Larry Fitzgerald was wrapping up his eulogy for Bill Bidwill when he gave out a factoid – one that could have come straight out of the weekly game release of Bidwill’s beloved Cardinals.
The first game the franchise won after Bidwill’s father, Charles, purchased the team, was in Cincinnati on Oct. 8, 1933 – exactly 86 years to the day of Bidwill’s funeral Tuesday morning. The Cards won by three. Sunday, the Cards’ first game since Bidwill died, was in Cincinnati – and the Cards won by three.
“Somebody upstairs might have had something to do with that,” said the Cardinals’ face of the franchise and close friend of the late owner.
“Yes, the games go on, life continues, and history marches forward,” Fitzgerald added. “But for what Mr. B meant to the National Football League, the Cardinals, this community and a young 20-year old kid from Minneapolis, Minnesota, will endure forever.”
Fitzgerald’s words were bookended by eulogies from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Bidwill’s son and Cardinals president Michael Bidwill to complete a final goodbye to the Cardinals owner at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Faith Community Church in Phoenix.
More than 1,000 gathered in attendance for Bidwill’s final mass. Aside from Goodell, among the NFL dignitaries attending were Giants owner John Mara, Bears owner Virginia McCaskey and son George, Chargers owner Dean Spanos, Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn, Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay, Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis and former NFL executive vice president of communications Joe Browne.
Former general manager Rod Graves, ex-coaches Vince Tobin and Larry Marmie, former contract negotiator Bob Wallace, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and Marie Tillman were also among those in attendance.
Graves and former fullback and current analyst Ron Wolfley were among those who read scripture passages.
Many current Cardinals players – including Chandler Jones, Budda Baker, David Johnson, D.J. Humphries, A.Q. Shipley, Justin Pugh, Corey Peters, Christian Kirk and Kyler Murray – attended, as well as former players like Aeneas Williams, Roger Wehrli and Frank Sanders.
Ring of Honor members Adrian Wilson and Roy Green were among the pall bearers, which included grandsons Thomas Bidwill, William V. Bidwill III, Charles Pike and James Pike, as well as Bill Bidwill’s one-time gameday security man Mike Bush and former Cardinals vice president of security Rick Knight.
Goodell spoke about the time Bidwill was caught in New York on 9/11, having gone to league meetings there and going to the NFL’s Manhattan office that day.
“The Twin Towers had fallen, the city was literally shut down, and nobody knew what would happen next,” Goodell said. “Bill stayed in our offices, speaking to our staff with a personal touch that comforted many employees. No long speeches, just a reassuring confidence that we would overcome this challenge.”
Both Goodell and Fitzgerald spoke about Bidwill’s dedication to charity and to diversity, noting Bidwill’s hiring of the NFL’s first African-American contract negotiator (Wallace), the first African-American female executive (Adele Harris) and the first African-American head coach/GM duo (Dennis Green and Graves.)
“In 2019, it is trendy and fashionable to talk about inclusion and the importance of gender and racial equality, but as evidenced by the signature bow tie that so many of us are wearing today, Mr. B never had much interest in being trendy or fashionable,” Fitzgerald said, drawing a laugh.
“He wasn’t seeking approval or recognition. It was not common or fashionable. He did it because they were capable. He did it because it was the right thing to do.”
But it was Michael Bidwill’s words at the end that pulled back the curtain on Bill Bidwill a bit, talking about Bill’s love for his Georgetown Prep boarding school and all that it taught him, the times when he visited his sons at that same school and when he showed up unexpectedly to drive daughter Nicole home from college after a particularly difficult semester, and the advice he’d give his kids on major life choices.
“Don’t look back” was Bill’s constant message.
Michael Bidwill told the story that Bill Bidwill called a family meeting in 1987 in St. Louis, and told his wife and kids it would be a family decision whether he should move the franchise to Arizona, knowing the impact a move would have on all of them. (They voted unanimously to move, Michael added.)
Until his illness forced Bill to stop traveling, Michael said, Bill never missed a league meeting or a Cardinals game.
“The effects of his illness had taken away his ability to speak, but not his ability to enjoy life,” Michael said. “He fought his illness with grace and strength, without ever a hint of anger or self-pity.
“His firm imprint on the culture of the Cardinals and our family will carry on. He was kind, generous and loyal, all qualities the world could use more of today.”
Images from the funeral mass for Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill on Tuesday morning at Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Phoenix