After ten years of co-owning the St. Louis Football Cardinals, Charles “Stormy” Bidwill had had enough. Either he or his brother Bill had to go.
The Bidwill brothers took over the Cardinals after their mother had suddenly passed away in 1962. Violet Bidwill Wolfner was the first female owner in NFL history and she left most of her multi-million dollar estate, including the football team, to her sons. The brothers already held titles of President and Vice President, but Violet’s husband, Walter Wolfner, essentially controlled the team. After being pushed out after Violet’s death, Wolfner filed a lawsuit claiming the brothers were illegally adopted as babies. This shocked Stormy and Bill who had not known they were adopted until they heard about it in Probate Court.
Judges ultimately ruled against Wolfner which resulted in the Bidwills assuming full control of the Grid Birds in early 1963.
The Cardinals enjoyed some immediate success on the field after the brothers took over the team. The Big Red won 18 games the next two seasons and came within a half game of hosting the NFL Championship in 1964. But the Bidwill’s relationship became strained over the next several years.
Bill resided in St. Louis and was the resident manager of the team, while Stormy lived and ran the family horse track, Sportsman’s Park, in Chicago. But as Jeff Meyers wrote in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, “the gap between them (Stormy and Bill) was not only geographic.”
“One of our problems is a lack of communication,” Stormy told Meyers. “He’s very hard to talk to. He’s not an open person.”
As his nickname suggests, Stormy was an emotional, outspoken individual, while Bill was shy and reserved. They couldn’t have been more opposite. But, for the most part, they kept their differences private and out of the press.
The first sign of public distress came after the 1969 season when the Cardinals finished with a disappointing 4-9-1 record. Stormy wanted to fire Charley Winner, but Bill went to bat for the head coach and fought hard to retain him. In 1970, the Cardinals stormed out of the gate and led the NFC East by a game in a half with three left to play. But, the Cards lost all three of those games and failed to make the playoffs. After the season, Stormy came down from Chicago and demanded Winner be fired. According to a story in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Bill put on his hat and coat and left the room while Stormy gave Winner the pink slip.
“We were very disappointed that we were on top with three to go and sort of fell apart for the Detroit Lions and New York Giants games,” Stormy told the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
A few weeks later, the brothers put on a united front when they hired former Vikings assistant coach Bob Hollway, but the relationship was beyond repair.
The final straw occurred after a late season loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1971. Stormy became irate after learning that star running back MacArthur Lane called Bill a “fat (bleep) whose money is right there in his stomach,” a reference to Bills’ girth and his alleged cheapness.
Stormy feared that front office dysfunction had filtered down to the players and may have been affecting their performance on the field.
“After the Mac Lane thing,” Stormy told the St. Louis Post Dispatch, “I offered to sell, but he (Bill) backed out.”
A few months later, Stormy thought he had a verbal agreement to buy the team, but the deal never came to fruition.
“I had the money and was ready to buy,” Stormy told the Post Dispatch, “but he reneged.”
Stormy decided to take another approach. He presented a buy-sell agreement to Bill and gave him the first shot to purchase the team. To his surprise, Bill came up with the money, a reported $6,000,000.
“We had to do something,” Stormy told the Post Dispatch. “I want to win and we weren’t doing it under the present system. It was better we split. It’s over and I hope everyone forgets the squabble and it clears the air.”
When asked how he was going to feel with life without football, Stormy said, “It’s going to hurt like hell. This (decision) isn’t something you do in 48 hours. It’s taken a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of thinking and a lot of pills for the stomach.”
“But I’ve had a lot of other things to go through. The Wolfner thing, for instance. Once you get over it and get going you pick yourself up. I think I’ll eventually get connect again with some sport.”
With the exception of a failed bid for the expansion NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1975, Stormy would never get back into football. He continued to run Sportsman’s Park race track in Chicago before turning it over to his son in 1995.
Would the Cardinals still be playing under the Gateway Arch if Bill Bidwill had accepted Stormy’s initial bid for the team in 1972? That’s the million dollar question. And it’s a question that has been asked and debated for almost 50 years in St. Louis. Unfortunately, we’ll never know.