Cardinal Great Larry Wilson Passes Away at 82

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for St. Louis sports fans. We lost baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock on September 6 and on Friday we learned of the passing of former Big Red great Larry Wilson.

Wilson played college ball at the University of Utah and was the Chicago Cardinals 7th round draft choice in the 1960 NFL draft. He went on to a 13 year Hall of Fame career in St. Louis.

The Rigby, Idaho native played in 8 Pro Bowls and was named first team All-Pro five times. He was selected to the NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, the 75th Anniversary Team, and the NFL 100 All-Time Team. Wilson was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1966 and is the all-time Cardinals leader in interceptions with 52. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978.

Wilson was a member of the Cardinals organization as a player, coach, and executive for over 40 years. He was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor in 2006.

Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill had this to say about Wilson.

“Besides my father, Larry Wilson was the most influential male figure in my life. He was someone who truly lived his faith and demonstrated it daily in the kindness he showed every single person he met. Any of us lucky enough to be in his orbit – whether that was for a few minutes or four decades – was always better off from the experience. I will remember Larry Wilson first as a fantastic person but then obviously as one of the greatest players the National Football League has ever seen. It’s fitting that his passing coincides with the league’s 100th birthday because his toughness and the way he revolutionized his position make him one of our game’s most unforgettable figures. Whether on the field playing with casts on both hands or brightening the lives of every person he knew, Larry’s selflessness defined who he was and how we will all remember him.”

Larry Wilson is survived by Nancy, his wife of 40 years, as well as daughter Christie, son Larry Jr., numerous grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

How the Big Red Helmet Cart Almost Took Out Lou Brock

By Lori Greenstein

Long, long ago in a place called the Civic Center Busch Memorial Stadium, a couple of minor miracles occurred.

Bill Bidwill bought the nifty Golf Cart shaped like a football helmet, featuring a giant Cardinal bird head decal. He strolled into our PR office, smiled and asked if I’d like to drive the new golf cart. “Heck yes!”, I said. I didn’t bother to tell him I’d never driven one before!

Bill Bidwill and family with the Big Red Helmet Cart (circa 1987)

It was parked outside the double doors separating the football and baseball offices in the stadium. He showed me how to start it, where the brake and the go pedal was. He told me to have fun.

I was terrified. What if I wrecked it? He went back into the offices and I turned the key. Off I went, at a snail’s pace to begin. Down the main concourse I went, wearing a huge smile, I am sure.

The longer I drove it, the more confidence I gained and the faster I went. That was a big stadium, with a whole lot of concrete concourses, which took me up to the top of the stadium, around it and then back down. I grew braver with each passing moment.

By the time I was coming down the last ramp, it was floored! And just as I came into view of the parking place across from the baseball home plate netting, the door opened and a young man walked into my path. I screamed “Woman at the wheel”, he turned his head, saw me and set a new land speed record to safety on the other side of the concourse, behind the net.

That was a historic moment. To this day, I maintain that the Cardinal golf cart and I scared the SPEED into LOU BROCK. It might have been about the time he started stealing bases and setting records. ‘Nuff said.

(Editor’s Note: Lori Greenstein served as the Football Cardinals Assistant Public Relations Director from 1965-1971)

Why Stormy Bidwill Sold The Cardinals

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 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, pretty much 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 and the Bidwills finally assumed full control of the Grid Birds in early 1963.

Charles “Stormy” Bidwill Jr.
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Big Red Legends: Larry Wilson

From a seventh round draft pick to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Larry Frank Wilson played the game with sheer determination, guts, and maximum effort. He played thirteen seasons with the Cardinals earning 8 Pro Bowls and was named to five All-Pro teams. He is a member of the 1960s All Decade Team and is still the organization’s all-time leader with 52 interceptions.

Larry Wilson takes the field for the final time in 1972.

EARLY LIFE

Wilson was born and raised in Rigby, Idaho where he faced adversity as a youngster. His mother died of spinal meningitis when he was just ten years old and his father was a truck driver, so Larry helped rear his younger brother, John. As a teen, Larry worked ten-hour days harvesting potatoes, but his father encouraged him to play sports. Larry was a tremendous all around athlete, earning 16 letters in high school. He broke the state high jump record and was a very good baseball and basketball player.

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1960: Why the Cardinals left Chicago

Walter Wolfner, Commissioner Pete Rozelle, and Bill Bidwill at the March 1960 league meetings in Los Angeles, CA.

The Arizona Cardinals were founded in Chicago as the Morgan Athletic Club in 1898 and were charter members of the National Football League in 1920. During their stay in the Windy City, the Cardinals won a controversial NFL Championship in 1925 and another in 1947, just after team owner Charles Bidwill passed away. After losing in the 1948 Championship game, the Cardinals fell on hard times. They went through a number of head coaches, losing seasons, and were struggling financially.

WALTER WOLFNER

Violet Bidwill had taken control of the team after her husband Charles’ death in 1947. Two years later, Ms. Bidwill married Walter Wolfner, a one-time St. Louis coffee broker. In 1951, Wolfner was named managing director of the team, with Charles “Stormy” Bidwill the president, and Bill Bidwill the vice-president. The fact that Wolfner had control of the team was the first step in the Cardinals moving to St. Louis.

Chicago Cardinals owner Violet Bidwill Wolfner and her husband Walter Wolfner

In 1954, the Cardinals would play their first charity exhibition game in St. Louis. They lost 30-0 to the Philadelphia Eagles, but Wolfner would sign a ten-year agreement to play an annual exhibition game at Sportman’s Park. The game would become known as the Cardinal Glennon charity game and it would become a fixture on the Cardinals pre-season schedule for over 20 years.

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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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Football Cardinals finally got it right with Don Coryell

RetroSimba

(Updated Jan. 18, 2019)

Don Coryell was the best coaching hire in St. Louis Cardinals football history.

don_coryellOn Jan. 18, 1973, the football Cardinals, responding to an unsolicited letter, hired Coryell to be their head coach.

An innovator known for producing winning college teams and high-powered offenses, Coryell overcame his lack of NFL experience and transformed the Cardinals into a championship-caliber club.

In five seasons (1973-77) under Coryell, the Cardinals posted a 42-27-1 record and twice qualified for the playoffs. Those were the Cardinals’ first playoff berths since 1948 and their first division titles since moving from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960.

Few predicted such success in January 1973. The Cardinals had finished the 1972 season with their second consecutive 4-9-1 record under head coach Bob Hollway. They ranked 23rd in scoring in the 26-team NFL.

Coryell, 48, had a 104-19-2 record in 12 years at San Diego State. He had developed future NFL players such…

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