(Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Robert L. Burnes’ book Big Red: Story of the St. Louis Football Cardinals. Frank “Pop” Ivy was a member of the 1947 NFL Champion Chicago Cardinals and was the St. Louis Cardinals first head coach after they relocated from Chicago. He led them to a 6-5-1 record in 1960, but the team fell apart in 1961 and he resigned with just two games left in the season.)
When Pop Ivyabruptly resigned with two games left in the 1961 season, the general public impression was that he had been fired.
Walter Wolfner(the Cardinals Director of Operations) denied it vigorously. “We had no fault to find with Pop’s work, especially considering the injuries. He was under no pressure from management. In fact, I was waiting until the end of the season to talk to him about a new contract. I was shocked when he told me he wanted out.” The coach maintained that no one had pushed him, no one had leaned on him to leave. “It was my own idea,” he said.
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.
It didn’t take long after the Cardinals moved to St. Louis in 1960 to realize they would need a new quarterback if they wanted to compete for an NFL Championship.
King Hill started the inaugural game in Los Angeles in 1960, but was benched at halftime. Backup QB John Roach was benched at halftime the following week. Hill, Roach and former Notre Dame star George Izo combined to complete only 44% of their passes and throw 25 interceptions in 1960. Some claimed that running back John David Crow threw the ball better than all three quarterbacks.
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.
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.
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.
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.