The Cardinals, founded in 1898 and a charter member of the National Football League, hold the distinction of being the oldest continuously run professional football franchise in the nation.
The Early Days
The team boasts a colorful history! Its fans have known the club as the Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Cardinals, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cardinals, Racine Cardinals, the Normals, and the Morgan Athletic Club.
The team began as a neighborhood group that gathered to play football in a predominantly Irish area of Chicago's South Side, playing under the name Morgan Athletic Club. The team later was acquired by Chris O'Brien, a painting and decorating contractor, and soon its playing site changed to nearby Normal Field, prompting the new name Normals.
In 1901, the team gained longstanding identification when O'Brien, finding a bargain, bought used jerseys from the nearby University of Chicago. The jerseys were faded maroon in color, prompting O'Brien to declare, "That's not maroon, it's Cardinal red!" The club's permanent nickname had been born!
The jersey color and the location of the field led to a new and obvious name, the Racine Cardinals.
In Chicago at the time, football competition was exclusively amateur, but such opposition became increasingly hard to find, so in 1906, the team disbanded.
In 1913, O'Brien reorganized the Cardinals. By 1917 they were able to buy new uniforms and hire a coach, Marshall Smith. That year they lost only two games and were champions of the Chicago Football League.
The war in Europe and a flu epidemic in the United States forced the team to suspend operations once again in 1918. Following Armistice Day, O'Brien organized the Cardinals for a third time. From that day forward, the Cardinals have been a permanent part of the professional football scene in America.
The Racine Cardinals, their popularity growing in the Chicago area, eventually became one of 11 charter members of the American Professional Football League, forerunner of the NFL, in 1920 for the $100 franchise fee. Immediately after joining the league, O'Brien lured a great halfback, John "Paddy" Driscoll, to the Cardinals for $3,000 a year, a sum considered outlandish at the time. But Driscoll was an authentic superstar, a superior runner, blocker, punter, and possibly the finest drop kicker in the history of football. He also coached the team from 1921-22.
One of Driscoll's young running backs was Ralph Horween, a former star at Harvard, who played under the assumed name of B. McMahon. A Cardinal from 1921-22, Horween scored two rushing touchdowns during his three-year career during the days of leather helmets without face masks, numberless sweater jerseys, and $40 paychecks. Horween's claim to fame, however, would occur many years later. In 1996, the retired lawyer, who was born in Chicago on August 3, 1896, became the National Football League's first centenarian! He died in 1997.
In 1922, a team from Racine, Wisconsin joined the NFL, prompting the Cardinals to change their name to the Chicago Cardinals. The same year the Cardinals also moved into their new home in Comiskey Park that they would share with baseball's White Sox for 37 years.
Under new Head Coach Norman Barry, the Cardinals outdistanced a field of 20 teams to win their first NFL championship in 1925 by virtue of the league's best record. (NFL postseason play began in 1933.).
A Chicago physician, Dr. David Jones, purchased the team in 1929. In his first year of ownership, he coaxed running back Ernie Nevers out of retirement to become player-coach. Still in his prime, the 26-year-old Nevers scored an NFL-record 40 points on six touchdowns and four extra points in an historic 40-6 victory over the crosstown Bears on Thanksgiving Day, 1929.
After guiding the Cardinals to a 16-14-3 composite record in three seasons, the legendary Nevers retired as both coach and player in 1932.
Nevers' departure also marked the arrival of a new club owner. Charles W. Bidwill, Sr., a vice president of the Chicago Bears, purchased the Cardinals for Jones' asking price of $50,000. Bidwill divested himself of his Bears' holdings and a new era began.
However, the team sorely missed Nevers' magic on the field. The Cardinals endured difficult years in the 1930s and early '40s. World War II hit the team heavily. The Cardinals' top passer, receiver, and linemanÐJohnny Clement, Billy Dewell, and Joe Kuharich, respectivelyÐentered the service. In 1944 as a war-time emergency measure, the Cardinals combined with the Pittsburgh Steelers to play as one team. It was called Card-Pitt. Co-coached by the Cardinals' Phil Handler and the Steelers' Walt Kiesling, a former Cardinal guard, the team split its home games between Comiskey Park and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, failing to win an outing in 10 tries.
Success finally returned following the war. In 1945, the arrival of University of Missouri quarterback Paul Christman trumpeted the team's conversion to the "T" formation. Fullback Pat Harder and halfback Elmer Angsman were added in 1946.
The 1947 Championship Season
In the resurrectional flush of post-World War II, the 1947 Cardinals stormed to the Western Division title and the NFL championship.
But the title season was bittersweet for the Cardinals' organization. In April, the death of Bidwill, the club's spearhead since taking over as owner in 1933 who helped shepherd the NFL through "The Great Depression," deprived the owner of witnessing the club's first NFL crown in 22 years.
But he still earned credit for fitting the final crucial piece into place to complete the Cardinals' famed "Million-Dollar Backfield." It was Bidwill's unprecedented signing of University of Georgia all-America running back Charley Trippi, for the then-unheard of sum of $100,000, that finally put the Cardinals over the top, winning their one and only NFL championship via a title game.
To appreciate the accomplishment of the 1947 squad, perspective is necessary.
Just two seasons earlier, in 1945, the Cardinals as a team were outscored for the entire season by Philadelphia's premier running back, Steve Van Buren, 110-98. But the following year, the third-winningest coach in Cardinal's history, the omnitalented Jimmy Conzelman, led Chicago out of the desolate wilderness to a 6-5 mark, the club's first winning season since 1935.
Several key Cardinals were already in place for the championship run. In 1945, the organization drafted Christman, a talented passer from Missouri, before adding churning Wisconsin fullback Harder, Angsman of Notre Dame, and brilliant end/defensive back Mal Kutner from Texas in '46. Another great end, Dewell, had returned from military service for the '45 season. The staple of Conzelman's ensemble was a relic from the late '30s, versatile Marshall "Biggie" Goldberg, an intuitive defensive back who was the first real free safety in pro football and the "dean" of the "Million-Dollar Backfield." Also a running back, Goldberg, a two-time all-America at Pittsburgh, had enjoyed many productive days offensively, too, but they were mostly behind him when Conzelman began his second reign as the Cards' head man in '46.
Chicago started quickly in 1947 by winning its first three outings, a run that included a 31-7 trouncing of their hated crosstown rivals, the Chicago Bears. In week four, the Cardinals headed to Los Angeles on a trip heavy with fate. They incurred their first loss of the season, 27-7 to the Rams, but lost something far more precious than a game.
Rookie punter Jeff Burkett suffered an appendicitis attack and missed the game as well as the team plane back to Chicago. He spent several days recuperating after an appendectomy before boarding a United Airlines DC-6 bound for home. He never made it. The plane crashed in Bryce Canyon, Utah, killing the young star who was the NFL's leading punter at the time of the tragedy with a 47.4-yard average.
Under the pall of the loss of Burkett, the Cardinals climbed to 7-3 but were in the throes of a two-game losing streak heading to Philadelphia on December 7 for a critical game against the Eagles. Trailing 7-3 at the half, Chicago exploded for six second-half touchdowns, including two by Trippi, and held the powerful Van Buren to just 44 yards rushing to grab a crucial 45-21 road win.
The victory deadlocked the Cards with the arch-rival Bears, who, ironically and poetically, stood as the only remaining obstacle between the Cardinals and their first Western Division crown. A showdown loomed for the regular-season finale the following Sunday at hostile Wrigley Field on Chicago's North Side.
If the '47 Cardinals' miracle season could be summarized in a single moment, the opening play of that division decider unquestionably would receive the vote. It was the creation of mastermind Conzelman, a pass play designed to give the Cardinals an advantage at the outset. In a best-case scenario, the stratagem would isolate Bears' left-side linebacker Mike Holovak one-on-one with Boris "Babe" Dimancheff, a blistering speedster who was Trippi's replacement. Conzelman eagerly looked forward to rehearsing the play all week before the big game, but nature did not cooperate. Dimancheff's wife was expecting, and he missed the entire week of practice to be at her side. He did not rejoin the team until the day before the game.
The biggest play of the season for the soon-to-be-champion Cardinals never had a single dry run.
Game day dawned!
The stunning game-opening play worked to perfection. Dimancheff ran a flair pattern, turned outside the end, then raced down the center of the field. He outdistanced Holovak, caught Christman's perfect pass, and galloped into the end zone despite stumbling over the baseball pitcher's mound.
The Cardinals also intercepted four passes by legendary Bear quarterback Sid Luckman, converting two into touchdowns en route to a 30-21 win.
Victories over the Bears were especially sweet. A sore spot with all the old Big Red was their inescapable status as Chicago's "other" team.
The Western Division crown now in hand, the Cardinals prepared to play host to the league championship game a fortnight later against Eastern Division powerhouse Philadelphia.
The NFL's 15th championship game opened with a surprise controversy and was studded with more big-play touchdowns on the ground than any NFL title game or Super Bowl since.
On December 28, 1947, a grim, frozen Comiskey Park gave little indication of the approaching heat of the day's upcoming war. Even the preliminaries generated sparks. Pre-kickoff controversy raged when it was discovered the Eagles, in attempts to get better gripping on the concrete-like playing surface, had sharpened and filed their cleats. A succession of penalties for the blatant rules infraction opened the game, infuriating Philadelphia Head Coach Earle "Greasy" Neale.
The Cardinals quietly had slipped on tennis shoes for the frigid affair.
The game was defined by Chicago's quick-openers, producing three devastating, back-breaking, long scoring runs from scrimmageÐtwo 70-yarders by Angsman and a 44-yarder by Trippi.
In the third period, Trippi circled under a high Joe Muha punt, taking it on his own 25-yard line. Spectacularly side-stepping three Eagle pursuers, Trippi pranced 75 yards for a touchdown, getting hit three times along the way.
Angsman's thrilling fourth-quarter duplication of his second-period 70-yard touchdown strike enabled him to break the NFL championship game record for rushing yards with 159.
But Philadelphia fought evenly throughout with one-eyed quarterback Tommy Thompson setting two playoff records on 27-of-44 passing for 297 yards.
The Cardinals' 28-21 victory, however, wasn't secured until Goldberg's late-game interception.
Violet Bidwill, with her husband's passing, assumed control of the franchise for the next 15 years, a span that included a second consecutive Western Division championship and appearance in the 1948 NFL championship game, a 7-0 loss at Philadelphia, and the transfer of the team from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960.
Upon Mrs. Bidwill's death in January of 1962, team control moved to sons Charles W. Bidwill, Jr. and William V. Bidwill. In 1972, the latter and his family gained sole ownership with William becoming managing general partner. On July 1, 1976, incorporation of the company was accomplished with Bidwill continuing as chief executive officer.
After 14 years in the city, the Cardinals brought their first division title to St. Louis in 1974. The Big Red captured the NFC Eastern Division flag under Head Coach Don Coryell and advanced to the playoffs with a 10-4 regular-season record.
The Cardinals lost to the Minnesota Vikings, 30-14, in their first playoff appearance since 1948.
Again in 1975, Coryell provided St. Louis with a division crown but another playoff loss, this time to the Rams in Los Angeles, 35-23, ending the Cards' postseason dream in their first outing.
The Cardinals next appeared in the playoffs in 1982 when Head Coach Jim Hanifan's club lost a first-round game at Green Bay, 41-16. In 1984, an offensively explosive St. Louis team narrowly missed the playoffsÐand the NFC Eastern Division titleÐwith a 9-7 record. However, the Cardinals stumbled to a 5-11 mark in 1985, prompting Hanifan's dismissal and the hiring of long-time Dallas Cowboy assistant Gene Stallings as the team's new head coach.
After 28 years in St. Louis, the Cardinals relocated to Arizona in the spring of 1988 and made Sun Devil Stadium on the campus of Arizona State University their new home.
Their first season in the Valley of the Sun began optimistically when the team raced to a 7-4 record and a share of the NFC Eastern Division lead. But untimely injuries struck and a five-game losing streak ensued to finish the year, dashing hopes of the club's first postseason berth since 1982.
The Cardinals' new home provided club single-game (67,139 vs. Dallas in the Arizona inaugural game) and single-season (472,937) attendance records in the team's first autumn in Arizona.
Four coaching changes and a name change have altered the face of the Cardinals since their Arizona arrival. Following their first two seasons in the desert, long-time Washington assistant Joe Bugel arrived as head coach, a position he held for four seasons until Buddy Ryan was named head coach and general manager on February 3, 1994. Vince Tobin succeeded Ryan as head coach on February 7, 1996. Then on December 18, 2000, Dave McGinnis, the Cardinals' dynamic five-year defensive coordinator, was named the franchises head coach.
On March 17, 1994, Bidwill announced his intention to change the name of the team to the Arizona Cardinals. The change was adopted unanimously by vote of NFL owners the following week.
All the Cardinals' franchise attendance records have been established since moving to the desert. The record-setting inaugural season attendance total was eclipsed in 1994 when 497,330 fans, or 62,166 per game, spun the Sun Devil Stadium turnstiles.
The top 10 single-game home crowds in franchise history have watched the Cardinals in Sun Devil Stadium, including the largest, a throng of 73,025 that saw the Cards face Dallas on September 19, 1993.
The 1995 season also marked another milestone when the Cardinals served as the host team for Super Bowl XXX at Sun Devil Stadium on January 28, 1996.
The 1998 Arizona squad, one of the NFL's youngest teams, ended the franchise's 15-year playoff drought and notched the Cardinals' first postseason victory since 1947.
Pivotal 2000 Campaign
The 2000 season proved pivotal to the Cardinals' franchise.
An October coaching change promoted then-defensive coordinator Dave McGinnis to interim head coach, replacing Vince Tobin after four and one-half seasons. Eight weeks later, McGinnis was named the franchise's permanent head coach.
Election Day, November 7, 2000, fell in between. Voters in Maricopa County passed Proposition 302, the Tourism and Sports Initiative, to help fund a new stadium for the Cardinals, Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and future Super Bowls, in addition to providing revenue for Cactus League spring training baseball, tourism, and youth recreation. The 454,785 "yes" votes spelled a plurality of 33,123 votes (51.89 percent).
The team's new home opened in 2006!
The list of former Cardinals enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame reached 14 in 1996 when former offensive lineman Dan Dierdorf joined the elite group. The University of Michigan product, currently a CBS-TV NFL color analyst, played every down of his illustrious 13-year (1971-83) career as a Cardinal.
The others are Charles Bidwill, Guy Chamberlin, Conzelman, Driscoll, Kiesling, Curly Lambeau, Dick "Night Train" Lane, Ollie Matson, Nevers, Jackie Smith, Jim Thorpe, Trippi, and Larry Wilson, who currently serves the Cardinals as a vice president.