Super Bowl V

The Valley's bid for the Big Game may be derailed by five missing tortoise babies

News of the turtle problem spread quickly inside the team over the next few days, team sources say. Later that week, on October 24, the team flew to San Francisco in first place with a 4-2 record. "By the time that plane landed," says one team source, "no one in the organization was in the dark about what the Bidwills had done."

Team sources denied that the Cardinals' subsequent 1-9 slide had anything to do with the brewing scandal. But they concede that the timing of Morgan's outburst and of the team's subsequent poor play is noteworthy.

New Times contacted noted football analyst Charles "Bump" Reed at his hotel room in Nashville while he was preparing for last weekend's telecast of the playoff game between the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers. "Playing for Bill Bidwill is never easy," Reed said in his familiar croak, "but none of us could figure out why the team went so flat in the middle of the season. It was obvious – those guys had suddenly lost heart. This tortoise thing sounds off the wall, but everything about the Cardinals is off the wall."

Ogden Farrell: The Joe Montana of environmentalists.
Ogden Farrell: The Joe Montana of environmentalists.
Is this the final resting place of five juvenile tortoises?
Jackie Mercandetti
Is this the final resting place of five juvenile tortoises?

Players interviewed for this story denied that the tortoise issue contributed to the team's poor play.

"I didn't see no turtle throwing all those interceptions," said one defensive lineman.

Jake Plummer, the source of those misdirected passes, declined to be interviewed. However, sources close to Plummer say that the quarterback, an ardent outdoorsman with a passion for Discovery Channel and Animal Planet programming, was "deeply troubled" by the tortoise revelations and is leaning toward leaving the team, even if the Cardinals offer him a new contract.

"This has driven a wedge between Jake and Bidwill like nothing on the playing field could," says a friend of Plummer's.

As the weeks went on and the losses added up, Bill Bidwill found himself under increasing scrutiny in the Cardinals' locker room. Several sources say that what had happened to the tortoises became as much of an issue inside the organization as the nagging questions about head coach Dave McGinnis' play calling.

Things came to a head during a team meeting in late November, when starting running back Thomas Jones smashed his right hand against a locker room wall after an unidentified teammate said he hoped the tortoises were dead. Jones broke the fourth metacarpal bone in his left hand in his outburst, which ended his season, though he and team officials agreed on an improbable cover story that he'd been reaching for a telephone at his home when the injury occurred.

Still, news of the tortoises stayed in-house as the season mercifully wound down and, concurrently, as the Arizona Supreme Court was deciding whether to review the stadium-funding mechanism.

The state Legislature created the Tourism and Sports Authority in 2000 to select a plot of land and raise money for the stadium. Locations in Tempe, Mesa, downtown Phoenix, Avondale and west Phoenix were all considered and ultimately rejected in favor of the 180-acre Glendale site. Developer John F. Long threw a wrench in the process, however, asking the state's courts to consider whether the TSA itself was constitutional. When the state Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal last month, Long's suit was dead and the final hurdle – it seemed – had been overcome.

But things fell apart for the Bidwills after a long-scheduled personal appearance at the Phoenix Zoo on December 7 by Jennifer Morgan and other cheerleaders.

"She saw all the animals there, especially the babies, and she completely broke down," cheerleader Embry tells New Times. "I told her, Honey, you have to do something about this.' And I guess she did."

Morgan soon contacted the Tucson offices of Ogden Farrell, a Native American scientist turned environmental activist whose legal victories against seemingly overwhelming odds have been chronicled by 60 Minutes and Newsweek, among other media.

The politically savvy Farrell is best known locally for his successful effort to have an endangered amphibian species, the Arizona Lesser Salamander, reclassified as a reptile so it would fall under the protections of the Southwest Rare Reptile Preservation Act. In that case, a federal judge ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to reconfigure the flow of the San Pedro River to accommodate the newly classified reptile.

"Ogden has a proven track record winning these kinds of battles," says fellow environmental activist Will Brooks of the Riparian Defense Institute. "He convinced the entire Arizona congressional delegation that since the Lesser Salamander was four-legged and hairless, it met the definitions of the act. Even [just-retired representative] Bob Stump went along. The guy is good."

Added Brooks, "Ogden Farrell is the Joe Montana of environmentalists."

Constantly in demand, Farrell has held up or killed construction of dams, hospitals, malls and whole subdivisions.

Americans for Reasonable Wildlife (ARW), a conservative, industry-backed think tank, annually rates Farrell in its top 10 list of "public enemies." ARW director of communications W. Vernon Plummer (no relation to the Cardinals quarterback) says Farrell arguably has done more harm to American business interests than Osama bin Laden. "Farrell's name alone is enough to make a developer's sphincter tighten," Plummer says.

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