Bill Bidwill, owner of the National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals, and the league’s longest-tenured owner, died October 2 at the age of 88.
Football was a family business for Bidwill as his father, Charles, bought the then-Chicago Cardinals in 1932. The younger Bidwill then worked in several junior-level roles for the team and then inherited the franchise with his brother, Charles Jr., in 1962 after the death of their mother, Violet. Bill Bidwill then bought out his brother’s interest a decade later and had been the club’s sole owner since then.
A move of the Cardinals to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1960 and then Phoenix, Arizona, in 1988 helped create a rather complicated legacy for Bidwill. The team lost often in both markets, posting just six winning seasons in the final 35 years of his life. And Bidwill in both markets engendered a widespread reputation for being cheap, which was thought to help fuel the continued losing for the team, and he was often aloof.
But Bidwill, always wearing a bow tie, was also known as a “league man” willing to sacrifice his own local-market business interests for the greater good of the NFL, and he played a key role in the meteoric growth in the league’s revenue and popularity during his long tenure. Three Super Bowls have been played in Arizona, with a fourth set for 2023, which are also a key part of Bidwill’s legacy, as is the development and 2006 opening of State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, that placed the team on much stronger financial footing.
Bidwill also was a trailblazer on minority hiring in the league, employing the league’s first African-American-female executive (Adele Harris), its first African-American contract negotiator (Bob Wallace), and its first African-American head coach-general manager tandem (Dennis Green and Rod Graves). Bidwill in 2010 received the Tank Younger Award from the Fritz Pollard Alliance for making an extraordinary impact on minority hiring in the league.
“Bill Bidwill was part of the NFL family his entire life, starting from his days as a ball boy through his time as an owner,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “Although never one to seek the spotlight, Bill had an incredible sense of humor, and he made extraordinary contributions to the NFL. Bill’s vision brought the Cardinals, the NFL, and multiple Super Bowls to Arizona. He was a leader in embracing diversity.”
The future succession of the Cardinals is unclear at present. Bidwill’s wife, Nancy, predeceased him three years ago. He is survived by his five children, including Cardinals president Michael, and nine grandchildren. Michael Bidwill is considered the favorite to take over the team given his 12 years running its day-to-day operations. But NFL franchise successions are often messy affairs, as is currently playing out in Denver.
“Above all else, we will remember him as a man devoted to three central pillars of his life – his immense faith, his love for his family, and his lifelong passion for the Cardinals and the sport of football,” Michael Bidwill said.