Friday, November 4, 2016

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.”


  1. I really enjoyed this place and you can definitely find me here for more events. I didn't eat anything when on my recent visit to venues in NYC, but those around me had truffle fries, pizza, and wings all seemed to enjoy.

  2. In short, the NFL betting website you should be going to must be one that will give you every possible edge you can get, helping make that bet successful for you and not stacking the odds against you.Madden NFL 18 Coins


  3. Fastidious replies in return casino online malaysia of this matter with real arguments and describing all concerning that. The Gaming Club bears a license from the giving out of Gibraltar, and claims to be one of a select few casinos that have a license from the Gibraltar government. A supporter of the Interactive Gaming Council (IGC), The Gaming Club follows every the guidelines laid next to by the organization, something that has similar to a long showing off in it bodily official as a good place to gamble online.

    Everything roughly The Gaming Club feels good; be it the promotions, the huge number of games, the combined banking options upon offer, the unbiased security measures, or the fair and held responsible gaming practices the casino adopts.

    The Gaming Club motors along on software developed by one of the giants of online gaming software progress Microgaming. The software it uses is advanced and has a range of features meant to put in your online gambling experience and make you want to arrive back up after all circular of gambling you pull off here.

    Another hallmark of a fine casino is the tone of its customer preserve team, and The Gaming Club does not disappoint on this front.