Arizona Cardinals History: What if Charles Bidwill never bought the franchise?

  • Alex Mann

Bidwill (left) talks to All-American Charley Trippi (middle) and then coach Jimmy Conzelman. Mandatory Credit:

Cardinals fans know that the Cardinals franchise has been in the Bidwill family for decades, since 1932 to be exact. However, very few know who Charles Bidwill was or how he bought the franchise.

This is a “what if” series, and does not by any means provide any historical accuracy or actuality following the background on Mr. Bidwill.

Charles Bidwill was not a Cardinal fan at heart. His true love was the Chicago Bears… and horse racing. In 1931 he became a minority owner of the Chicago Bears. He wanted to buy the franchise from then owner, George Halas, but Halas refused to sell the team.

In 1932, Bidwill and his wife were invited to dinner with Cardinals owner Dr. David Jones. History says that the two spoke of football for much of that night, and how Jones complained about the poor play of his team. Jokes were made about Jones selling the team to Bidwill, and that is what wound up happening. The purchase was unofficially made in 1932, but was announced in 1933 so that Bidwill had time to cut ties with the Bears.

Bidwill was enthusiastic about football, but less so about the Cardinals. Despite his attempts to build a competitive team, he could not do so, even with his wealth. In 1940 he attempted to buy the Detroit Lions, who were among the leagues best at the time. By doing so, he would leave the Cardinals in the dust.

His tenure with the team lead to anger, frustration, sadness, and offered the Cardinals their one and only championship.

In 1947, Bidwill was facing down the AAFC (All-American Football Conference), after they placed a team in Chicago. The Chicago Rockets, publicly called out the Cardinals and Bidwill to leave the city. Bidwill took that to heart, and later that year would sign Charley Trippi to a $100,000 contract. This in turn completed the “Dream Backfield” which included Paul Christman, Pat Harder, Marshall Goldber, Elmer Angsman, and Charley Trippi.

Sadly, Bidwill would not live to see the five men lead his team to their only NFL Championship in 1947.

(Yes the Cardinals won in 1925 as well, but that was due to the Pottsville Maroons being stripped of their title)

So what could have happened had Bidwill not taken ownership of the team? Well it could be said that the team would never have gone on to win their “second” title. Dr. David Jones would have likely tried to sell the team, as he was tired of losing and having to compete with the Bears for fans. It makes sense that the team would have folded, seeing as they were not a team many people wanted to invest in.

Had the team folded, Arizona still would have gained a football team, possibly in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s, seeing as they had success from the Suns and Diamondbacks, and were a rapidly expanding sports town.

Perhaps Bill Bidwill would have purchased the team in 2000 and ran it with his son until Michael would take sole ownership. The Cardinals, for how old they are, have little success to their names. Looking at the expansion teams, the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina panthers have had the most success since 1976. (The Ravens are excluded due to the fact they never had to build a new roster)

Would the Cardinals have fared better without Charles Bidwill? Or has his family helped built a strong contender and fan base over the last 81 years?

Phoenix Sports-Kings Contributor Alex Mann @mannrotb

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