|Born:||September 16, 1895|
Chicago, Illinois, United States
|Died:||April 19, 1947(aged 51)|
|High school:||Chicago (IL) St. Ignatius|
|College:||Loyola of Chicago|
|Career highlights and awards|
Charles W. Bidwill (September 16, 1895 - April 19, 1947), sometimes known as Charley Bidwill, was an owner of the National Football League's Chicago Cardinals. He owned the team for 14 seasons, from 1933 through 1946. His interest in sports was demonstrated by his two aims in life: to win an NFL Championship and the Kentucky Derby. He would accomplish neither during his lifetime, although his Cardinals won the 1947 NFL title only eight months after his death. The title still remains the most recent in franchise history.
Charles was the son of Chicago 9th Ward Alderman Joseph Edward Bidwill and Mary Anne Sullivan. His eldest brother Joseph Edward Bidwill Jr. was a clerk of the Chicago Circuit Court; his younger brother Arthur John Bidwill was a Republican State Senator; and Loretta was Charlie's only sister.
Prior to his ownership of the Cardinals, Bidwill was a successful businessman and wealthy lawyer in Chicago, with ties to organized crime boss Al Capone. He was owner of a racing stable, the president of the Chicago Stadium Operating Company and owner of a printing company. Bidwill's only physical participation in athletics came only during his time at St. Ignatius High School and Loyola University. After graduation in 1916, he began his law practice, serving as assistant prosecutor for Chicago and corporation counsel. As a businessman, Bidwill was often referred to as "Blue Shirt Charlie" because he sometimes favored a blue shirt and high boots instead of the traditional white shirt and businessman's shoes.'.
"From this desperate situation, I was rescued by the joint efforts of my mother and my good friend Charley Bidwill. Mother bought $5,000 worth of stock from her savings, Bidwill purchased $5,000 in stock and also arranged a bank loan for the remaining $5,000 needed to pay off Sternaman."-- George Halas, "That's The Way the Ball Bounces"
One night in 1932, Dr. David Jones, the then-owner of the Cardinals, and his wife were guests at an informal dinner party aboard Bidwill's luxurious power-cruising yacht, The Ren-Mar. Bidwill, then a vice president of the Chicago Bears, spoke with Jones that night and the conversation turned to pro football, with Jones complaining of the poor state of his team. Half jokingly, Charles' wife, Violet, asked Jones, "Why don't you sell the Cardinals to Charley?" Jones replied that he would sell anything he owned if the price was right. Bidwill soon turned to Jones and the two began to discuss an offer. Bidwill went on to buy the Cardinals from Jones for $50,000. Bidwill handed Jones a down payment of $2,000 and the two men shook hands. The sale was not announced until 1933 to allow Bidwill time to dispose of his stock in the Bears. It was well known that Bidwill would have much preferred to buy the Bears, but George Halas refused to sell.
In spite of Bidwill's enthusiasm for the game, the Cardinals were not a successful club during the 1930s and early 1940s. Despite Bidwill's wealth and enthusiasm, the Cardinals found the going difficult both on and off the field for most of his tenure as owner. In addition to the Great Depression, they had the misfortune of sharing Chicago with the popular Bears. Bidwill had become so discouraged that by 1940 he made a try at buying the Detroit Lions. When that effort fell through, he redoubled his efforts to rebuild the Cardinals. One move was to hire Jimmy Conzelman as coach. However, the Cards continued to lose, and Conzelman quit as coach to go into the front office of baseball's St. Louis Browns.
Bidwill remained a Bears fan for years, even after he purchased the Cardinals. He would often root for the Bears against the Cardinals when his old team was a contender and the Cards were perpetually stuck in last place. For example, in 1941 the Bears needed a victory over the Cardinals to force a playoff game, but trailed the 3-6-1 Cardinals by a score of 24-20 before pulling out two last-minute touchdowns to win, 34-24. After the game, instead of complimenting coach Jimmy Conzelman on the fine showing, the nervous Bidwill sighed, "Whew, that was a close one, wasn't it?"
Cardinals founder Chris O'Brien did not attempt to publicly take credit for the Cardinals winning the 1925 NFL Championship. The 1925 NFL Championship was surrounded in a controversy, since the Pottsville Maroons won the championship that year only to have their title stripped after playing an illegal game in Philadelphia after they had finished the season with the NFL's best record. However Bidwill claimed the 1925 title after he took over the team in 1933. There are some[who?] who believe that a "curse" was placed on the Cardinals as a result of the debacle, and that in an era where the NFL has implemented measures to ensure competitive parity, the curse is the reason for the failure of the Cardinals to win as many championships as would be expected with a team of such longevity (the Cardinals' only other championship came in 1947).
The lowest point of Bidwill's tenure came in 1944. Due to World War II, many players were serving in the United States military. This left a league-wide shortage of players. As a result, the Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers merged their teams for the season. The team's name Card-Pitt was quickly dubbed the "Carpets" by detractors, as "every team in the league walks over them". The team lost ten straight to post an 0-10 record.
The end of the war brought another problem when the upstart AAFC placed a team in Chicago, the Rockets. The new AAFC franchise publicly pushed for the Cardinals to leave town, believing that Chicago wasn't big enough for three top-level pro football teams. Bidwill grew angry and vowed to turn his team into a profitable winner. He stunned the football world in 1947 when he outbid the Rockets for the rights to All-American Charley Trippi, signing him to a then record $100,000 contract. Trippi was the final piece of what Bidwill called his "Dream Backfield" of Paul Christman, Pat Harder, Marshall Goldberg, Elmer Angsman, and Trippi. They led the Cardinals to their first (and, to date, only) undisputed NFL championship in 1947. He was 51 when he died
Bidwill was not around to see his "Dream Backfield" win the 1947 title; he died of pneumonia in April, shortly after signing Trippi. His widow Violet inherited the team and ran it until her death in early 1962. During Violet's tenure as the Cardinals owner, she and her husband Walter Wolfner relocated the franchise to St. Louis in 1960. Following her death, she left the team to her adopted sons from her first marriage, Charles Jr. and Bill. He is a member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967.
Bill bought his older brother's share in 1972, and remained sole owner until his death in 2019. The team is currently held in an estate, though Bill's son Michael, who has been team president and operating head of the franchise since 2007, is expected to take over legal ownership. Since Bill took over, the team has since relocated once more, to their current location in Phoenix, Arizona in 1988, and since 1994, have been known as the Arizona Cardinals. Only the Bears (owned by Halas and his descendants since 1921) and the New York Giants (owned by the Mara family since their founding in 1925) have been in the hands of one family longer than the Cardinals.