Remembering Violet Bidwill Wolfner: First Female NFL Owner

Violet Bidwill-Wolfner

Violet Bidwill became the first woman to own an NFL franchise after her husband passed away in April 1947. Charles Bidwill had purchased the Chicago Cardinals in 1933 and would eventually acquire horse and dog tracks in Chicago and Florida, all of which Ms. Bidwill inherited at the time of Charley’s death.

Violet Bidwill was born Violet Fults in Red Bud, IL (40 miles southeast of St. Louis) on January 10, 1900. Her father died when she was just four years old and her mother worked as a waitress. Violet met Chicago sportsman Charley Bidwill in the 1920s and were soon married. Charles “Stormy” Bidwill Jr. was born in 1928 and younger brother William (Bill) Bidwill was born three years later. The boys would later learn, after Violet’s death, that they had been adopted.

Violet was a tall, beautiful, soft-eyed woman, who former Cardinals head coach Jim Conzelman and others described as so shy that she was uncomfortable except in the presence of her family and close friends. Youngest son Bill would acquire this same trait.

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Cardinals Defensive Coach Chuck Drulis: Innovator, Controversial

Chuck Drulis was a defensive coach with the Cardinals for 16 seasons.

The late Chuck Drulis was known for his defensive talents. Some said that he was a generation ahead of his time. “He was a defensive genius,” linebacker Jamie Rivers told the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1972.

The Pennsylvania native was a star offensive lineman at Temple before playing seven seasons in the NFL for the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. He arrived in Chicago in 1956 as a defensive assistant under Cardinals head coach Ray Richards and would serve under five different head coaches until his sudden death in 1972. Drulis was also credited with two victories when he shared head coaching duties after Frank “Pop” Ivy resigned with two games left in the 1961 season.

WILDCAT

Drulis made his mark by devising the “safety blitz.” It involved a defensive back bursting through the offensive line just as the ball was snapped in a frantic attempt to sack the quarterback. Drulis called it the “Wildcat” and he had been tinkering with it for a couple of years, but needed a player who had the toughness and nerves of steel to successfully carry it out. That player arrived in 1960. Larry Wilson was drafted as a running back out of Utah in the eighth round of the draft, but was converted to safety by Drulis in training camp. After struggling early, Wilson showed just enough to make the team. He ended up starting 11 of 12 games his rookie season intercepting two passes.

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Big Red Alumni Gather for Annual Christmas Party

Several former St. Louis Football Cardinals alumni recently gathered in Chesterfield for the annual Christmas Party. Among those in attendance were Coach Jim Hanifan, Johnny Roland, Mel Gray, Jackie Smith, Bob Rowe, Mark Arneson, Tim Kearney, Ron Yankowski, Ernie McMillan, Eddie Moss, Mike Wood, Terry Miller, Eric Williams, Keith Wortman, Willard Harrell, Jim Otis, Herschel Turner, Tim Van Galder, Jerry Holloway, former Big Red PA announcer Jim Holder, former Mizzou and Dallas Cowboys player Howard Richards, former MIzzou and Raiders player Gus Otto, and Big Red Line cheerleader Melodee Hinkle.

1987: Revisiting Greatest Big Red Comeback

The NFL was coming off another strike and the Big Red were on a three-game losing streak. They were facing a bad Tampa Bay team and owner Bill Bidwill was talking about leaving town. It’s a wonder that even 22,449 fans showed up to see the Cardinals play the Buccaneers on a dreary, rainy Sunday in early November.

And like many fans, the Cards were no-shows themselves for the first three quarters of the game spotting the Bucs a 28-3 lead. As St. Louis Post Dispatch columnist Kevin Horrigan wrote, “As the fourth quarter began, the Bucs are up by 25 points and it’s so quiet you can hear the cheerleaders, which is a bad sign. NFL cheerleaders are designed to be seen, not heard.”

But the game was far from over. The Big Red erupted for four touchdowns in the final 12:42 to win the game 31-28. It was the largest fourth quarter comeback in NFL history.

“Just another laugher,” said Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill who was accompanied by detectives after receiving a death threat prior to the game.

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Cardinals linebacker Bill Koman: Tough, opinionated

An excellent piece by Mark Tomasik over at RetroSimba on the late Bill Koman who passed away on November 1st. Koman played in 120 straight games for the Cardinals back in the 1960s and was a two-time Pro Bowler.

RetroSimba

Bill Koman was a talented, durable outside linebacker and one of the respected leaders of the Big Red defense of the St. Louis football Cardinals in the 1960s. He also was outspoken and controversial.

Koman died Nov. 1. 2019, at 85. He played 12 seasons in the NFL for the Baltimore Colts (1956), Philadelphia Eagles (1957-58), Chicago Cardinals (1959) and St. Louis Cardinals (1960-67). He owned a real estate development and construction company and built it into a successful business in St. Louis.

Koman is remembered as a devoted family man, business owner and philanthropist.

Will to succeed

William John Koman Sr. was born in 1934 in Ambridge, Pa., located on the Ohio River 16 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The town was formed by the American Bridge Company and attracted thousands of immigrants to work in the steel mills.

Koman grew up in nearby Aliquippa, Pa., and when he was…

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Sonny Randle and his greatest game for Cardinals

Great story on former Big Red receiver Sonny Randle’s big day in 1962. No one scored more touchdowns in the decade of the 1960s than Sonny Randle. Great receiver!

RetroSimba

(Updated Nov. 4, 2019)

Among the most proficient teammate combinations in professional sports in St. Louis in the 1960s were Tim McCarver catching Bob Gibson with the baseball Cardinals, Lenny Wilkens passing to Bob Pettit with the NBA Hawks and Charley Johnson throwing to Sonny Randle with the NFL Cardinals.

Randle played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1960-66 after entering the league with the 1959 Chicago Cardinals.

On Nov. 4, 1962, Randle had what the St Louis Post-Dispatch described as “one of the most exceptional pass-catching days” in NFL lore.

Randle had 16 catches for 256 yards and a touchdown for the Cardinals against the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium.

The only NFL player at that time to have more catches in a game was Tom Fears of the Los Angeles Rams with 18 against the Green Bay Packers in 1950.

(Today, the NFL record is held by Brandon Marshall, who…

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JIM BAKKEN: Tough Act to Follow

Jim Bakken played 17 seasons and is the Cardinals all-time leading scorer with 1380 points.

For a team who struggled finding a punter during their 28 years in St. Louis, the Big Red had no worries at place kicking. Not until 1979, that is. Jim Bakken became the team’s full time kicker in 1963 and would go on to play 17 seasons becoming the organization’s all-time leading scorer. Bakken once kicked seven field goals in a game, was a four-time Pro Bowler, two-time All Pro, and two-time all-decade player in the 60s and 70s.

When he retired, Bakken was the third-highest scorer in NFL history. He led the league in field goals and accuracy twice, and led it in scoring once. He finished in the top six in field-goal percentage nine times and was in the top three of field goals made five times. Remarkably, Bakken is not in the Cardinals Ring of Honor.

The Cardinals struggled to find a replacement for Bakken after his retirement. Most notably, they drafted Steve Little in the first round of the 1978 draft to replace Bakken. Little lasted two and a half forgettable seasons in St. Louis. They brought in veteran Neil O’Donoghue who seemed to miss big kick after big kick and then spent a second round pick on John Lee in 1986 who couldn’t kick without a tee.

Let’s go back and take a look at the ten kickers who attempted to replace Jim Bakken.

Steve Little (1978-1980)

Steve Little was a College All-American at Arkansas, but struggled adjusting to the NFL.
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1974: Revisiting one of the Great Games in Big Red History

The Cardinals and QB Jim Hart had not beaten the Cowboys since 1970.

The 1974 St. Louis Football Cardinals were off to their best start in eight years. They had won their first four games of the season, however many “experts” still had their doubts. And who could blame them? The Big Red were coming off three straight 4-9-1 seasons and three of their early victories were against less than top-tier opponents. To add insult to injury, Dallas was coming to town and, despite a 1-3 record, the Cowboys were favored by three points over the Cards.

“I love it,” quarterback Jim Hart told Jeff Meyers of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “I like going into a game as the underdog. I don’t think that the Cowboys, with their history of success, really take us seriously, even if it’s possible that a 1-3 team would be complacent.”

One reason the Big Red were underdogs was that they hadn’t beaten Dallas since their 38-0 win on Monday Night Football in 1970. They had lost six in a row to the Cowboys by an average score of 30-11. And the Cowboys certainly didn’t feel like they were playing poorly in 1974. They had lost three straight games for the first time in ten years, however two of their losses were on last-minute field goals-one of which they believed wasn’t good. But, head coach Tom Landry knew that another loss would probably keep them from making their ninth straight post-season appearance.

“We’ve got to beat the Cardinals,” Landry said. “We’re surely not out of the race yet.”

So the stage was set for a mid-October showdown on a warm sunny day at sold out Busch Stadium. The 4-0 Cardinals vs. the 1-3 Cowboys.

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The Top 100 St. Louis Football Cardinals (10-1)

With the NFL celebrating its centennial season in 2019, the league will soon be announcing its top 100 players of all-time. I thought it would be fun to look back and rank the Big Red’s top 100 players who played in St. Louis.

The Cardinals moved from Chicago after the 1959 season and played 28 years in St. Louis before Bill Bidwill moved to the desert in 1988. Several great players played under the arch during this period including four Hall of Famers.

These rankings are only based on the player’s time spent in St. Louis. Consideration was given to the player’s statistics, All-Pro/Pro Bowl selections, team leadership, and impact in the community. It is next to impossible to compare eras, so many of these picks were very difficult.

The Top 100 St. Louis Football Cardinals of All-Time: 10-1

10. Charley Johnson (QB)

QB Charley Johnson played 9 seasons with the Cardinals.

Pro Bowl QB Charley Johnson was the Cards 10th round pick out of New Mexico State in 1960. Johnson took over as starter in his second season and led the Big Red to a 30-15-3 record from 1963-1966. He led the NFL in completions (223), attempts (420), yards (3045), and TD passes (28) in 1964 when the Cards missed playing for the NFL Championship by a half game. He also led the NFL in fourth quarter comebacks in 1966 and 1968 and twice threw six touchdowns in a game during his nine year career with the Cardinals. A late season injury in 1966 cost the Cardinals another shot at a championship and a stint in the Army Reserves cost Johnson parts of two seasons during his prime as he lost his job to Jim Hart. Johnson was traded to Houston after the 1969 season and finished his career with the Broncos. Off the field, Johnson obtained a chemical engineering degree at New Mexico State and later earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at Washington University while playing with the Big Red.

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The Top 100 St. Louis Football Cardinals (20-11)

With the NFL celebrating its centennial season in 2019, the league will soon be announcing its top 100 players of all-time. I thought it would be fun to look back and rank the Big Red’s top 100 players who played in St. Louis.

The Cardinals moved from Chicago after the 1959 season and played 28 years in St. Louis before Bill Bidwill moved to the desert in 1988. Several great players played under the arch during this period including four Hall of Famers.

These rankings are only based on the player’s time spent in St. Louis. Consideration was given to the player’s statistics, All-Pro/Pro Bowl selections, team leadership, and impact in the community. It is next to impossible to compare eras, so many of these picks were very difficult.

The Top 100 St. Louis Football Cardinals of All-Time: 20-11

20. PAT TILLEY (WR)

Pat Tilley was like Denny’s. He was always open.

Pat Tilley played 11 seasons for the Big Red and retired as the second leading pass catcher in team history. The Louisiana Tech product was the Cards 4th round pick in 1976 and shared the team rookie of the year honor with Mike Dawson. Tilley scored his first NFL touchdown in the ’76 season opener against the Seahawks. Teammates Mel Gray and Roy Green got all the headlines, but Tilley led the team in receiving from 1978-1982 earning one Pro Bowl appearance in 1980. He started every game but one from 1978-1985. His best season was in 1981 when he caught 66 passes for 1040 yards and three TDs. Tilley finished his career with 469 receptions, 7005 yards and 37 touchdowns.

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