The Arizona Cardinals can boast of being the oldest continually-run club in the history of American Football. Their story, however, is an unsettled one, characterised by constant relocations and numerous name changes.
They have managed to achieve moderate success over the years, but now that they have a new home and a large base of loyal fans, they will be looking to take advantage of their new-found stability and start winning some more trophies.
The early days
The origins of the club go right back to 1898, when it was founded as Morgan Athletic Club on Chicago’s South Side.
Soon after its conception, it was bought by Chris O’Brien. It was his decision to move it to a nearby location, Normal Park on Racine Avenue, prompting the first of many name changes as the club became known as the Racine Normals.
The second name change would come only a few years later when, in 1901, they took on the new title of the Racine Cardinals. However, in 1906, as a result of a lack of competition to keep it going, the club was disbanded, marking an end to its first chapter.
The second spell
But O’Brien was not finished with the club, and in 1913 he raised it from the ashes to restore it to its rightful place. By 1917 they were ready for action, and they began to ply their trade in the Chicago Football League. They did not have to wait long to get their first taste of success, storming the table that very year to become champions.
However, despite their successful return to action, the First World War and the following flu epidemic led to difficult times, and the team once again called it a day in 1918.
Back in action
Two years later, they made a comeback as one of the 11 charter members of the American Professional Football League.
Heroes emerged early on, with John ‘Paddy’ Driscoll being the first player to make a real impression. At $3,000 a year he didn’t come cheap, but he proved his worth as a phenomenal player, adding to his worth on the field by coaching the team at the same time.
In 1922, it was time for another name change. A different team had joined the NFL from Racine, Wisconsin, and in order to avoid confusion, the Normals changed their name to the Chicago Cardinals.
They also took the opportunity to make another move, this time to Comiskey Park stadium, which they would share with the popular baseball team, the Chicago White Sox.
In 1922 the league was renamed the NFL, and three years later the Cardinals swept to victory to become champions for the first time under head coach Norman Barry. However, as the postseason did not come into force until 1933, they were unable to play in a Super Bowl.
In 1929, the club’s ownership changed hands as Dr David Jones came into the fray. One of his first moves was to bring in Ernie Nevers as player-coach, tempting him out of retirement. The move paid off, and on Thanksgiving Day he scored a record 40 points on six touchdowns to beat the Chicago Bears 40-6, making a new NFL record at the same time.
Jones’s time in charge did not last for long. In 1932, after Nevers had left the club, Charles W. Bidwill, Sr. took it over for $50,000. Bidwill, however, was in it for the long term, and there would be no more changes in the near future.
During the 1930s and early 1940s, the club did not experience a great deal of success. World War Two hit them especially hard, and they were struck by many losses as players had to leave for military service.
As a result, they made the interesting move of temporarily joining forces with another NFL team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The hybrid team, known as Card-Pitt, only existed for one year and were a disaster from start to finish, prompting the two teams to go their separate ways after the war.
This period saw some key players join up with the Cardinals, such as Paul Christman in 1945. A talented quarterback, his arrival led to a change in the team’s formation, and ultimately their success. He was later joined by another two future heroes at the club, fullback Pat Harder and halfback Elmer Angsman.
In 1946, with the help of these new players, they managed to score their first winning season since 1935 under new coach Jimmy Conzelman. This led to a rise in morale, and the 1947 season was entered into with high expectations.
Tragedy hit the club, however, with the death of owner Bidwill in April of that year. He had been largely responsible for putting together the team’s famed ‘Million-Dollar Backfield’, spending huge sums of money in order to lead them to success. This had included the $100,000 signing of Charley Trippi, a phenomenal amount to spend on one player.
Further tragedy struck the club that year with the loss of Jeff Burkett, a rookie punter. Before losing to the Los Angeles Rams 27-7, he had come down with appendicitis. He had to travel home in a separate plane from the team following his treatment, but when the plane crashed in Bryce Canyon, Utah, he did not escape. He was the NFL’s leading punter at the time with a 47.4 yard average, and it was a heavy loss for the team.
However, despite the sad events off the field, things were going well on it. After a slow start, some key victories led them to the brink of the Western Division title. All that stood in their way was their hated rivals, the Chicago Bears.
Playing at Wrigley Field, the fans were desperate to beat their old enemies. Conzelman had developed a tactic for success but, due to his wife expecting a baby the week before the game, he had not been able to practise with the team.
In the end it didn’t matter. The Cardinals went on to dominate the game and came out as champions with a 30-21 win.
But it was not finished there. For the NFL Championship, they were up against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Controversy abounded when it emerged that the Eagles had filed their cleats before the game in order to get a better grip on the hard surface, leading to a few penalties for the team when it was discovered.
However, they lost a far greater prize when the Cardinals came out of the tough match victorious with a 28-21 victory, marking their first NFL championship.
The very next year, keeping up the momentum from the previous season, the Cardinals went on to win the Western Division Championship again. However, in the NFL Championship they could not repeat the heroics of the previous year, and this time the Eagles came out with the ultimate prize.
Following his death, Violet Bidwill had taken over the ownership of the club from her husband. However, the following years were not successful.
During the 1950s, they only managed to accumulate 33 victories, which was nothing short of a disaster. The best year by far came in 1956, when they managed to post a 7-5 winning record.
Problems increased as the nearby Chicago Bears began to grow in popularity, at the same time as the Cardinals were losing it.
In 1960 the Cardinals decided to move to St Louis, which led them to become the St Louis Cardinals. Amazingly, St Louis already had a baseball team of the same name, but after much debate the two teams simply became known as the Football Cardinals and the Baseball Cardinals.
When Violet died in 1962, her sons Charles W. Bidwill, Jr. and William V. Bidwill took over, with the latter taking over the club completely in 1972.
Two near misses
It would take them 14 years to get their first division title, posting a 10-4 record to win the NFC Eastern Division in 1974. The dream did not last for long, however, as they lost to Minnesota Vikings 30-14.
Trying to build upon this success, they came back the following season to reach exactly the same stage. However, once again they were outclassed, and it was the end of the road for another year.
After 28 years of very little success and nothing to show in St Louis, the Cardinals moved to the Sun Devil Stadium in Arizona in 1988, and became the Phoenix Cardinals.
Based at Arizona State University, they immediately managed to bring in record attendances, which gave the team a boost, even if the results on the pitch did not quite live up to expectations.
In 1994, they made their final name change to the Arizona Cardinals.
It was not until 1998 that they managed to reach the playoffs again on a Wild Card, this time up against the Dallas Cowboys, to whom they had lost twice that year. Having failed to win a playoff game since 1947, it was fair to say that they went in as underdogs.
Amazingly, they dominated the game, eventually winning 20-7. The fans were desperate for them to go all the way following this success, but it was not to be. The Minnesota Vikings were the ones who put an end to the dream, going on to win the next match 41-21.
Since then, in a long spell of disappointment, they have not managed to get a winning season. The only high point came on November 7th, 2000, when it was agreed that a new stadium was needed.
They moved into their new home, the University of Phoenix Stadium, in 2006, where they now play in the NFC West Division as it is more relevant to their geographic location.
- 1925, 1947
NFL West Division Championships
- 1947, 1948
NFC East Division Championships
- 1974, 1975
- 8: Larry Wilson
- 40: Pat Tillman
- 77: Stan Maudlin
- 88: J. V. Cain
- 99: Marshall Goldberg