After Many Years of Criticism, Bidwill Has Hand in Winning

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 20, 2009

PHOENIX, Jan. 19 -- As Arizona Cardinals players and coaches exchanged celebratory slaps on the back and hugs all around him Sunday evening, Bill Bidwill walked casually into a corner equipment area within the spacious home locker room at their futuristic stadium in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale. He was wearing a blue jacket, with a tiny Cardinals pin on the lapel, and his trademark red bow tie.

When he reached the equipment room, he added a fashion accompaniment that never had been available to him before in his decades as the franchise's owner: a cap proclaiming the Cardinals the champions of the NFC.

A few minutes earlier, Bidwill had stood on the field at University of Phoenix Stadium and had hoisted the George Halas Trophy, given to the NFC champ, after the Cardinals beat the Philadelphia Eagles to turn their first appearance in the conference title game into their first Super Bowl trip. Confetti fell from the rafters, and some fans in the stands were sobbing. One of the most traditionally pitiable teams in all of sports was having its finest moment just about anyone could remember.

Bidwill, 77, was one of the few who could remember similarly joyous times for the Cardinals, more than 60 years and two home cities ago. And when he emerged from the equipment area, stood near a doorway in the locker room and was asked how it all had felt, he said, "It beat the daylights out of the snow that was falling on us in Philadelphia in 1948."

That's the last time the Cardinals, at the time based in Chicago, played for the league championship, when they lost the NFL title game to the Eagles, back in the days when the pro football postseason consisted of a single game. Then, Bidwill was a ball boy for a team owned by his late father Charles, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Now, he's one of the most beleaguered franchise owners in pro sports, the object of years of criticism and ridicule for those outraged at the ineptitude of the Cardinals, who moved to St. Louis in 1960 and to Phoenix in 1988 and began this season with one winning season and one playoff appearance since '84.

But all of that seemed to melt away in recent weeks as the Cardinals, led by a rejuvenated defense and the offensive exploits of quarterback Kurt Warner and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, won a string of playoff games. That gave Bidwill his chance Sunday night, as reporters began to gather around him, to issue the sort of I-told-you-so proclamations being offered by many of his players.

He didn't. Bidwill was asked about redemption and vindication, but he resisted. About the closest he came was when he said of the barbs he has received over the years from callers to radio talk shows, "You can live a normal life, or you can listen to talk radio, but you can't do both."

With their three-year-old stadium, suddenly stable organizational leadership and core of talented players, Bidwill said he hopes the Cardinals are positioned to remain competitive for years to come. But he didn't engage in any sort of public conversation about the perception of his stewardship of the franchise his family has owned since 1932, with him solely in charge since 1972.

"Someone told me one time never argue with someone whose company buys printing ink by the railroad-car full," Bidwill said. "Don't argue with them."

Others talked about Bidwill's vindication on his behalf.

Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt began his postgame news conference Sunday by saying: "The first thing I would like to say is that I am so happy for Mr. Bidwill and Michael [Bidwill, the team president and Bill Bidwill's son] for all the work they have done. It has been a tough number of years here in Arizona, and I'm glad that we have this opportunity to go to the Super Bowl because of all the hard work put in, especially with the new stadium."

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