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3 things you probably didn’t know about the Cardinals

Team is the oldest continuous pro football team 

St. Louis Cardinals logo

#1. Team holds record for the most team names for a single pro football franchise

Back in the infancy of American Football, almost every team was either a group that represented a neighborhood gym or were locals comprised from a small-to-medium town.

1900 Morgan Athletic Club

The origin of the Arizona Cardinals is the former. In 1898, several club members of a gym located on Chicago’s South Side where boxing was the main focus formed a football team. For years, the “Morgan Athletic Club” played in a very loose association called the “Chicago Football League” formed of several local and regional neighborhood and athletic gyms and clubs.

A local painting contractor named Chris O’Brien started the team from members of the club. Back then, teams would form and play other neighborhoods or nearby towns/cities and called it professional football because they charged a gate and divided up the proceeds after all the expenses were covered.

Later, the Morgan Athletic Club began playing all of its games at Normal Park on the corner of Racine Avenue and 61st in Chicago. With the move to a new playing field, O’Brien renamed the team the “Racine Normals.” There were several teams in Chicago and the new team name identified what part of Chicago they were from.

1920 Racine Cardinals

In 1901, the University of Chicago bought their football squad new uniforms to which O’Brien purchased their old threads. The University’s colors were maroon and white, but the old uniforms had a faded burgundy hue at this point. When O’Brien saw the colors, he exclaimed that they weren’t maroon, but cardinal red. From this point, his team was known as the “Racine Cardinals.”

The Cardinals were champions of the Chicago League in 1917 but suspended operations briefly in 1918 during World War I. In 1920, a new pro football league was formed which fielded 14 clubs. Two years later this organization would be renamed the “National Football League.” Among that charter group were the Racine Cardinals.

In 1922, a club from Racine, Wisconsin joined the NFL and were called the Racine Legion. In order to avoid confusion, O’Brien again renamed his franchise, this time to the “Chicago Cardinals.” During World War II, many NFL clubs did not have enough players due to their players joining the war effort and had to merge rosters. For the 1944 season, the Cardinals merged with the Pittsburgh Steelers and were called “Card-Pitt.” After going 0-10-0, the press sarcastically nicknamed them “the Carpits.”

The franchise moved to St. Louis in 1960 to become the “St. Louis Cardinals.” With a baseball team with the same name already located in St. Louis, the media would usually refer to the gridiron version as “The Football Cardinals.”

Another relocation came in 1988 as the club moved to Arizona and were dubbed the “Phoenix Cardinals.” In 1994, the team once again changed its moniker to the “Arizona Cardinals” in order to make the club more regionally appealing.

#2. First pro football team owned by a woman

The Chicago Cardinals original owner Chris O’Brien sold the franchise to physician Dr. David Jones for $12,000 in 1929. One night in 1932, Dr. Jones and his wife were at an informal dinner party aboard the yacht of a wealthy attorney named Charles Bidwill who was a minority owner of the crosstown Chicago Bears. While in a conversation with Bidwell and his wife Violet, the subject turned to football. Jones was querulous about the money he was losing and yet could not field a winning team. Violet then asked why didn’t Dr. Jones just sell the team to her husband, Charles. Soon after, Bidwell bought the Cardinals for $50,000 and subsequently sold his stock in the Bears.

Violet Bidwell

Bidwell owned the Cardinals until his untimely death in 1947. Violet Bidwell then became sole owner of the club thus becoming the first woman to be the owner of a professional football franchise. Upon her death in 1962, the team was left to her two adopted sons Charles, Jr. and Bill. In 2019 Bill passed away and left the keys to the team to his son Michael Bidwill who is the current owner.

#3. Stole the 1925 NFL Championship?

In the early years of the NFL, the league champion was the club that had the best win percentage at season’s end. There weren’t any playoffs and teams made their own schedules with as many or as few games as they wished. Many clubs would play in-league games as well as schedule a few games against regional semi-pro teams.

The Chicago Cardinals finished the 1925 season with a 9-2-1 record (.818) while the Pottsville (Pennsylvania) Maroons had a 10-2-0 record (.833). Ties were not counted in the percentage column. This placed the Maroons ahead of the Cardinals for the league championship. Plus, the Maroons had beaten the Cardinals 21-7 in the regular season.

Chicago then scheduled two extra games against inferior teams who were current NFL clubs but both had disbanded during the season after playing a handful of games. The Cardinals then defeated the Milwaukee Badgers 58-0 and the Hammond Pros 13-0 to move in front of Pottsville with a .846 win percentage.

Weeks later, it was discovered that the Badgers had used high school players in order to field a team. When NFL President Joe Carr learned of this, he told some newspapermen that the Cards victory over Milwaukee would not be official, but this never happened. The win over the Badgers is still in the NFL record books today. O’Brien was fined $1,000, but the championship was still his although he announced that he did not know about the high school players and he did not claim the title.

Until 1932. That’s when the Bidwell family bought the Cardinals and subsequently claimed the 1925 championship as belonging to the franchise. The Maroons and the entire town of Pottsville protested the fact that the Cardinals had stolen their championship, but the NFL recognized Chicago as being the champion based on the win percentage aspect.

In 1963, Maroons’ fans petitioned the NFL to recognize their former team as the rightful NFL champions but to no avail. In 2003, the issue was raised again. The governor of Pennsylvania offered a solution by a suggestion that the NFL declare joint ownership of the 1925 title between the Maroons and the Cardinals. A 30-2 vote squashed that idea and the Cardinals remained the champs.

A book was later published on the entire ordeal entitled Breaker Boys: The NFL’s Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship.