SBJ/June 12 - 18, 2006/Families In Sports Fathers And Sons

From water boy to executive, as his father did before him

There wasn’t room for Bill Bidwill at the table when he started attending NFL owners meetings with his father, Charles, who bought the Chicago Cardinals in 1932. Space was limited, and he was young.

Michael Bidwill (left), a former prosecutor, joined
Bill and the Arizona Cardinals.
He and his brother, Stormy, would take seats along a wall, where they could stay out of the way.

“I remember Dan Rooney would be sitting on the one wall, and my brother and I would be on the other, just listening,” said Bidwill, 75, who followed his father into the football business, carrying a vice president’s title while an undergraduate at Georgetown and taking over as owner of the Cardinals in 1972.

“We wouldn’t be at the table,” Bidwill said. “None of us spoke. But I was in the room and listened to the various discussions. That was very worthwhile.”

Bidwill’s first recollections of the NFL go back to the 1940s, when he served as a Cardinals water boy in Chicago. His son, Michael, did the same during his childhood in St. Louis in the 1970s. As his father did before him, Michael has ascended to top management with the Cardinals, although via a different path.

“I knew at some point I’d like to be involved in the team, if I could have a role that would be productive,” Michael Bidwill said. “But I decided I wanted to go do my own thing first.”

Michael Bidwill got a law degree and spent seven years as a federal prosecutor, specializing in violent crimes. When he joined the Cardinals in 1996 as vice president and general counsel, he put his political experience to work, focusing on the push for public funding for a $450 million stadium that will open this season near Phoenix.

Like most owners, the Bidwills took a beating in print and over the airwaves during that debate.

“The kids have been raised in it,” Bill Bidwill said. “We always take some flak for whatever reason. They’ve seen that as they were growing up. But I never got upset about it. And the kids never saw me get upset about it, because it’s part of the business. If you get wiped out on a Sunday, you’re not going to like the newspapers on Monday.”

Michael Bidwill points to several high points that have balanced out those miserable Mondays. There was the securing of the new stadium, which will host the Super Bowl in 2008. And there have been victorious Sundays — among them, a win in the last regular-season game of 1998 against the San Diego Chargers that ended a 15-year playoff drought.

“We were down on the field, and I got about the biggest bear hug I’ve ever received from anybody,” Michael Bidwill said. “It was from my Dad.”

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