensive lineman

Comment: Either he or McCarver would be well-suited to be a spokesman for the group. Dierdorf, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996, played 13 seasons with the Cardinals before they headed West. He was an All-Pro offensive lineman five times before embarking on a 29-year broadcasting career. He spent 12 seasons with "Monday Night Football" as an analyst and has been teamed up with Greg Gumbel in the CBS pulpit since 2006.

Wes Unseld

Cardinal connection: Louisville basketball player

Comment: Played for his hometown Cardinals for three varsity seasons before beginning his 13-year career with the then-Baltimore Bullets (now disguised as the Washington Wizards). Named one of the "50 Greatest Players" in NBA history, Unseld reached basketball heaven with his ascension to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988. His career as a coach and GM was more like purgatory, reaching the playoffs just twice in 15 seasons.

Ozzie Smith

Cardinal connection: St. Louis shortstop

Comment: Hall of Famer played on the two St. Louis World Series champions under Herzog and captured 13 consecutive Gold Glove awards (11 with St. Louis). But don't bother asking him to see them, as he sold them at auction in 2012 for a total of $519,203 for “estate and family planning” purposes.

Larry Fitzgerald

Cardinal connection: Arizona wide receiver

Comment: Helped lead Arizona to its only Super Bowl appearance. He's also shown a strong charitable side. Monday, Fitzgerald began a three-day visit to Senegal for Oxfam America (with Anquan Boldin and Roddy White) to help raise awareness and money for famine victims. He and Boldin visited Ethiopia on a similar Oxfam mission in 2012. Fitzgerald can also help spread the word 140 characters at a time via his 1.5 million followers on Twitter.

Denny Crum

Cardinal connection: Louisville coach

Comment: Once dubbed "Cool Hand Luke" by Al McGuire, Coach Crum calmly guided his Cardinals to two NCAA titles (1980, '86) and six Final Fours during his 30 seasons at Louisville. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994. Crum's reserved demeanor and humility stands in marked contrast many of today's coaches, including current Cardinals boss Rick Pitino.

Tara VanDerveer

Cardinal connection: Stanford coach

Comment: Our list knows no gender barrier. Like Crum, VanDerveer is a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member (2011) and coached her team to a pair of NCAA championships (1990, '92). She has not performed any miracles but has compiled a miraculous 892-202 (.815) record in her 33-year college coaching career, reached 10 NCAA women's Final Fours with Stanford and coached Team USA to an Olympic gold medal in 1996.

Lou Brock

Cardinal connection: St. Louis left fielder

Comment: Thou shalt steal -- as often as possible. The Cubs traded Brock to the Cardinals after just 52 games in the 1964 season. He eventually ended up being elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985 during his first year of eligibility, with 938 career stolen bases.

Red Schoendienst

Cardinal connection: St. Louis player, manager

Comment: Age brings wisdom. Albert Fred Schoendienst, who turned 90 last month, managed Gibson, McCarver and the rest of the 1967 Cardinals to a World Series title. The Hall of Famer (1989) spent parts of 27 seasons as a second baseman and manager with the Cardinals and continues to work with the team as a special assistant. He roomed with Musial, who said Schoendienst had "the greatest pair of hands I've ever seen." Blessed praise indeed.

Albert Pujols

Cardinal connection: St. Louis first baseman

Comment: Like Musial, he's a former Cardinal who is now playing with Angels. Pujols powered the Cardinals to a pair of World Series championships before the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim loaded up his collection plate with a 10-year, $240 million contract in December of 2011. Pujols speaks openly and often about his Christian faith, and his Pujols Family Foundation is dedicated to helping those living with Down syndrome and fighting poverty in his native Dominican Republic. Angelic indeed.

Bill Speros is an ESPN.com contributor and Marquette University grad, so his NCAA bracket hasn’t been right since 1977. He can be reached on Twitter @billsperos or via email at bsperos1@gmail.com.