Mount Rushmore: The Four Most Impactful People In Arizona Cardinals History

Arizona Cardinals
Larry Fitzgerald Photo Credit: Keith Allison - Under Creative Commons License

Mount Rushmore: The Four Most Impactful People In Arizona Cardinals History

The Cardinals are the oldest team in the NFL, starting off as the Chicago Cardinals. They are also one of the least successful franchises in league history, having won just two NFL championships since the team’s founding in 1898. Since winning the championship in 1947, the team suffered many losing seasons, and currently holds the longest active championship drought of North American sports at 68 consecutive seasons after Chicago Cubs ended their 108-year drought in 2016.

In 2012 the Cardinals became the first NFL franchise to lose 700 games since its inception. Despite being relatively unsuccessful for more than half a century, the Cardinals have had several influential people. Here are the four most impactful people in Arizona Cardinals history.

Charles Bidwill

Bidwill was the owner of the Chicago Cardinals for 14 years. His passion for sports was demonstrated by his two aims in life: to win an NFL Championship and to win the Kentucky Derby. Bidwill would accomplish neither during his lifetime.

Bidwill was a successful businessman and wealthy lawyer in Chicago, with ties to organized crime boss Al Capone. He was the owner of a racing stable, the president of the Chicago Stadium Operating Company, and owner of a printing company.

During a dinner party on a yacht, Bidwill agreed to purchase the Cardinals for $50,000 from David Jones. In spite of Bidwill’s enthusiasm for the game, the Cardinals were not a successful club during the 1930s and early 1940s. Despite his wealth, Bidwill’s Cardinals found difficulty both on and off the field.

Still, Bidwill stayed the course. The end of World War II brought another problem to the struggling owner. It came in the form of the All-America Football Conference and another rival team in Chicago, the Rockets.

But it was Bidwill who delivered the AAFC one of its most stunning defeats when he signed everybody’s All-American, Charley Trippi of Georgia, to a then-unprecedented $100,000 contract. Trippi was the final link in so-called “Million Dollar Backfield” of Paul Christman, Pat Harder, Marshall Goldberg, and Trippi.

This quartette would lead the Cardinals to their greatest achievement- an NFL championship in 1947 and a division title in 1948. Unfortunately and unfairly, Bidwill died 8 months before he had a chance to witness the fruits of his labors and savor his team’s greatest triumphs.

Jimmy Conzelman

Conzelman was the head football coach for the Washington University Bears football team, leading the program to Missouri Valley Conference championships in 1934, 1935, and 1939. He also served as head coach of the Chicago Cardinals from 1940 to 1942 and again from 1946 to 1948.

He had two coaching stints with the Cardinals. His first stint wasn’t good, going 8-22 in three seasons which led to his firing soon after. After serving as administrator for the professional baseball team, St. Louis Browns, for two seasons the Cardinals hired him again in 1946. He was the mastermind behind “The Million Dollar Backfield” leading the Cardinals to a 9-3 season and a 28-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles to secure the Cardinal’s lone championship.

Pat Tillman

Patrick “Pat” Tillman. 1997 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. NFL Pro Bowler. US Army Corporal. Purple Heart Recipient.

The legacy of Pat Tillman goes beyond football itself. He started his college career as a linebacker for Arizona State University in 1994 when he secured the last remaining scholarship for the team. Tillman excelled as a linebacker at Arizona State, despite being relatively small for the position at 5 ft 11 in tall.

As a junior, he helped his team go undefeated that season as well as helping them make it to the Rose Bowl. In 1997, he was voted the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. In the classroom, Tillman majored in marketing and graduated in three and a half years with a 3.85 GPA.

At one point in his NFL career, Tillman turned down a five-year, $9 million contract offer from the St. Louis Rams out of loyalty to the Cardinals. 8 months after the attacks on New York on September 11th, Tillman declined a 3-year contract offer from the Cardinals and enlisted into the Army.

Pat participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 then became a Ranger a month later. Months after completing Ranger school, Tillman was reported to be killed in action from an ambush. After a lengthy investigation, it was determined that Tillman and a fellow Afghan militant were killed in friendly fire.

But after his death, it was later revealed that several senior Army officers knew about Tillman being killed by friendly fire and was never revealed to his family until after the memorial service. The extensive cover-up that followed Tillman’s death included the military’s order to Tillman’s comrades to lie to his family at the funeral.

Tillman’s parents have sharply criticized the Army’s handling of the incident since finding out. Tillman’s father charges that the Army “purposely interfered in the investigation” because of the effect it could have on their recruiting efforts, while Tillman’s mother charges that “this lie was to cover their image.”

His memory lives on throughout the NFL since his death. The Cardinals retired his number 40, and Arizona State did the same for the number 42 he wore with the Sun Devils. The Cardinals have named the plaza surrounding their University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale “The Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza”.

During a Cardinals game versus the Cowboys, a bronze statue was revealed in his honor. ASU also named the football locker room entryway to Sun Devil Stadium the “Pat Tillman Memorial Tunnel” and made a “PT-42” patch that they place on the neck of their uniforms as a permanent feature.

Before the 2013 season, the Tillman Tunnel was renovated with graphics, signage, double doors separating the locker room from the tunnel, and television replaying Tillman’s career highlights, sound system, and a gate open up to the field featuring an image of him looking as if he’s leading the team out.

Larry Fitzgerald

When we talk about the Arizona Cardinals organization, the first name people will remember is Larry Fitzgerald. He is the face of the entire organization and one of the most respected players in football. He is an 11-time Pro Bowler, First Team All-Pro in 2008, Second Team All-Pro in 2009 and 2011. He is third all-time in receptions, third in receiving yards, and eighth in receiving touchdowns.

Fitzgerald’s influence has spread throughout the Arizona Cardinals’ locker room. His teammates have begun practicing like him, dressing like him, and trying to impact the community like him. Fitzgerald has impacted his community majorly with the “Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund” to help kids and their families by funding positive activities for kids during the summer and throughout the year, supporting kids and families in crisis, and supporting health-related organizations that work with families.

He also started the “Carol Fitzgerald Memorial Fund” in honor of his mother who died of breast cancer in 2003. The organization offers support to causes that Fitzgerald’s mother held dear to her heart including educating urban youth about HIV/AIDS and breast cancer issues.

Fitzgerald doesn’t like to push “anything on anybody.” It’s not his style opting to lead by example. However, Fitzgerald doesn’t shy away from talking with players, getting in their ear about what they need to do to flourish in the NFL.