Root Root Root for the Home Team, Why Would I do Such a Thing?

(1/27/2009) As I sat on my bar stool listening to an Arizona Cardinal’s “fan” lecture me about rooting for the home team, ostensibly because I had the unmitigated gall to wear a Steelers cap to a local eatery, I could not help but wonder if this gentlemen appreciated the ironical underpinnings that accompanied his lectured tone.  Or, if he even understood the problem as I do.   My query as to where exactly he grew up on the south side of Chicago was met with only a confused countenance.  In this world of mergers and acquisitions, an era where loyalty to one’s employer (and vice-versa) spans typically no more than a decade, I privately wondered exactly what “home team” meant to this bar fly, or if he had ever even given the matter any consideration at all.  My guess is that he knew very little of what I’m about to write.

The Chicago Cardinals roots stretch back all the way to 1898 when they played on the south side of Chicago, then called the Morgan Athletic Club.  By 1917, they were considered champions of the Chicago Football League, what we would consider today to be a semi-professional league.  They were awarded their first professional championship in 1925.  In 1933, with George Halas of the Chicago Bears acting as a broker, Charles Bidwell bought the Cardinals for $50,000 from a Chicago physician named David Jones.  By this time, the Chicago Cardinals had been entrenched as the football team on the south side of Chicago, even if they had to play second fiddle to their older brothers from the north.  For the ensuing 13 years, upward mobility was not the name of the game in Bidwell’s NFL organization.  The team posted just one winning season — 6-4-2 in 1935 — and flailed to a mark of 2-29-0 during the war-scarred years of 1943 to 1945.

By 1947, Charles Bidwell had begun building a winning team again when he acquired Charlie Trippi, outbidding all suitors signing Trippi to a then unheard of sum of $100,000 to play professional football.  The Cardinals were 8-3 that season, set to play their cross town rivals, the Chicago Bears (who were also 8-3), for a right to play for the NFL Championship.  On the strength of four interceptions from the inaptly named Bears quarterback Sid Luckman, the Cardinals knocked off the Bears 30-21, earning a right to play the Philadelphia Eagles for the championship.  After Trippi stumbled 75 yards for a punt return touchdown, the Chicago Cardinals were NFL champions again.

Unfortunately for owner Charles Bidwell, who for most of his 15 years as Cardinals owner suffered through one horrendous losing season after another, he died in April of pneumonia, only a few months before the 1947 championship.  His wife Violet would take over as head of the franchise.  The franchise that would later be known as the St. Louis Cardinals saw very few wins under the fiscally conservative Violet Bidwell.  By 1959, in the midst of another 2-10 season, a season that marked their 9th losing season in 10 years, the “Cardinals era in Chicago was ending with a whimper”.  According to SportsEncyclopedia.com “[i]t had become all too clear that the cards were Chicago’s other team, and no matter what they did could ever fix that. That Cardinals legacy of losing had made it impossible for them to compete with the Bears, who were among the NFL premier franchises from day one.”   The Chicago Sun-Times, on the Cardinals move to St. Louis notes “[t]hey lost more often than they won. They were forever stepchildren to the Bohemian-shrewd George Halas and his relentless Bears. And after a final decade of futility, just as America was mothballing Ike and preparing to go some of the way with JFK, they took the money and began their western odyssey with a 28-year stay in St. Louis.”

By 1959, the Cardinals were drowning in red ink and were no longer able to compete with the Chicago Bears.  The Bidwells moved the team to St. Louis after the conclusion of the 1959 season.  In their first four years in St. Louis, the Cardinals only had one losing season.  By 1964, the Bidwell Brothers (Bill and Charlie), now running the club, became frustrated by the progress of the new stadium that was being built for their football team.  SportsEncyclopedia.com notes that “[w]ith the construction of a new stadium behind schedule and the organization continuing to struggle financially, the Bidwells contemplated looking for a new city to nest in.  In July, the Bidwell brothers were approached by a group from Atlanta wanting them to bring the Cards to Georgia. The city of Atlanta was also building a new stadium and it appeared as though the team might be on the move again.  However, the St. Louis stadium authority matched Atlanta’s terms, and with civic support of the team boosted, the Bidwells were persuaded to stay in St. Louis.”

The Cardinals remained in St. Louis until 1988.  In that time frame, the Cardinals posted only seven (.500) seasons or better in a twenty-three year span.  Faced with dwindling attendance in an outdated stadium, talk swirled around moving the team again, ultimately relocating to a suburb of Phoenix.  This was now the second time the team relocated and the third such threat to do so under Bidwell family ownership.

The results did not change the Cardinals fate on the field, with the team posting losing seasons in eight of their first nine years in the Valley of the Sun.  In 1998, the Cardinals qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the season with a 9-7 record, beating the Cowboys in the playoffs for the franchise’s lone playoff win in the valley until 2008.  The Bidwells made two unsuccessful bids for a new stadium in a Phoenix suburb, threatening the voters of Maricopa County that they would have to once again relocate their team, possibly to Los Angeles, should they not be awarded a new stadium at tax payer expense.  In 2005, the voters finally approved a referendum for a new stadium in Glendale Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix.  The Cardinals began play in their new stadium in 2007.

This is not an article slamming the NFL franchise with the most losses all time (674 and counting).  Too easy.  And my point is not simply to make fun of a confused “fan” that had no idea that his team was originally based in Chicago and not St. Louis or Arizona.  The point of this article is to ask the question, why should I be forced to consume a bad product simply because an organization is currently doing business in the same state that I happen to reside in?  Stated another way, why exactly do I have to root for the home team just because the NFL sets up a quasi-monopoly in my local community taking advantage of a clever marketing ploy to “root for the home team”?  After all, this is just another business providing a service, is it not?  And if so, why can I not choose amongst those entertainers providing the best product?

If you don’t think that this is just a business to them, you are fooling only yourself.  You don’t believe me?  Look at the history detailed above.  The most offensive thing about the Chicago/St.Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals is not that they have specialized in losing the last sixty-one years, as offensive as that might be to some, but rather, that they have demonstrated that they will relocate their team whenever the owners feel they can squeeze one more dime out of a community with a penchant for viewing terrible football.  The reality is that we, as a community, have bought the “root for the home team” marketing ploy for so long, that many of us allow the choice of what entertainment to consume to be made for us, blissfully unaware.

The best way I can think of to explain this is to analogize support for a sports’ team with other business decisions that we routinely make.  I live in a suburb of Arizona, just a few miles from Tempe, one of the former homes of the Arizona Cardinals.  Just around the corner, JP Morgan Chase has a credit card facility where they employ some 5,000 employees (or at least they did at one point).   If I, and my fellow Arizonans did our credit card business exclusively with Chase, it would certainly boost their profits, and that would bode well for my fellow Arizonans employed by that organization.  For these employees, it might mean a larger paycheck, more people hired, or maybe in these uncertain times, just the guarantee of a future job.  How many of us would do business with Chase if the best they offered was a credit card with an APR of 22% if a competing out of state bank offered to loan you the same money at half the rate?  Probably no one reading this article with a rudimentary understanding of basic math principles would make such a poor choice.  Why then must I continue to follow the local team if they similarly offer a bad product in the entertainment industry?  If the owners treat this like a business, shouldn’t I?

Ask yourselves, how were the St. Louis Cardinals fans rewarded for twenty-eight years of blind loyalty to the Cardinal football organization?  When the community refused to provide the owner with a second new stadium so the Bidwell family could line their pockets with additional revenue, they pulled the moving vans up and traveled some 1500 miles west to victimize a new community of “root for the home team” zombies who never saw it coming.  This was the second time the Bidwell’s moved their franchise, all in the name of the almighty dollar.  To secure stadium deals on two other occasions, the Bidwell family threatened to move their team elsewhere, doing so once even though construction of a new stadium was already under way.  And it’s not like the Bidwell’s were providing good entertainment at any of the stops along the way.  If the owner consistently provides a bad product, then moves the team because of their own lack of business acumen, then why exactly are we supposed to blindly give them our business?  Would you do business with any other organization this way?  Why can I not decide which organizations deserve my business?

The answer is, I can.  I think for myself and I only do repeat business with those organizations that at least strive to offer a good product.   This is nothing more than a business for the owners, pure and simple, and their tie to you is separating you from your money.  It is up to you to decide where to spend your entertainment dollars utilizing whatever guidelines you deem appropriate.  Pouring few resources into their organization, losing football games regularly, then blackmailing the community for a new stadium is a six-decade long tradition for the Bidwell family.    If one Super bowl run in sixty-one years is a good enough product for you to consume, then by all means cloak yourself in red.   Just please, don’t impugn my character simply because my standards are higher than yours.

<em></em>Unless noted otherwise, all factual information was obtained at WWW.Sportsencyclopedia.com

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