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Violet Bidwill And The 1947 Champion Cardinals

The NFL's first female owner was in charge when the team won a title

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The Cardinals – based in Chicago at the time – had just won the 1947 NFL Championship, knocking off the Philadelphia Eagles, 28-21.

Violet Bidwill, the Cardinals owner for only months after the death of her husband Charles Bidwill, was in tears.

"It's just too bad that Charley couldn't see this," she told a reporter.

It's been 75 years since the Cardinals won that NFL title, the last time the franchise took home a championship. And it's been 75 years since Violet Bidwill became the first female owner in all of pro sports.

"This is a significant year," current Cardinals owner and Bidwill's grandson Michael said.

The Eagles visit the Cardinals Sunday at State Farm Stadium, half a country away from Chicago and in the middle of the regular season. But it was a natural point to celebrate the twin 75th anniversaries.

Charley Bidwill died in April of 1947. While there were suitors trying to buy the team from Violet, she wanted to run the family businesses – including the Cardinals. The NFL was strictly male ownership, until Violet came along.

The 1947 Cardinals were an up-and-coming team. They were led by coach Jimmy Conzelman, and built an offense with future Hall-of-Famer Charlie Trippi, Marshall Goldberg, Pat Harder, Elmer Angsman, and quarterback Paul Christman.

As the Cardinals trained in Waukesha, Wisconsin for training camp, Violet Bidwill talked to the local paper about how the Cardinals had seven home games and "I think the men we have will draw crowds."

The Cardinals went 9-3, beating the Chicago Bears for the NFL's Western Division and finishing with the league's best record. They met the Eagles in the title game at Chicago's Comiskey Park.

The Cardinals (dark jerseys) tackle Eagles running back Steve Van Buren (15) during the 1947 NFL Championship.
The Cardinals (dark jerseys) tackle Eagles running back Steve Van Buren (15) during the 1947 NFL Championship.

The game was played in sub-freezing temperatures. The field had the tarp taken off the night before – the grounds crew didn't work on Sundays – and was frozen solid. The Cardinals played with custom-made sneakers with cleats made of cork. They worked better than the footwear the Eagles brought.

Angsman had 159 yards rushing on 10 carries, including the game-clinching 70-yard touchdown run. Trippi returned a punt for a score.

Conzelman had declined to invoke Charles Bidwill in the pregame speech. "These boys were plenty grim without trying to inject a maudlin note," Conzelman told a reporter.

The winning players earned $1,132 for the game. They didn't get a parade. Instead there was a celebration at a local bar after the game, and later a dinner and formal dance put on by Violet Bidwill, who won the title her husband had chased for so long.

"She had such a tremendous impact on the sport," Michael Bidwill said.

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