The Curse

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

"He wanted the right to move," Eller says. "It was crazy for us to agree to that because it would leave us horribly exposed. The deal died right there."

The next plan that surfaced called for a $140 million football stadium. City planners, working off the model of the deal with the Phoenix Suns, offered to pay half — $70 million — if Bidwill would put up the other half.

City leaders believed they were offering the Bidwills "a great deal when we offered to go 50-50 on the thing with them," Goddard says. "And believe me, a lot of people believed we were giving them too much."

Fred Harper
Pottsville, Pennsylvania, population 16,000, home of the 1925 team that inspired talk of the curse.
Pottsville, Pennsylvania, population 16,000, home of the 1925 team that inspired talk of the curse.

So Goddard was flabbergasted when he received the call from Bill Bidwill:

"I'll never forget it," Goddard says. "I got the call in the council chambers. It was Big Guy, and he says, '100 million or nothing.' It was crazy. The revenues they were looking at were going to be obscene anyway. And they wanted more.

"In the end, it went to baseball only," Goddard says.

And within a decade, there was Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field), and in 2001 the Arizona Diamondbacks became the youngest expansion franchise ever to win a World Series.

Apparently, as Arizonans watched the rise of the Diamondbacks through the 1990s, Bill Bidwill spent the decade feeling he had been lied to by the leaders of Phoenix.

At the same time, the team kept ticket prices among the highest in the NFL.

During this time, the franchise earned an even uglier reputation around the NFL for under-spending and hoarding profits. (Only at the end of the 1998 season, during that magical streak under Tobin, did the Cardinals fill Sun Devil Stadium with engaged fans.)

There was other evidence of Bidwill cheapness: Rookies for a time had to pay for their own shoes. In 1999, tight end Chris Gedney was cut after the first of two major surgeries for ulcerative colitis. The team re-signed him, but only after he had recovered.

In 2001, Bill Bidwill insisted to the Arizona Republic that he had been promised a stadium by Eller and his group.

Seeing that comment in print in a sports story, after so many years of fighting for the project, made Eller furious.

"He had the nerve to say we were the ones who didn't deliver," Eller says. "Besides the fact that he was dead wrong, who is the real guy who hasn't delivered? We didn't talk for a few years after that."

But Eller has tempered his opinion of the elder Bidwill.

"You know, he can be a benevolent guy — he's proven that," Eller says. "And maybe he's just gotten into this idea that he's not appreciated or something. I don't dislike the guy. It's just that he's kind of a wet fish. And that doesn't work too well in the world of pro sports."

All that said, the Cardinals' world may be changing, he and others agree. Eller himself points to the maturation of Michael Bidwill, Bill's son, who now runs the organization.

Although the younger Bidwill has a notoriously rotten personality, Eller and others agree he may have the acumen and desire, now that the riches of the new stadium are guaranteed, to build a winner.

"He's a different animal than his father," Eller says. "And dang, they have the young talent on the field right now. It's all there. It will be very interesting to see if they can avoid screwing it up."

For decades, NFL players did not want to play for the Cardinals.

Even if the money was right, there was trepidation. The team has a history of busting the careers of running backs (especially in the past decade). As Tobin pointed out, word was that the Cardinals' environment could sap the life out of a player. Talent needs motivation to shine in the brutal NFL. Playing in intense heat in an empty stadium for the Bidwills was thought to dull the edge it takes to win.

"Players simply didn't want to come here," Tobin says. "Which was crazy, really, because so many players either wanted to or do live here."

Bill Bidwill long has been right about one thing: A domed stadium was a big part of the equation of building a winner here.

Especially in his case, since he and his boys essentially got paid to have it built for them.

The new stadium not only takes away the early-season disadvantages on the field, it keeps the fans comfortable. It's that home for players and fans that was missing at ASU.

And now, the Cardinals stand to keep generating obscene profits from luxury seating, parking, advertising, concessions and other myriad revenue generators.

For goodness' sake, the Cardinals only generated about $150 million last year, ranking at the bottom of the league with the Minnesota Vikings. The Washington Redskins made the most, $300 million.

With the revenue sharing of the NFL's national earnings, it was financially smart — albeit lame — for the Cardinals to keep being skinflints.

In the new financial equation at the new stadium, the Bidwills look to make perhaps $100 million more annually if they can keep a winner on the field, and thus fans in the seats, in the parking lots, in the concession stands, and watching and listening on television and radio.

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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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