Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Curious, Strange and Sad Case of Johnny Grigas

This article was written by Joe Ziemba, and originally appeared on his Facebook site. Joe is the authoritative expert on the Chicago Cardinals, and is the author of "When Football Was Football: The Chicago Cardinals and the Birth of the NFL."

Johnny Grigas loved to play football. And he was very good at it!

After an All American career in the backfield at Holy Cross, Grigas was a second

Then, on December 3,1944, the talented Grigas did the unthinkable and failed to show up for the final game against the Chicago Bears...

The "Mason City (IA) Globe" basically described Grigas as a deserter while the headline of "The Fresno (CA) Bee" stated: "Hard Work Bores Grigas, So He Quits." In reality, Grigas was far from a quitter. He was a determined football star who simply was beaten up by playing 60 minutes, frozen fields, little blocking protection, and irksome injuries. He explained his absence in an open letter to his coaches and teammates by noting: "I tried to win and worked hard, but the workhorse, as I was termed by the newspapers, is almost ready for the stud farm." Grigas added: "The human mind is the faculty of the soul, which is influenced by the human body. When your mind is changed because of the physical beating, week in and week out, your soul isn't in the game."

In January, 1945, Coach Phil Handler of the Cardinals shared some additional insight with the "Detroit Free Press" regarding the Grigas situation--and it does, once again, help explain the differences between the rugged gridders of the 1940s and today's players: "Grigas worked days in a steel mill at a job where he had to stand all the time. The team practiced at night and because of a shortage of backs, Grigas had to work out both on offense and defense. Then Sundays he played sixty-minute football. The strain was too great, and he finally gave up."

A full-time day job, a full-time responsibility on the field, and the pressure of being the "workhorse" for an ugly team all helped contribute to the intriguing decision made by Grigas. He was traded to the Boston Yanks after the season and played three more years in the NFL, but was never able to duplicate the statistical success he achieved with the Cardinals...

* Following the Grigas incident, newspapers first began to encourage the NFL to monitor injury situations (possible concussions).
* Grigas still managed to finish second in the NFL in rushing in 1944, and was named to the first team of the "All NFL" honor squad.
* Art Rooney, founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers called the 1944 Card-Pitts "The worst team in NFL history!"
round draft choice of the Cardinals in 1943. He topped the club in rushing with 333 yards in 1943, then stayed with the Cardinals as the team merged with Pittsburgh in 1944 to form the woeful Card-Pitts creation. The combined team suffered through an 0-10 season, but Grigas paced the NFL in rushing through most of the season. He also starred on defense and usually played all 60 minutes for the Cards.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

All Kinds of Time...

NFL vs. CFL- When the Cardinals Played the Argonauts

When it comes to football, the sport truly does not recognize borders, especially that one north of the United States.  The teams of the Canadian Football League (CFL) are, in many instances, almost as old as those of the United States.  In fact, the CFL and the NFL have peacefully coexisted for nearly 100 years, and though it may now be a much smaller league with minor league status, it is a league steeped in tradition, and one where the spirit of the sport is alive and well, and one that I intend to delve into deeper at The Autumn Wind.

In the year prior to launching of the American Football League, and in the year in which Chicago said goodbye to its oldest NFL team, the CFL and NFL began a series of exhibition games (the AFL would later play a game in 1961) in which its two elder teams took the field at old CNE (Exhibition) Stadium in Toronto, the site of the 1959 Grey Cup, for North American bragging rights.

The date of the game was August 5, 1959, and, in anticipating the arrival of the Chicago Cardinals for the pre-season exhibition game against the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts on August 5, 1959, the Toronto Star‘s Jim Hunt asked the obvious question: “Argos against the Chicago Cardinals—the mismatch of the century or a football game?”

The Argos, who’d dominated the CFL for most of the early 20th Century, were now in the early years of what became known as "The Dark Ages." The league’s perennial bottom-feeders between 1953 and 1983, the Argos went nineteen years between Grey Cup appearances and thirty-one years between Grey Cup victories. As if to make up for their on-field futility, according to Jay Teitel’s The Argo Bounce (T.H. Best Printing Co. Ltd., 1982), the franchise simply tried to play with big league style by signing one big-money player after another. In this, the team seemed to reflect Toronto’s post-war insecurity and its ambition to prove itself a world class city. With the huge success of the 1959 exhibition game—with 27,770 fans in attendance, it was the largest crowd to watch football in Canada at that time—the Argos hosted similar exhibition games in 1960 and 1961.

The Canadian brand of football was still predominant in the hearts and minds of Torontonians. In the late 1950s, the CFL was a pillar of stability compared to the NFL, which had always been besieged by the greater popularity of college football and by rival leagues raiding its rosters for players and personnel. But by 1959, the NFL was beginning to shake off its bush league status and gain the television presence that would solidify its ascent as the dominant sports league in North America. So a showdown between the two leagues piqued the public’s interest.

Leading up to the 1959 game, Toronto’s bars and coffee houses were abuzz with debate over the merits of each league. Few gave the Argos much chance of beating the Cardinals. There was already a growing sentiment, as Ron Thomas made clear in The Star, that “Canadian football teams are inferior to those from below the border.” Despite the fact that the free flow of players between the two leagues showed that individuals could certainly succeed in either one, the handicaps suffered by CFL teams were too significant. Most notably, CFL players were smaller and usually played on both offense and defense, while NFL teams had the depth to field a roster with specialists at each position.

Some thought the hybrid rules being used in the exhibition game might minimize these advantages. Canadian restrictions on down field blocking were eliminated in favor of American-style play. Canadian kicking and returning rules would apply, thus eliminating the NFL’s fair catch rule. Playing on the larger Canadian field with only eleven players, instead of the CFL’s twelve, ensured the game would be a high-scoring shoot-out.

The game was a flashy opener for the brand new home of the Argos, CNE Stadium, which with little protection from the lake’s fierce wind, couldn't have been more different than the cozy bowl at Varsity Stadium. Yet before it acquired the “Mistake by the Lake” moniker, CNE Stadium was celebrated as a symbol of Toronto’s progress. Naturally, the game was front page news—but not for on-field action. Instead it was the massive traffic problems that drew the biggest headlines. Police called it the “worst traffic jam in the city’s history” as twelve thousand vehicles vied for the seven thousand parking spots on the Exhibition grounds.

On the field, the Argonauts surprised everyone by roaring out to a 13-1 lead. By racing to the line of scrimmage to quick-snap the ball on every down, the Argos caught the Cardinal defenders off guard. Quarterback Ronnie Knox thrived in the pass oriented “Argo Shift,” a formation designed to get five receivers down field quickly instead of four. Knox marched the Argos fifty yards down the field in four plays to connect with Dave Mann, a versatile former Cardinal receiver who also acted as the Argos punter, for a touchdown. Shortly afterwards, defensive star Bob Dehlinger intercepted a Cardinals pass and ran seventy yards down the field for another score.

Initially, it seemed that the weeks of training the Argonauts had gone through were paying off. The Cardinals, on the other hand, had only been in training camp for ten days. But their coach, Frank “Pop” Ivy—considered one of the sport’s greatest innovators—was intimately familiar with the Canadian game because he’d coached the Edmonton Eskimos to three straight Grey Cup victories in the mid-1950s.

Toronto assistant coach Steve Owen—who would be enshrined in the hall of fame for his long tenure as head coach of the New York Giants between 1930 and 1953—knew that the biggest obstacle for the Argonauts would be Chicago’s massive defensive line. At an average of 255 pounds, the Cardinal linemen outweighed their Argo counterparts by about twenty pounds. It was only a matter of time before this decisive size advantage wore down the Argos and turned the tide of the game. The Argonauts held the lead well into the second quarter when disaster struck.

The heart of the Argos defense, Don Caraway, broke his foot in a tackle. Without their leader, the Argos defense collapsed. The Cardinals won the game 55-26—one of the few bright spots in an otherwise abysmal season that saw them finish last in their NFL division. Three more first-string Argonauts were injured on the day, including the best center in the Canadian league, Norm Stoneburgh. After the game, these injuries, which ensured the team finished in fourth place in their division and out of the playoffs, led sportswriters and fans to question the wisdom of playing exhibitions against NFL teams.

Toronto Star Article of the First NFL/CFL Exhibition Game
The 1959 Chicago Cardinals in Canada
The Game Required the Use of A Mixture of Rules
Despite the loss, Argo team president Lew Hayman—once a coach of unparalleled success, now an unmitigated disaster in upper management—claimed that because of demand from fans there’d be more NFL exhibitions games. Globe and Mail columnist Milt Dunnell, however, felt the interest in the NFL was inflated because, much to the chagrin of season ticket holders, the Argos had included it as a mandatory addition to the season ticket package. For the most part, the press saw the Argos-NFL exhibition games as mere cash-grabs for a team willing to sacrifice a season’s fortunes for the sake of a big day at the box office.

In a 43-16 loss to the Steelers in 1960, the biggest story pitted hall of fame quarterback Bobby Layne against Tobin Rote, the Argos’ high-priced rising star, who’d stolen Layne’s starting job in Detroit and led the Lions to the 1957 NFL Championship. Over the course of the 1960 CFL season, Rote led the league in every passing category and took the Argos to within a hair of the Grey Cup, but on this afternoon, he limped off the field with an injury. Layne picked the Argos’ secondary apart and Steeler running back Tom “The Bomb” Tracy—himself a castoff from the CFL—ran circles around Argo defenders. Sportswriter Tony Proudfoot called the loss humiliating. In The Star, Jim Hunt called it a “debacle” and added that “the score flattered the local heroes.”

When the now–St. Louis Cardinals returned to Toronto on August 2, 1961, the game once again drew at the box office but disappointed on the field. Everyone wanted to see CFL superstar Sam “The Rifle” Etcheverry make his debut as the Cardinals quarterback. But he was injured and fans were instead treated to a sloppy defensive showdown. The Argos kept former Heisman Trophy-winner John David Crow to only seven rushing yards for the entire game but sputtered themselves and actually lost 22 yards on the ground.

The only real on-field drama was provided by Nobby Wirkowski. Once the quarterback hero of the 1952 Grey Cup, Wirkowski was now an assistant coach with the Argos, calling down plays to the bench from the press box. In the version of the story Wirkowski tells—there are numerous other contradictory ones—head coach Lou Agase approached him at half time:

Tobin [Rote] and [backup quarterback] John Henry Jackson had stunk out the joint in the first half. God, they were awful! Lou said to me ‘we have to put on some type of show for the fans. Can you suit up and go out there?’ I was wearing slacks and a shirt and hadn’t even practiced that week! I said ‘okay’ and suited up.

Just when it seemed he was getting the Argo offense on track, Wirkowski was tackled by an enormous Cardinal lineman. Falling awkwardly, he destroyed his knee and never played again. The final score, 36-7 for St. Louis, was another lopsided result.

By this time, other CFL teams were cashing in on the novelty of playing American teams. The Montreal Alouettes lost to the Chicago Bears, while the Hamilton Tiger-Cats succeeded in beating the laughing stock of the AFL, the Buffalo Bills. The press, however, remained highly critical, arguing that staging exhibitions against the bigger NFL teams did a disservice to, even cheapened, the Canadian game. Jim Hunt compared the Argos to “a preliminary fighter put in with the heavyweight champion”; “they just didn't have the tools for the job.”

For much of The Dark Ages, the Argos weren't willing to embrace that the far-reaching yet subtle rule differences in the Canadian game not only created a different style of play from that south of the border, but created a completely different sport. Instead, the team too frequently tried to contort the Canadian game into something it wasn't and in their strident efforts to appear “big league”—perfectly exemplified in the exhibitions against NFL teams—made themselves appear anything but.

However, with that said, the CFL is a league unto its own, and the style and caliber of play cannot be truly compared to that of that played in the United States, for the Canadian game is more wide open and faster. In my opinion it is a better game.  The CFL has a great tradition, and while though it may not be considered by Americans to be a "major league," it is a major Canadian one in which Americans have played a large role in shaping its heritage and identity as one unique than from that played by the NFL. It is a league I hope Americans come to watch more...

"When Football Was Football"- The Chicago Cardinals and the Birth of the NFL

When Joe Ziemba (above) of St. Benedict's College (Atchison, KS) was drafted by the Chicago Cardinals in 1940, his contract called for a salary of $110 per game. Of course, players back then were also required to provide their own shoulder pads and shoes! His story provided the inspiration for his son to write the comprehensive book on the history of the Chicago Cardinals.  Great book Joe!! Check out his Facebook page..

Chicago- The Home of Professional Indoor Football

Joe Ziemba's Authoritative Book
The hardest part about being a football fan is the months between the Super Bowl and the start of the Canadian Season in mid Summer.  For approximately the last 30 years, football addicts have been able to satisfy their hunger for the game by watching indoor football in the form of the Arena Football League. Sadly, in all likelihood the AFL will cease playing after this coming season, and many of the other minor leagues receive no television coverage. Though with the advent of streaming games over the Internet watching minor league football is easier than ever before.  

Indoor professional football has a rich history in Chicago.  In 1932, the first indoor NFL game was played between the Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans (who eventually relocated to Detroit and became the Lions).  In 1986, the Arena League was born and played it's first game in Rockford, Illinois, with the Chicago Politicians taking on the Rockford Metros in the the league's initial "test" game.  Since that time afterward the Chicago area has had numerous indoor teams including the Bruisers, Rush, Blitz, Slaughter, Knights, Pythons, Vipers, and even a team called the "Chicago Cardinals" in 2010. The Chicago Eagles are but the latest indoor football team to call Chicago home.

The 21st Century Chicago Cardinals took the indoor field in 2010 after relocating from Milwaukee where they were known as the Bonecrushers.
Julie Harshbarger of the 2010 Chicago Cardinals of the Continental Indoor Football League

The 2010 Chicago Cardinals season was the third season for the Continental Indoor Football League (CIFL) franchise, but the team's first as the Chicago Cardinals, after relocating from Milwaukee where they were known as the Milwaukee Bonecrushers. In 2011, the team was known as the Knights. The 2010 CIFL Cardinals were able to finish the season with an 0-10 record, and failed to qualify for the playoffs. The new Cardinals replaced the Chicago Slaughter in the CIFL, after the Slaughter left that league for the Indoor Football League, due to a dispute with CIFL management.The Cardinals were formerly known as the Milwaukee Bonecrushers, also of the CIFL, and relocated to the Odium Expo Center, in Villa Park, Illinois, in 2010. The CIFL Cardinals used their name with permission from the NFL Cardinals.

The CIFL Cardinals only season was, in the tradition of the NFL's oldest franchise, one of utter disappointment. After starting 0-2, they signed Julie Harshbarger, who was the 2nd female Kicker in the CIFL history. (The other being Katie Hnida of the Fort Wayne FireHawks). Harshbarger came to the CIFL Cardinals after a successful soccer career at Benedictine University and Rockford College, where she was named to several all-conference teams. Though Harshbarger was not the first woman to score a point in an indoor football game, she was the first woman ever to score a field goal in an indoor football game. After a 20-58 loss on May 22, and seeing their record drop to 0-8, the CIFL Cardinals let several of their best players leave the team for the nearby, and contending, Wisconsin Wolfpack, who were located in Madison. 

However, the brief 21st Century incarnation of the CIFL Cardinals is not the only time that a team named The Cardinals played indoors.  According to the author Joe Ziembaat his website, on January 6, 1918, the first professional "indoor" game was "played in a ramshackle arena called the Dexter Park Pavilion in Chicago. At the time, the then "Racine" Cardinals were part of the Chicago Football League and the circuit proposed a five team championship playoff with all games to be played indoors at the Pavilion. In first round action on January 6, 1918, the Cards tied the neighboring Tornadoes 3-3.
The Dexter Park Pavilion was located at the Union Stock Yards on Chicago's South Side

The deadlock prompted a rematch on January 20th, and this time the Tornadoes prevailed 21-7. The nearby Hammond (IN) Times, however, liked the idea of indoor football and perhaps provided a glimpse into the future: "Chicago is the first city to attempt "Cigar Box" football. There will be a seat for everyone with the thermometer at a comfortable temperature. Adieu frost-bitten feet, noses and ears. Just imagine sitting in a comfortable chair, with an unobstructed view of a gridiron..."

Friday, November 4, 2016

Cards' History Hardly Super: Rise from Chicago to Tampa Has Been Rocky for Bidwills (Chicago Tribune Archive)

January 25, 2009

Something spectacular like the Super Bowl is no doubt what the late Charles Bidwill had in mind on his yacht that night in 1932 when he made a deal to buy a football team from David Jones.

Bidwill, the flamboyant Chicago sports entrepreneur, would have loved the idea of his team, the Cardinals, someday playing in the NFL's ultimate extravaganza, Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1 in Tampa.

But it would have crushed Bidwill to think the team would have fled his beloved Chicago long ago as the Cardinals prepare for the biggest game in their history.

The Cardinals were born on the South Side, at 52nd and Morgan streets, in 1898, known as the Morgan Athletic Club. They would prove to be migratory birds, calling Chicago, St. Louis and Arizona home before their ascent to 2009 glory, something Bidwill could not have envisioned the night he proposed buying them on his yacht, the Ren-Mar.

He was a man about town whose circle of acquaintances ranged from Al Capone to George Halas, and the guest list for the informal dinner party Bidwill and wife Violet threw that night included Halas, Jones and Tribune sports editor Arch Ward, a journalist/promoter responsible for baseball's All-Star Game, among other ventures.

Not surprisingly, football entered the conversation. Jones complained that the team he had bought three years earlier from its financially depleted founder, Chris O'Brien, was a draining investment he wanted to unload. A handwritten agreement lists the purchase price as $12,500, but Halas and others later were quoted as saying it was $25,000.

Bidwill was interested. As the story goes, they settled on a price of $50,000, and Bidwill sealed the deal with $2,000 down and a handshake.

Jones agreed to stay on as Cardinals president until Bidwill unloaded his Bears stock -- he was an investor who had made a few loans enabling his pal Halas to meet payrolls.

The ownership change wasn't announced until Sept. 6, 1933.

"The new boss of the Cardinals is now perhaps the city's most active athletic figure," Ward wrote in the Tribune. "Bidwill is president of Chicago Stadium Operating Company, which has exclusive rights to promote boxing, wrestling, bicycle races and kindred events in the world's largest indoor arena. He also is ... a proprietor of a racing stable, and secretary of the Chicago Business Men's Racing Association, which controls the Hawthorne track."

With Bidwill overseeing the operation, the Chicago Business Men's Racing Association ran Hawthorne Race Course from 1924 to 1945. He also was a co-owner of dog tracks in Miami Beach, Tampa and Jacksonville, and in the 1940s he started a women's professional softball team, the Chicago Bluebirds.

His biggest move outside football -- one that would have ramifications for the Cardinals ownership -- came in 1932. The Illinois legislature outlawed dog racing in the state, and Bidwill was part of a National Jockey Club group that took over a dog track Capone had operated in Cicero. The facility was converted into a thoroughbred track and reopened as Sportsman's Park.

While Bidwill's racing interests flourished, his football team did not. Bidwill brought the Cardinals back to the South Side in 1940 after they had shared Wrigley Field with the Bears for nine seasons, but the change in venue didn't reverse the team's fortunes. The Cardinals' 6-5 record in 1946 represented their first winning season since 1935.

They broke through in 1947, going 9-3 and winning the NFL championship with a 28-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the title game at Comiskey Park. But Bidwill didn't live to see it. Without leaving a will, he died of pneumonia on April 19, 1947, at 51, and Violet, his widow, took over the team.

Two years later she married her financial adviser, St. Louis businessman Walter Wolfner, and he became the Cardinals' managing director.

At a board of directors meeting in summer 1951, Charles W. Bidwill Jr., an outgoing, 23-year-old Georgetown University law student known as Stormy, was named the Cardinals' president, and his somewhat reticent brother Bill, 20, was named vice president.

But the sons of Violet Bidwill were figureheads. Wolfner continued to run the team, and in a manner that alienated Halas. When Wolfner tried to move the Cardinals to Northwestern's Dyche Stadium in 1959, Halas blocked him, citing an old territorial agreement calling for the Bears to play on the North Side and the Cardinals on the South Side.

As early as 1954, there were rumors Wolfner was exploring the possibility of a move, and groups in Miami, Houston, Atlanta and Buffalo were said to be interested.

Wolfner denied the relocation rumors and it seemed the Cardinals were staying in Chicago after he cut a deal with the Chicago Park District to remodel Soldier Field.

The massive lakefront facility became the Cardinals' home in 1959, although they played only four home games there and two in Minneapolis.

Then in March 1960, the NFL granted Wolfner's request to move the Cardinals to St. Louis.

The team's financial problems had grown so severe it had trouble paying visiting teams their guarantees, which had increased to $30,000 from $20,000. In addition, CBS Television exerted substantial pressure on the NFL to make Chicago a one-team city.

According to NFL blackout rules in effect then, the network was unable to televise Bears road games back to Chicago when the Cardinals were playing at home, and vice versa.

Two years after the Cardinals left the city, Violet Bidwill died suddenly, touching off a bitter court battle for control of the team.

Wolfner contested her three-page handwritten will, which left the bulk of her estate to her two sons and gave him only the income from five Oklahoma oil wells, estimated between $250 and $400 per month.

In Cook County Probate Court, Wolfner not only revealed that Stormy and Bill Bidwill were adopted, he asserted the adoptions were illegal, shocking the brothers who had grown up believing Charles and Violet Bidwill were their biological parents.

Probate Court Judge Robert Jerome Dunne, however, ruled the adoptions were legal. After the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the ruling, the dispute ended with an out-of-court settlement.

The Bidwills regained control of the Cardinals, and Stormy ran them. But the co-ownership arrangement strained the brothers' relationship and Stormy sold his share of the team for a reported $6 million, making Bill, who had moved to St. Louis, the sole owner and operator of the franchise. The family still has a stake in Churchill Downs Inc. and in dog tracks in Florida.

"His idea of how to run the team and mine were different," Stormy once told the Tribune in a rare public comment on the rift. "The leaving wasn't easy for either of us."

Stormy continued to reside in Winnetka and oversee his racing interests. His son, Charles Bidwill III, took over Sportsman's Park in 1995. The track is now defunct and in the process of being demolished after an ill-fated attempt to make it a combination auto track/thoroughbred/harness facility. The family still has considerable racing and casino interests.

The Cardinals made only three playoff appearance in 28 years of St. Louis residency, and Bill Bidwill moved them to Arizona in 1988.

They continued to struggle on the field and at the gate as tenants in Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium, but in 2006 they moved into University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., a state-of-the-art facility that was host for last season's Super Bowl and has been cited by BusinessWeek as one of the world's top 10 sports arenas.

Bill Bidwill remains the Cardinals' owner, and his son Michael has succeeded him as president. The team Michael's grandfather acquired for $50,000 in 1932 is valued at $914 million by Forbes magazine.

Memories of the Cardinals’ Last N.F.L. Championship

Charley Trippi, second from right, and Vince Banonis, right, during a loss in the Chicago Cardinals’ N.F.L. championship season. “In 1947, we had a good run,” said Trippi, a Hall of Famer.

The burly old two-way player, a center and linebacker who is now 87, is one of the few people alive to know how it feels to be on the Cardinals and play for a championship.

For Vince Banonis, 60 years and another title tilt with the Eagles were reasons enough to break out the old fight song. He and some teammates recorded it back in another time, another place.

Over the phone from Southfield, Mich., Banonis sang:

Hail Chicago Cardinals, crimson and white,

We’ll back you ever, down the field, we’ll fight, fight, fight.

We’ll whip the Green Bay Packers, Rams and the Bears,

We’ll take Detroit and Pittsburgh, and do it fair and square.

Yea, Cardinals!

Like his surviving Chicago Cardinals teammates, Banonis has long cheered the Arizona Cardinals from afar. Now there is increasing curiosity, even suspense, six decades in the making.

The Cardinals play the Philadelphia Eagles in Sunday’s National Football Conference championship game. Millions will watch on television. A handful of viewers will see it differently than anyone else.

“It’s kind of a reminder of the games we had with the Eagles, oh, 60 years ago,” Banonis said.

Before they moved to Arizona, and before they moved to St. Louis, the Cardinals were Chicago’s team — or its other team. They played mostly at Comiskey Park, mostly in the broad shadow of George Halas’s Bears, who played at Wrigley Field.

But for one season, at least, the Cardinals outshined everyone.

“In 1947, we had a good run,” said Charley Trippi, now 86, then a nimble halfback from Georgia in the first year of a Hall of Fame career.

It never occurred to anyone that the Cardinals’ championship victory — a 28-21 defeat of the Eagles on Comiskey’s frozen and slippery field — would be the last that most of the franchise’s coaches, players and fans would live to see. No current N.F.L. franchise has gone longer without a title. The Cardinals have not even played for a league or conference championship since 1948, when they were 11-1 and lost a rematch with the Eagles.

“I didn’t think it would be forever, which it has been,” Jimmy Conzelman Jr. said. He was 10, a “locker-room pest,” when his father, a gregarious future Hall of Famer with a shock of silver hair named Jimmy Conzelman, coached the Cardinals to the title.

The son, now a 71-year-old grandfather living in Stratford, Conn., has a Cardinals logo tattooed on his backside. He got it in 1997, before a 50-year team reunion in Chicago.

“If they win the Super Bowl, I’m going to get one on the other side,” Conzelman said.

At least five players from the 1947 team are still alive — Banonis, Trippi, Chet Bulger, Hamilton Nichols and Charles Smith, known as Rabbit. They all remember a championship that came with little foreshadowing.

A 1925 title was followed by two winning records in 20 seasons. But after World War II, the owner Charles Bidwill assembled the Million-Dollar Backfield, sometimes called the Dream Backfield. Quarterback Paul Christman, later a prominent football broadcaster, was drafted in 1945. Halfback Elmer Angsman and fullback Pat Harder arrived in 1946. Trippi came in 1947.

Still, the franchise seemed jinxed.

“They had an awful lot of bad luck,” said Joe Ziemba, author of the 1999 book “When Football Was Football: The Chicago Cardinals and the Birth of the N.F.L.”

Bidwill died of pneumonia in April 1947, leaving the franchise to his widow, Violet.

In October, the rookie punter Jeff Burkett was one of 52 people killed when a United Airlines DC-6 crashed in Utah. He was leading the league in punting average and stayed behind in Los Angeles after a loss to the Rams because of appendicitis.

“When he died, I took over the punting,” Trippi said. “It was hard. I’d always think about Jeff when I’d go back to punt.”

(The star tackle Stan Mauldin died after having a heart attack in the Comiskey Park locker room following the 1948 season opener, a night game against the Eagles. His No. 77 is retired by the franchise.)

Conzelman, the coach, who often entertained his players with his piano playing, did not use Burkett’s death as motivation.

“Jimmy did a good job, telling us about how life goes, all the ups and downs,” Banonis said.

The Cardinals won four in a row, including a rematch with the Rams. They stumbled in road losses to the Redskins and the Giants to fall to 7-3. They righted themselves with a 48-21 victory at Philadelphia, the same day the 8-2 Bears were upset at Wrigley Field by the middling Rams.

In the season finale, the Cardinals and the Bears, each 8-3, played for the West Division title at Wrigley Field on Dec. 14. Theirs was a relationship much like the one the White Sox and the Cubs have long had, divided by geography and sturdy allegiances.

“We didn’t get the crowds at Comiskey Park that they got at Wrigley Field,” Banonis said. “All the rich people were on the North Side, and we got the leftovers.”

The Cardinals intercepted four Sid Luckman passes and never trailed. Their 30-21 victory earned a spot in the N.F.L. championship game against the Eagles of Coach Greasy Neale.

Championship memories are compacted into snapshots. The former players remember the bitter cold, and how the field was protected by a tarp and a reported 18 tons of straw for days before the game. They remember wearing sneakers, which gripped much better on the frozen field than the cleats the Eagles wore at the outset.

Newspaper accounts said that it was 28 degrees that Sunday afternoon, and that 30,759 people came to watch.

“It was a close, hard fought, rock-’em, sock-’em struggle, with a fair share of thrills,” The New York Times reported. The account also said that it was the Cardinals’ first title since 1925, as if that constituted a long drought. The Eagles were seeking their first N.F.L. championship.

The Cardinals had 282 rushing yards. The Eagles, with the bullish halfback Steve Van Buren — “He was a horse, I tell you,” Trippi said — managed only 60 yards on the ground. But Philadelphia quarterback Tommy Thompson completed 27 of 44 passes for 297 yards, and the Eagles seemed to respond to every score by the Cardinals, until Marshall Goldberg intercepted a Thompson pass to seal the victory.

“We couldn’t shake them,” said Bulger, 91, who gained weight to become a feared tackle by following Conzelman’s prescription of beer and steaks. “Goldberg’s interception, without that, it would have been tied.”

There was no parade, only a celebration at a South Side bar after the game and a formal dinner and dance thrown by the team. There were no rings until the franchise presented them to the surviving players 50 years later.

The Cardinals may have been a better team in 1948, when they went 11-1, but they lost the championship game to the Eagles in a memorable Philadelphia snowstorm.

The Cardinals soon slid into a 60-year funk that ultimately led to their move to St. Louis in 1960, then to Arizona in 1988. Finally, they are on the verge of coming full circle.

“They have to beat the Eagles,” Trippi said. “Just like we did.”