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Monday, January 19, 2009

Odd Year Champions? 2009 Cardinals Storm to Super Bowl

Here's one from my pal Pat Hickey on the Football Cardinal Franchise. The Cardinals, one time renters of Comiskey Park hailed from the South Side of Chicago (home of Hickey, by the way) and practiced at Sherman Park, one of the grand landscapes on the wretched South Side.

Bidwill's Bonanza - Cardinals Carry Charley's South Side Dreams to the Top Floor!

Mario 'Motts' Tonelli Italian American Hall of Fame Member, Bataan Death March Survivor and Chicago Cardinal

The Cardinals are America's oldest Professional Football franchise -founded in 1898 and they are based in Glendale Arizona outside of Phoenix, but the root of Cardinal Mystique is the south side of Chicago. They began as the Morgan Athletic Club and played on Racine Avenue and were owned by Chicago painting contractor Chris O'Brien. In 1932, the Bidwill family bought the Cardinals. Charley 'Blue-Shirt Charley' Bidwill, a former VP for the Chicago Bears, worked to build a Chicago Powerhouse. He did just that by the end of World War II.

Elmer Angsman,Paul Christman, Pat Harder, Marshall Goldberg, and Charlie Trippi were members of the Million Dollar Backfield. They took down the Philadelphia Eagles in 1947. They were brought together by Charley Bidwill after World War II. In 1947 the Cardinals won the NFL Championship and in 1948 a Division Title for the south side football franchise that began as the O'Brien Cardinals playing at what is now Morgan Park Academy in the 1920's. Charley Bidwill died in April of 1947, before his Dream Team coached by the great Jimmy Conzelman could realize their potential.

Charley's sons Charley and Bill took command. The Cardinals moved to St. Louis and eventually to Phoenix. The Bidwill Family retain their ties to Chicago and are powerful but quiet participants in all Chicago Philanthropic initiatives. Stormy Bidwill runs Sportmans Park racing track and helps poor kids at Leo High School get an education.

The Bidwill Family always seemed to take the high road. When Notre Dame running great Mario 'Motts' Toneli* returned to Chicago from the Japanese Death Camps from Bataan to Japan after being captured in the siege of Bataan, Charley Bidwill, though putting together a Million Dollar backfield, signed the skeletal Tonelli and had him carry the ball against the Green Bay Packers:

Slightly more than one in every three men captured on Bataan returned home. But few did so to recognition of their peculiar ordeal. In the flush of V-J Day, Americans yearned for their antebellum status quo. In just such a spirit Cardinals owner Charley Bidwill** asked Tonelli, home not even a month, to rejoin the team. It was a publicity stunt, but one in which all parties eagerly conspired. War hero Tonelli, The Chicago Sun declared, had been "nursed back to full strength and health." Tonelli played along. "My weight is back up to 183 pounds," he told the papers, though he weighed more like 140. He still had malaria. Since that day his wife, Mary, and his parents had met him at Chicago's Union Station, doctors had twice cut him open to treat his intestines.

Bidwill's gesture was well-intentioned, but football doesn't run on sentiment. Three days after signing in front of the cameras, Tonelli carried twice against the Packers in Green Bay, each time for no gain, and so ended his NFL career. The next morning's Chicago Tribune carried both news of the Cardinals' 33-14 loss and the headline WAR VETERANS RETURN AND GO HOUSE HUNTING.
Click my post title for Toneli's heroic saga.

The Football Chicago Cardinals remain the south side team, along with Charlie Comiskey's White Sox and our Holy Mother's Notre Dame, due to the Bidwill Family. Their franchise might be in Arizona, Missouri, or Lower Slobovia, but so long as they are running the show, the Cardinals are the south side's team.

*Star fullback for Notre Dame who survived the Bataan Death March during WWII. He was best known for a 77-yard run that helped Notre Dame beat the University of Southern California. At the beginning of the death march, a Japanese guard ordered him to remove his Notre Dame graduation ring only to have the ring returned moments later by a Japanese officer who said in perfect English that he had attended the USC game and watched the famous run. He spent 42 months as a POW and saw his weight drop from 212 pounds to only 92 pounds. He is a member of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.

One man Tonelli holds dear to him is Charles Bidwill, the owner of the Chicago Cardinals. Bidwill came to Motts in the hospital after the war and said, "Motts, before you left the Cardinals, you still had a three-year contract. We expect you to honor it." By renewing the contract, he provided Motts with a wonderful opportunity because, under the rules of the NFL, you had to play both before and after the war to get credit for your pension. They both knew it was nearly impossible for Motts to play again but he was determined to do his best. On one Sunday in October of 1945, after a few practices with his coach, Motts earned his pension. Mario "Motts" Tonelli has become a hero on both the battle field and football field.

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