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The Chicago Cardinals were an American football team that played in the NFL from 1920 to 1959. They are the franchise that later became the Arizona Cardinals of today. The Cardinals, alongside the Chicago bears are the oldest franchises in the NFL that are still in existence today, having joined as charter members in 1920 and 1921 respectively.
How did the Chicago Cardinals Start up?
The Cardinals franchise can trace its roots all the way to 1898 in the form of a team known as the Morgan Athletic Club. The Cardinals moniker was first used in 1901. The team, then playing at Normal Park on Racine Avenue in Chicago, borrowed old maroon uniforms from the University of Chicago. When asked why they were so faded, team owner Chris O’Brien claimed the jerseys were cardinal red not maroon. The team changed names to Racine Cardinals and after some war plagued years they changed their name again to Chicago Cardinals in 1922, two years after the formation of the NFL.
The Cardinals in Competition
The Cardinals’ first game was a scoreless tie against crosstown rivals Chicago Tigers, before then defeating the Detroit Heralds 21-0 on Halloween in their first home game. The finished the season with a 3-2-2 record. After three further mediocre seasons, they claimed the ultimate price, the 1925 NFL championship with an 11-2-1 record albeit in controversial circumstances. During the rest of the 1920s, they failed to claim a single winning season as they sunk into mediocrity.
In the 1930s, the team remained less than average as they finished with 0.500 or better only three times. The worst of the decade was the 1933 season, which they finished with a dismal 1-9-1 record. Although they would begin the 1940s where they left off in the 30s, the Cardinals would pick themselves up in the second half of the decade following a merger with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1944. In 1946 they had a 6-5 record, which was their first winning record in eight years.
In 1947, the Cardinals would make it to the NFL Championship game having trounced the Bears 30-21 in a decider enforced by their identical 8-3 record at the top of the division. They then beat the Eagles 28-21 to clinch their only other NFL Championship. The following season, they were even better in regular season, putting together an 11-1 record to win the Western Division. However, they fell to the Eagles 7-0 in the Championship game, relinquishing the NFL title.
Heading into the fifties, the Cards would string together six consecutive losing seasons before a 7-5 record in 1956 seemed to bring back the team that had won the Championship. However, that interjection of good results was short lived and they saw out their last three years in Chicago with further losing seasons.
Chicago Cardinals most Notable Moments
The 1925 NFL championship was memorable to the Cardinals for being their first trophy but also for the manner in which it was won. In those days, teams were allowed to make their own schedules and there were no playoff games. At the end of the season, having completed their scheduled games, the Cards found themselves in second place behind the Pottsville Maroons by just half a game.
They swiftly added two games to their schedule against weaker opponents, the Milwaukee Badgers and the Hammond Pros, both of which they won. Pottsville would schedule a game of their own against the Norte Dame All-Stars, which was deemed to be a violation of the territorial rights of Frankford Yellowjackets. The Maroons were stripped of the title by the league, handing it over to the Cardinals although Cardinals’ owner Chris O’Brien refused to accept it.
The 1947 season started badly for the Cardinals as Charles Bidwill died in April. Before his death, Bidwill had signed star running back Charley Trippi to bolster the squad. It had been 22 years since their last championship win and had been playing badly. However the Cardinals surprised everybody by finishing tied for first with the Chicago Bears. They beat their bitter rivals in the division title decider and advanced to the Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The game was played at a frozen Comiskey Park. Trippi wore basketball shoes to provide traction and he rushed 44 yards for a touchdown followed by a 75-yarder. Marshall Goldberg’s interception late into the fourth quarter won the game 28-21 to clinch the Championship and pay a deserving tribute to Bidwill.
Chicago Cardinals most Notable Players
Quarterback Paddy Driscol was hired by the cardinals in 1920 in player-coach capacity. Although the team did not perform particularly well under him his on-field contribution earned Chicago the 1925 NFL title and stamp his place as one of the greatest drop kicker and runners in NFL history.
Charley Trippi played as a quarterback for Chicago from 1947 to 1955. His contribution was instrumental in the 1947 NFL championship win in which he ran for 206 yards and scored two touch downs. He had more than a thousand each of passing, rushing and receiving yards, the only Pro Football Hall of Famer to achieve that feat.
Other notable players include Dick Lane, Ollie Matson, Walt Guard and Ernie Nevers.
What Happened to the Chicago Cardinals?
The Cardinals were strugglers throughout their time in Chicago unlike their crosstown rivals, the Chicago Bears who were the true darlings of the city. Attendance suffered greatly and the team almost ran into bankruptcy during the 1950s. After a 2-10 season in 1959, it became clear to the owners that there was no future for the team in Chicago.
The Bidwill sons, who had acquired the team after their mother passed away sought to relocate it to another city but were rebuffed by the NFL’s demand for a hefty relocation fee. However following the formation of the rival American Football League (AFL), the NFL allowed the Cardinals to move to St. Louis in 1960, blocking the AFL’s plans for a charter franchise there. The team was renamed St. Louis cardinals.