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.
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.
Tom Banks is arguably the greatest center in Big Red history. He was a team leader and outspoken critic of management which made him a fan favorite during his playing days in St. Louis. Banks tells it like it is (and still does) and the fans loved him for it. The All-Pro center was drafted in the eighth round out of Auburn in 1970 and played 11 seasons for the Cardinals (1970-1980). After missing his rookie season due to a broken ankle, Banks became one of the top NFL centers in the mid-70s anchoring an offensive line that only gave up 8 sacks in 1975. He earned Pro Bowl honors from 1975-1978. I recently spoke with Tom about his time at Auburn, his days in St. Louis, and finishing his career with the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL.
Q: Tom, tell us a little about your father, Tom Banks Sr.? I understand that he was a pretty good ball player himself.
Banks: My dad came out of WWII and went to Jones Junior College in Mississippi. It was impossible to get a scholarship to a major school because of all the veterans coming back from war. He was an undersized offensive lineman at 185 pounds, but he became a Junior College All-American. He took a year off to work in the steel mill when I was born and said it was the best decision he ever made because it made him realize to value education. He went to Auburn in 1949 and earned a scholarship. He played in the first Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL in 1951 and I was in the stands sitting on my mom’s lap. I was only 2 and a half years old. Later we became the first father-son to play in the Senior Bowl (Banks played in the 1970 game).