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Some people collect medieval torture devices. Others devote themselves to the study of plagues. Me, I just follow the Arizona Cardinals.
Every year I circle the day on my calendar when the Cards open camp and really begin sucking in earnest. They have a Commitment to Wretchedness--58 years since they won an NFL title, one playoff win in that time and one winning season in the last 20.
All that couldn't have happened without Bill and Michael Bidwill, a father-son ownership team that could mess up a one-float parade.
Since then-- Chicago Cardinals owner Charles Bidwill died in 1947, the franchise has been the Pinto of the NFL. Owned until '62 by Charles's widow, Violet, and since by his son, Bill, the Bidwills have somehow made the No. 1 sport in America about as popular in the Arizona desert as down ski parkas.
How have the Bidwills been able to avoid winning a championship for 58 years in the parity-obsessed NFL? By keeping their payroll historically low, driving off players and being too cheap to sign good new ones.
You want skinflints? The Bidwills make Marge Schott look like Jackie Onassis. Rookies had to buy their own shoes. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Cardinals would issue each player one of everything--one jockstrap, one T-shirt, one pair of workout shorts--and dock him for any replacements. "That was the cheapest place I've ever been," tackle Lomas Brown, a Cardinal from 1996 through '98, told the Chronicle.
This is the Cardinal way: In 1999 popular tight end Chris Gedney, who suffered from ulcerative colitis, was cut after the first of two major surgeries. Upon his recovery they re-signed him.
Gedney was teammates with Pat Tillman, the former Arizona safety who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. "We were stretching before a home game," Gedney recalls. "There were only 15,000 people in the whole stadium, and they had the speakers tuned to some cozy jazz station, and Pat looked at me and said, 'Man, this place is so bush league.'"
Welcome to Bidwillville. "Michael Bidwill is a miserable human being," a former Cards front-office employee says of the team's 40-year-old vice president and general counsel. "The old man isn't so bad. It's the son nobody in the building can stand."