Remembering Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill, who died on Wednesday at 88.
From prom boy to bow tie owner, Bill Bidwill spent more than eight decades working in the NFL, a private man who loved a very public business.
Bidwill and football were as interwoven as DNA strands, but the sport did not define the man, who died on Wednesday at 88.
Bidwill leaves five children and nine grandchildren. His wife, Nancy, died in 2016.
It is unclear who will replace Bidwill as owner because the family declined to comment for years. It is likely to be Michael Bidwill, Bidwill's second eldest son, team president since 2007.
William V. Bidwill loved military history, cars, coffee, food, and football, and could tell stories that involved them all. He drove everything from a Mercedes to a Beetle, and if any criticism bothered him, he never showed it.
When the Republic of Arizona mocked him in editorial drawings, Bidwill used to request an autographed print by the cartoonist.
Bidwill loved a good joke and a bad joke. While he occasionally talked to reporters, he regularly visited the press room on the team premises to tell jokes or stories about what the NFL was like decades ago.
Although Bidwill's NFL career was long, it was not glorious when measured by his team's wins and losses. The cardinals' lack of success has made him an icon of bad ownership. Sometimes Bidwill was accused of being cheap, greedy and uninterested in winning.
That image changed slightly in early 2008, when the team won the first of two consecutive NFC West titles. With Ken Whisenhunt as coach and Kurt Warner as defender, Cardinals won the NFC title in the 2008 season, advancing to the first Super Bowl in team history.
The cardinals lost to the Steelers in the final seconds.
Bidwill's reputation for being an economical owner has been earned. Former St. Louis Cardinals quarterback Jim Hart made an appointment with Bidwill to get a raise.
Hart gathered the necessary information, such as statistics and salaries of some of the other quarterbacks in the game. As Hart entered Bidwill's office, Bidwill started a timer and said, "You have three minutes."
It was one of Bidwill's many contradictions. He had a unique style of fashion that never conformed to what was in style. He wore a bow tie when everyone wore leisure clothes and seemed to enjoy not being conformist.
Although Bidwill might have difficulty with the cardinals' dollars, he was generous outside football.
He contributed to many causes throughout the valley, usually quietly and anonymously. Bidwill was a major donor to St. Peter's Indian Missionary School in Bapchule, south of Chandler, and each year on Halloween, a bus full of costumed children visited the Cardinals clinic.
Bidwill usually attended these practices.
Within team headquarters, however, it was difficult for many people to know. Past players tell stories of Bidwill saying hello to them one day and looking at them the next, leaving them wondering what they had done wrong.
Others, such as Dan Dierdorf of the Hall of Fame and Larry Fitzgerald, the receiver, came close to Bidwill.
“I've always had a good relationship with Bill,” Dierdorf said in 2016. “He had some social skills issues, okay, but no one who knew him would question if the man had a deep love for the National Football League. He was very proud of the fact that the Bidwill family was one of the founding families of the NFL. "
Charles Bidwill, Bidwill's father, bought the Chicago Cardinals in 1932 for $ 50,000.
Bill worked as a poster boy for the team and as a teenager celebrated when the club won the NFL title in 1947. He was named vice president while at Georgetown University.
It's the only league title in the team's history, and the club didn't win another playoff game until 1998, 10 years after Bidwill moved from St. Louis to Arizona.
After serving in the Navy, Bidwill returned to the family business in 1956, helping his mother and brother, Charles Jr. (Stormy), manage the team.
The team moved from Chicago to St. Louis and, after the death of their mother, Bill and Stormy took over, but not without a fight and a surprising revelation.
His stepfather filed a petition contesting the adoption of Bill and Stormy. Only Bill and Stormy did not know they had been adopted, according to court documents.
The Bidwill brothers prevailed and guided the franchise's fortunes together until 1972.
Bill became the sole owner then, buying his brother.
The cardinals remain a family business. Four of the five children have worked at the organization, with Michael joining the club in 1996 as vice president / general counsel and becoming president in 2007.
Michael has been in charge of the team for several years, but his father visited the team's premises frequently after Michael took over. In recent years, Bidwill has dealt with health problems and spent most of his time at home.
Although field success was difficult for Bidwill, he had triumphs. As an owner, he hired minorities in key front office functions long before diversity became a national issue.
In 2010, he was honored by a national organization for “extraordinary contributions to NFL diversity”.
Silent and unpretentious, Bidwill was regarded in the NFL as a "league man," willing to compromise for the good of the entire organization. This earned him a considerable amount of goodwill among his fellow owners, and his stature was a big reason why the Valley hosted three Super Bowls.
Much of Bidwill's professional career was spent on a stadium search that would make his team economically competitive with other NFL clubs. Bidwill never made it to the stadium in St. Louis, and it took a long, arduous journey to reach one in the Valley.
Today, the Cardinals are in good financial condition, largely because of the money produced by their games at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
But there were many difficult times as well. The team has struggled throughout its first two decades in Arizona history. Whisenhunt, who coached the team for six years, was the oldest coach in the team's desert history.
Bidwill tried to give the coach (Buddy Ryan) tremendous power and severely restrict his opinion of the staff (Vince Tobin). In a league defined by parity, the cardinals struggled to achieve mediocrity.
They had 17 lost seasons from the top 20 in Arizona. They have lost at least 10 games in 13 of those seasons. Fans became apathetic and it was not uncommon for Cardinals to attract less than 30,000 fans to their games at Sun Devil Stadium, where they played until 2006.
From 1988 to 1998, the Cardinals had only one winning season in Arizona. They went 9-7 in 1998, winning a playoff spot in the final game.
Bidwill watched the final seconds in tears, holding a game ball.
"I think I'll have to see or read about it and then pinch myself to know what happened," he said at the time.
However, the cardinals again lost, and again began cycling between coaches and players.
The only constant, however, was the stadium situation. Since its inception on the south side of Chicago, the Cardinals Football Club has played in someone else's parks and stadiums.
Bidwills, especially Michael, knew that it was necessary to change so that the cardinals could become competitive. After several failed efforts, they got a stadium proposal approved by the voters.
The University of Phoenix Stadium opened in 2006, and all games at the stadium sold out. From 2006 to 2016, the team finished 0.500 or seven more times.
The next day, voters approved the stadium where Michael Bidwill met with reporters at the Tempe facility. His father came in, looked at the situation and joked, "Children are overrated."
It is with great sadness that we share the news that our owner, Bill Bidwill, passed away today at 88. pic.twitter.com/xgNiGvShiF
– Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) October 2, 2019