INDIANAPOLIS – Bob Wallace remembers the days when he was the lone African-American in an NFL meeting.
He was there as legal counsel and chief contract negotiator for the then-St. Louis Cardinals in the early 1980s. He was once a ballboy for the Cardinals, like owner Bill Bidwill, and while it wasn't the reason he was hired, it mattered more in the process than the color of his skin.
"(Bill Bidwill) has done the right thing for years," Wallace said. "He has hired the right people solely because they could do the job, and for no other reason."
Bidwill was honored Friday by the Fritz Pollard Alliance with their Tank Younger award, given to an NFL executive who has made an impact in minority hiring.
In 2004, the Cardinals became the first NFL team to have minorities as both general manager and head coach when Dennis Green was hired by GM Rod Graves.
"The thing I am struck by, working for Mr. Bidwill, is how fair he has been in the hiring process of all candidates," Graves said. "This recognition just underscores that others around the NFL recognize that."
Bidwill hired Wallace in 1981 and Wallace served in that post for 10 years. Bidwill also hired Adele Harris, an African-American woman, to be a public relations assistant in 1971. Harris left three years later to attend college, and when she returned to the club in 1978, she became the first minority female executive in the NFL when she served more than 20 years as the team's director of community relations.
Wallace presented Bidwill with the award.
"It is an honor," Bidwill said. "I appreciate it and I am happy people thought I was worthy.
"We have looked for the best people. … There has been a great deal of progress (league-wide) over the past 40 years."
The Younger Award has been given since 2003. Past winners include Steelers chairman Dan Rooney (2009), Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome (2007), 49ers coach and executive Bill Walsh (2005) and Buccaneers and Colts head coach Tony Dungy (2004).
Tank Younger was a four-time Pro Bowler as a running back for the Rams and Steelers from 1949-1958. He was the first minority front office administrator in the NFL with the Rams after his playing days and then became the league's first African-American assistant general manager when he was named to the position in 1975 with the San Diego Chargers.