The Grave of Charles Bidwill, Sr.
by Randy Snow
Original to www.theworldoffootball.com, Friday, October 14, 2022
Over the years, I have visited many football graves in 13 different states. The majority of them have been very unassuming. A simple headstone with a name and some dates. Nothing more. Others might include a football on the stone or, in some way, indicate the stature of the football icon buried there. On this particular visit, I saw one of the grandest final resting places I have seen so far! This is Gridiron Grave visit #41.
Charles W. Bidwill, Sr. was born on September 16, 1895 in Chicago and graduated from Loyola University in 1916. He became a successful businessman and lawyer in Chicago. He was the president of the Chicago Stadium Operating Company, owned the Sportsman’s Park racetrack, the Hawthorne Race Course and a printing business. He was known as “Blue Shirt Charlie” due to the fact that it was the only color shirt he ever wore.
In 1932, George Halas, owner of the Chicago Bears, was short on cash and needed to pay off his former partner, Dutch Sternaman, in order to become the sole owner of the Bears. But the deadline was fast approaching. Halas needed $15,000 in a hurry. His mother gave him $5,000 from her savings. His good friend, Charles Bidwill, stepped in with another $5,000 and he also secured a loan for Halas to get the remaining $5,000. Halas made the payment to Sternaman with less than an hour to spare.
In 1933, Bidwill decided he was going to buy the cross-town rival to the Bears, the Chicago Cardinals, which was an original member of the NFL when it was formed in 1920. He bought the Cardinals from Dr. David Jones for around $50,000.
The Cardinals never really achieved a great deal of success on the gridiron during the time Bidwill owned the team and they were always playing in the shadow of the more popular and successful Chicago Bears.
The Cardinals especially went through some tough times during World War II as many college and NFL players headed off to serve in the military. In 1944, the Cardinals had to merge with the Pittsburgh Steelers to become the Card-Pitt team for the season due to a lack of players on both teams. The combined team posted a disappointing 0-10 record that season.
Bidwill owned the Cardinals for 14 years, from 1933-1947. Towards the end, he spent a great amount of money in an effort to finally build the Cardinals into a championship team. The final piece was acquiring halfback Charley Trippi from the University of Georgia. Trippi was also being courted by the Chicago Rockets of the new All America Football Conference (AAFC), but Bidwill won the bidding war when he signed Trippi to an unheard-of four-year, $100,000 contract.
Bidwill died of pneumonia shortly after signing Trippi on April 19, 1947 at the age of 51. Eight months later, his Cardinals team won the NFL title, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 28-21 on December 28, 1947.
After Charles Bidwill’s death, his wife, Violet, became the principal owner of the team. She remained the owner until her death in 1962. She orchestrated the team’s move to St. Louis in 1960. After that, sons Charles “Stormy” Bidwill, Jr. and Bill Bidwill ran the team together from 1962-1971. Bill Bidwill bought out his brother’s share in the team and became the sole owner of the franchise in 1972. It was Bill Bidwill who was responsible for moving the team to Phoenix, AZ in 1988. Upon his death in 2019, Bill’s son, Michael Bidwill, inherited the team. Michael had been the team’s president since 2007.
Charles Bidwill is a member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame and was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967. He was also inducted into the Cardinals Ring of Honor in 2006.
Finding his Grave
Charles Bidwill is buried in a grand mausoleum in the Queen of Heaven Catholic Cemetery in Hillside, IL. The address is 1400 South Wolf Road. When you enter the cemetery from Wolf Road the mausoleum will be the huge building on your right. Enter the mausoleum through the main entrance in the center of the building and then turn left. He is located in the Calvary Alcove not very far down the hall on the right.
A Special Thanks
In August and September of this year, I made two trips to Chicago in search of several Gridiron Graves. Riding shotgun with me was Greg James, a fellow Pro Football Researchers Association (PFRA) member who lives in the Chicago area. Together, we visited six graves in five different cemeteries during the two trips. There was George Halas, Sid Luckman and Mario Tonelli on the first trip and Jay Berwanger, Brian Piccolo and Charles Bidwill on the second.
Greg was a great traveling companion and did all the driving around Chicago, which I greatly appreciated. Without Greg, I probably would not have gone to the grave of Charles Bidwill. It was not originally on my list of graves to visit, but Greg is a diehard Cardinals fan and wanted to find Bidwill’s final resting place. I looked into it and found that Bidwill was actually buried not too far from Greg’s house. Technically, we saw two Cardinals owners that day because Violet Bidwill was also the team owner from 1947-1972. She even owned of the team for a longer period of time than her late husband. Great suggestion, Greg!
But it wasn’t just the graves that we visited. On the first trip to Chicago, I got my picture taken in front of Wrigley Field and Greg and I had lunch at The Cubby Bear sports bar right across the street. Greg also took me to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station and showed me the parade grounds, which was once the location for the football stadium. This is where legendary head coach Paul Brown coached the base football team in 1944 and 1945, while he was serving in the military. One of his players there would later be reunited with him on the Cleveland Browns, Marion Motley. The second trip was capped off with lunch at Portillo’s, which I had never heard of before but was very good. They serve Italian Beef and Chicago Style Hot Dogs.
Thanks again for everything, Greg.