Super Bowl V

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Farrell obtained a copy of the photo, but he says it's been impossible to determine when or where it was taken.

"She suspected that some tortoises were left at the location. And as for the babies, Jantzen wouldn't tell her anything," Farrell says.

"And you have to remember what was happening at that time. Just the week before," Farrell adds, "the state Court of Appeals had rejected John F. Long's attempt to overturn a ruling on the legality of the Tourism and Sports Authority. As far as [Jennifer] knew, the stadium was a done deal, and bulldozers would soon be heading out to bear down on those tortoises."

For Morgan, the pressure boiled over several days later at Sun Devil Stadium during a game with the Dallas Cowboys on October 20.

"It was an exciting game, but Jennifer looked terrible," says another cheerleader, Cyndee Embry. "When I asked her what was wrong, she blurted out the whole thing. About Frank, about the turtle babies. It was unbelievable. But plenty of people on the sidelines overheard it."

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."

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."

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Rubén Oman