Arizona Cardinals Football
The Cardinals franchise has moved around the country several time, with their latest and hopefully final destination being Arizona.
If I were writing the history of only the Arizona Cardinals, there wouldn’t be much to write about. The Cards play in the beautiful new University of Phoenix Stadium, which cost some $455 million to build. The team also has a list of offensive stars, such as Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Egderrin James and Matt Leinart.
Blame it on the Bidwells
Unfortunately, the Arizona Cardinals have struggled to play .500 ball for most of their history. One has to go back to 1947 to find the Cardinals last NFL Championship, and this is one of only two titles in the Cardinals 110 year history.
That’s the shame of it all; the Cardinals are the oldest-existing American football club. They should be one of the revered franchises of the NFL, but they seem more like a later expansion franchise like the Saints or Falcons.
The Cardinals have been in existence since 1898, a full 22 years longer than the National Football League itself. Such a franchise should be full of great title runs and legendary stories, like the New York Yankees or Montreal Canadiens. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Here’s the story of the long-suffereing Arizona Cardinals football franchise.
The Chicago Cardinals
The Cardinals started as an amateur football club in Chicago way back in 1898. The team was known as the Morgan Athletic Club back in those days. When the team bought left-over maroon uniforms from the University of Chicago in 1901, the uniforms arrived in faded condition. Someone remarked, "Those aren’t maroon. They’re cardinal red. The team was known informally as the Cardinals ever since.
The club disbanded due to lack of funds in 1906, but was reformed in 1913. During World War I and the resulting Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 (which is thought to have cost 20 to 40 million human lives), the team shut down operations once again. After reforming once more in late 1918, the Cardinals have been in operation ever since. When the NFL formed two years later, the Chicago Cardinals were one of the founding franchises. Of these founders, only the Cardinals and the Chicago Bears (the Cardinals’ cross-town rivals for the next 40 years) survive.
The Chicago Cardinals won their first NFL title in 1925, though they entered one of several losing streaks in the years after. Between their titles in 1925 and 1947, the Cardinals had only two winning seasons, in 1931 and 1935. During World War II, the Cardinals merged with the Pittsburgh Steelers for one season, due to the manpower shortages of 1944. This team went winless and were derisively known as the Carpets, though their official name was Card-Pitt.
Million Dollar Backfield
Soon after the war, though, the Chicago Cardinals went through their final title season. The team fielded a "Million Dollar Backfield", consisting of Paul Christman, Elmer Angsman, Pat Harder and Charley Trippi. These team ran over the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1947 NFL Championship Game. To date, this is the only Cardinals home playoff win in franchise history.
The Bidwell Family
Cardinals fans might blame the Bidwell family for the Cardinals losing history. Charles Bidwell bought the franchise in 1932, so the family has run operations for the past 75 years. Interestingly, Charley Bidwell, a successful Chicago businessman, helped the Halas family maintain control of the struggling Chicago Bears in 1932, at the height of the depression. Bidwell served on the Bears Board of Directors until his death. Bidwell would die just prior to the 1947 season, leaving team operations to his widow, Violet.
Violet Bidwell moved the Cardinals to St. Louis in 1960, then died in 1962. She left the team to her two sons, Charles and Bill. Bill bought out Charles in 1972 and has maintained control over the Cardinals ever since. Bill Bidwell kept the Cardinals on the low end of the NFL payroll chart through much of his history, and was considered an absentee owner in later years. One story had Bidwell in the French Riviera during the Cardinals only playoff win during Bidwell’s reign, in 1998. As he has aged, Bill Bidwell has turned over operations to his son, Bill Jr. and Michael Bidwell. The sons have upped the Arizona Cardinals salaries commensurate to other NFL franchises.
The St. Louis Cardinals
The team floundered in Chicago during the 1950′s. Though the NFL was becoming more popular as a television sport, the Cardinals posted losing season after losing season in the fifties, and Chicago embraced the Chicago Bears of George S. Halas as their hometown team.
By the time of the expansion year of 1960, the team was a step-child in the Chicago area, and the Bidwells agreed to a move to nearby St. Louis. The NFL approved this move because it would block the rival American Football League from placing a franchise in St. Louis. 1960 was the first year of the AFL, and the NFL had expanded into other cities that year, like Dallas and Minnesota.
The Cardinals’ move caused some confusion, since the longtime St. Louis Major League Baseball club was also the St. Louis Cardinals. The football team became known as the Football Cardinals, as opposed to the Baseball Cardinals.
The team added star talent as the Sixties progressed, but they were not able to break into the playoffs in an era where the Green Bay Packers dominated and the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys were perennial powerhouses. Charley Johnson and Sonny Randle were offensive stars in the sixties, while Larry Wilson was a star safety. Later in the decade, quarterback Jim Hart would replace Charley Johnson.
The Don Coryell Years
In 1973, the Cardinals added offensive guru Don Coryell as head coach. These Cardinals teams would be a dangerous opponent, featuring a QB-WR combo of Jim Hart and Mel Grey, and featuring the running back tandem of Jim Otis and Terry Metcalf. The St. Louis Cardinals offensive line was considered a top unit, featuring Dan Diedorf, Tom Banks and Conrad Dobler. In the 1975 season, the St. Louis Cardinals’ offensive line gave up only 8 sacks.
Still, the Cardinals were unable to win their division in a time when Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys and George Allen’s Washington Redskins were divisional powerhouses. The Cardinals defense often let the team down.
Neil Lomax and Roy Green
The St. Louis Cardinals would continue to feature star offensive players in the 1980′s, when Neil Lomax and Roy Green became a top passer-receiver combo. Despite the offensive production, the Cardinals only advanced to the playoffs once during the eighties, in 1982.
The 1982 accomplishment was somewhat tarnished by the fact this was a strike-shortened year (9 games) and well over half of the league’s teams (16 of 26) made the postseason. The Cardinals lost in the first round of the 1982 NFL Playoffs.
The Phoenix Cardinals
In 1988, Bill Bidwell decided to move his club from the midwest to the southwest, taking the Cardinals to Phoenix (actually Tempe), Arizona. In 1994, the team would officially change its name to the Arizona Cardinals, though the club continued playing home games in Sun Devil Stadium.
In the 1994 and 1995 seasons, the Cardinals went away from their long-standing reliance on offense, bringing in Buddy Ryan as head coach. This proved a major failure, as the fading Buddy Ryan seemed intent on alienating his entire offensive unit. After two tempestuous years in Arizona, Ryan would leave the club.
Jake Plummer became the new hope of the Arizona Cardinals when he was drafted in the 2nd round of the 1997 NFL Draft. Jake "the Snake" Plummer was a local star, due to his career at the Arizona State, which also played in Sun Devil Stadium. Though his first two seasons with the Cardinals were rocky, Plummer seemed to come into his own in his third season in 1999.
Plummer led the Cardinals to a 9-7 record and their first playoff berth in fifteen years. Taking the team on the road to face the rival Dallas Cowboys, Plummer pulled off an upset for the Cardinals first playoff victory since 1947. Even though the team lost the next week to the high-powered 1999 Minnesota vikings, many people believed the Cardinals were on their way to a series of playoff runs.
Jake Plummer would play three more seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. He threw 21 interceptions in 2000, leading the club to a 3-13 season. His best statistical year as a Cardinal was in 2001, but the club was only able to post a 7-9 record. After another 20-interception year in 2002, Jake Plummer left in free agency to the Denver Broncos.
The Arizona Cardinals in the 21st Century
These years saw other changes for the Arizona Cardinals organization. The 1999 playoff win came at just the right time, because local voters voted the next year to fund the major new football stadium which is now known as University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals also were moved out of the tough NFC East to the more geographically correct NFC West, where they face the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams twice every year.
The losing continued, though. Despite adding world class offensive talent in the past five years, the Cardinals continue to finish with losing records. IN 2007, the team hired Ken Whisenhunt to coach the team. Whisenhunt was a part of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization, and many fans hope the new coach brings a toughness and attention to detail to bolster the talents of their skill position players.
Fitzgerald and Boldin
With Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald signed to longterm deals, the Cardinals should be competitive for years to come. Many questions remain about high draft choice Matt Leinart, who was replaced by aging veteran, Kurt Warner, at times in 2007.