The Curse

Here's why the Cardinals have sucked forever, and why they might never suck again

Then they lost more games.

Then the fans returned to their air conditioners.

Then Tobin was canned.

Lomas Brown, a centerpiece of the 1998 team, was not re-signed.
AP/Wide World Photos
Lomas Brown, a centerpiece of the 1998 team, was not re-signed.
Business mogul Karl Eller has been pushing pro football in Arizona since 1968.
Jackie Mercandetti
Business mogul Karl Eller has been pushing pro football in Arizona since 1968.

After stops in Detroit and Green Bay, Tobin retired to the West Valley, where he watched the monstrous new stadium rise out of barren desert for a franchise he should have come to loathe.

This past year, he drove the short distance from his home to attend Cardinal games. And amid all the losses, he believes he saw something different. Something new.

"The old equation isn't there anymore," he says. "They are going to win. And I think they'll soon have it all in place so that they can keep winning."


When Phoenix boosters began courting the St. Louis Cardinals, many of them calmed their trepidation by attributing the team's past to bad luck.

The Curse of the Cardinals.

But like the prophetic quatrains of Nostradamus, most of the evil magic dissipates into simple sin and blunder under the light of close inspection.

If there is a true curse, it is most likely the one known as the "Pottsville Curse."

That's because it's a window into why the Cardinals have stunk for so long.

In 1925, the 9-1-1 Chicago Cardinals met the 9-2 Pottsville Maroons in what was billed around the country as the NFL Championship Game.

It was not an official NFL title game, which didn't start until 1932. But it was a meeting at the end of the season between the two teams with the best records in the league. And both squads announced it as the title game.

Pottsville smashed the Cardinals 21-7, the score not fully depicting the thrashing.

But after that game, Pottsville agreed to a barnstorming match-up in Philadelphia with the University of Notre Dame and its famed Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. League officials warned the Maroons not to play the game because it would be held within the territory of another pro team, in this case the Frankford Yellow Jackets (Frankford is a section of Philadelphia). But the Pottsville boys simply couldn't turn down the opportunity to prove themselves against the best.

Pottsville won against the powerful kings of college football, the pinnacle of any form of the game at the time. In doing so, the upstart NFL was given a much-needed boost of legitimacy.

The result of Pottsville's amazing win was that the NFL sanctioned Pottsville and presented the league title to the Cardinals.

For decades, the tiny town has asked the NFL to return the title, or at least to declare it shared.

The issue has dragged on to this day. In a 30-2 vote in 2003, NFL owners shot down the request once again.

According to press reports of the NFL meetings, the vote was described as "the old-boy network siding with one of its oldest boys, Bill Bidwill."

It is unclear when any curse was actually placed on the Cardinals, but it could have been when a man who inherited a mostly abysmal team began grasping tightly to a title that was not his and that was not even won on the field of play.

This would have to make the football gods angry.

More tangibly, that type of ownership angers coaches and civic leaders, demoralizes football players and drives football fans to baseball.

In Chicago, the Bidwills could never get a stadium. They were bounced from Comiskey Park to Normal Park to Soldier Field.

The Bidwills did finally win a real championship in Chicago in 1947. They did it with the so-called "Million Dollar Backfield." Charles Bidwill had finally built a champion, but he died before he could see the championship won.

Therefore, a point of trivia is that no Bidwill male has been owner at the end of a championship season.

Under Violet Bidwill, Charles' wife, the team was horrible in the 1950s, then comparatively competitive after its move to St. Louis.

What often gets forgotten is that in the mid-1970s, under Coach Don Coryell, the Cardinals were good. In 1974 and 1975, they won the powerful NFC East.

But then the curse talk returned when the Cardinals lost to the Dallas Cowboys on a blown call in 1976. Mel Gray was interfered with in the end zone. How did the ref miss it?!

That year the Cards became the first NFC team to post 10 wins and not make the playoffs. Cursed again.

The team reached the playoffs one more time while in St. Louis, in 1982.

During the 10-year span from 1972 to 1982, the Cardinals were, in fact, one of the stronger teams in the NFL.

With that relative success, Bill Bidwill figured he deserved a new stadium in St. Louis.

The people of St. Louis disagreed.

Boosters in Phoenix watched the fight with increasing interest.

And if they looked at only the previous decade, the Bidwills didn't seem like hopeless losers.

"You could look at them one way and say it really was a case of bad luck," Karl Eller says. "But the longer view still suggested otherwise."

And once they were in Phoenix, the owners proved themselves both unwilling and incapable of creating a winner.

They hung on to their old ways, and that ancient bogus NFL title.

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William Cress
William Cress

I am the great-nephew of Charles Francis Berry, the Pottstown Maroon's kicker who kicked the winning field goal.He taught me how to throw a baseball and foot ball. I played a little high school football in Latrobe my senior year, though the other quarterback in town wearing number 12, Terry Bradshaw is somewhat better known...

I still greatly enjoy the Pottstown curse on Phoenix, especially as I live in Pittsburgh and my brother in law lives in Phoenix. Also, my boss went to Notre Dame.

And I'm sure the black cat we saw sitting on great-grandmother Berry's grave when we visited is purely cooincidence.

 
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