TAMPA, Fla. -- This doesn't change anything. It might prove a couple of things -- the concept that losers occasionally win, and the cliché about a blind squirrel occasionally finding a nut -- but the Arizona Cardinals' spot in Super Bowl XLIII doesn't change a thing about Bill Bidwill.
He's still the worst owner in the NFL.
His son, now, that's another story. Michael Bidwill has been the force behind the Cardinals' resurgence, and with him calling more shots there is competency and hope for the future. He's a former federal prosecutor and a ruthless SOB, but Michael Bidwill is apparently a competent football man. Nothing like his father, Bill. But a lot like his grandfather.
|Bill Bidwill did not inherit any redeeming football qualities from his father, Hall of Famer Charles Bidwill Sr. (Getty Images)|
In sum, Bill Bidwill's father was a great NFL owner, and Bill Bidwill's son has shown the makings of being one as well.
But Bill Bidwill himself? He sucks.
And any attempt to "redefine his legacy," as at least one newspaper in Arizona has done in the past week, is mistaken at best -- and deceitful at worst.
People close to Bidwill say the man has been misunderstood, but I think we have a pretty good handle on him. He has been cheap, and he has been ignorant, and the result has been one of the worst runs in pro football history.
Between 1984 and 2008, the Cardinals had one winning season. One. In 25 years. And after that one season, when the Cardinals went 9-7 and made the 1998 playoffs, Bidwill let it fall apart. Didn't watch it happen. Let it happen.
That 1998 team had three key free agents: Linebacker Jamir Miller, the team's leading tackler; running back Larry Centers, its No. 2 receiver; offensive lineman Lomas Brown, a seven-time Pro Bowl pick and the absolute leader of that locker room.
Bidwill, in his trademark bow tie, let them all go. Too expensive. Even back in St. Louis, before NFL salaries went haywire, Bidwill had been known as a cheapskate. They hated him in St. Louis, hated him to the point that he watched his final game in town, in 1987, in a mostly empty stadium under armed guard because of a death threat. By then his nickname was "Dollar Bill," and not because he looked like George Washington.
Cheap? Google Bidwill's name and the word "cheap." You'll be astounded at what you see. Stories of him forcing Cardinals rookies to buy their own cleats. Stories of him shocking his players in 1989 with a decent post-practice meal, and then shocking his players even more when they got their paycheck and saw the cost of lunch had been deducted, every day, from their paycheck.
Stories about former Cardinals safety Lorenzo Lynch breaking his facemask during a road game in the early 1990s and asking an equipment man to fix it -- and being told the team had already packed its gear for the long trip home. Sorry. No facemask for you.
In 1999, popular tight end Chris Gedney was unceremoniously released after coming down with ulcerative colitis. For years, players who needed to replace a single pair of tube socks had to explain to team officials why. When Bidwill moved the team to Arizona in 1988, his first goodwill move was to gouge his new market with the highest ticket prices in the NFL. Keep in mind, in 1988 the Cardinals had won just 16 of their previous 48 games.
A few years later, unable to sell all his seats, Bill Bidwill reached out to fans in other cities, offering them deals to buy tickets to watch their team travel to Phoenix and play the Cardinals. You read that right. Bill Bidwill courted opposing fans. Anything to make a buck.
The man sucks. Not sucked, past tense. Sucks. This Super Bowl doesn't change anything.
It certainly doesn't change the upbringing of Bill Bidwill, who was made a team vice president while he was still in college -- at Georgetown, more than 1,000 miles away -- and then let that silver spoon rot whatever football acumen his dad tried to pass along.
The patriarch of this family, Charles Bidwill, died in April 1947, months before the Cardinals won their only NFL title. Charles' widow ran the team until she died in 1962, and Bill and a brother took over. Bill assumed full control in 1972, and the bottom dropped out. Between 1972 and now, the Cardinals are 229-339-4 -- 110 games below .500, a mathematical impossibility in a league that aims for parity.
But then, Bill Bidwill defies mathematics. He defies logic and common sense. He's the guy who chose Arizona among the cities trying to land the Cardinals in January 1987 and explained it like so: "One of the things I like about it is that I was sitting next to a man from Phoenix on the plane coming in, and he told me it was 72 degrees there."
No sense at all, Bill Bidwill. He's the guy who chased off Don "Air" Coryell, who became a legend for his pyrotechnic offense in San Diego but should have made his legend with the Cardinals. He won consecutive division titles in St. Louis in 1974-75 and went 10-4 in '76, but one year later he was so sick of Bidwill that he said, and I quote, "I'd like to be fired. Let me have a high school job." Coryell and Bidwill had stopped speaking. Two months later, Coryell was gone. Bidwill stayed.
Bidwill stayed and let the NFL's most dangerous weapon, Terry Metcalf, leave as a free agent to Canada. Bidwill stayed and let tight end Jay Novacek leave in 1990 for the Cowboys, where he won three Super Bowls. Bidwill stayed and in 1993 tried to woo free-agent quarterback Joe Montana, but that fell apart when the Cardinals wanted to take Montana on an evening tour of the team facilities and found the place locked up ... and couldn't find anyone who had the key. Montana went to Kansas City. Bidwill stayed and purged the 1998 team.
Bidwill stayed and now, after all these years, is in the Super Bowl. All it took was a new, revenue-making stadium that was built completely with someone else's money -- officially Bidwill contributed $147 million, but considering he sold the stadium's naming rights to the University of Phoenix for $154.5 million, he actually had a stadium built and made $7.5 million -- and the emergence of his tyrannically effective son.
Bill Bidwill is in the Super Bowl. In Tampa, a loser wins. Somewhere, a blind squirrel finds a nut.
And in hell, the place has frozen over.