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The Arizona Cardinals in the history of football

A look back at how the Arizona Cardinals came to be.

Neil Lomax calls a play

The United States of America has many sports past times, but professional American football has grown to become the most popular sports entertainment in the country. Many would attribute this to good business practices, the rise of fantasy sports to add an additional dimension to the game, and the small number of games comparatively that take place each season. While all of these are good arguments, I would attribute the success to the emotional roller coasters of watching the games and the hope that “this is our year”. No teams exemplify these two traits better than the Cardinals and Bears teams, who are the only two remaining teams from original 1920 charter of the American Professional Football Association (renamed the National Football League (NFL) in 1922). Two historic teams, both founded in Chicago, have been known to cause high stress for their fans and somehow have us crawling back because this might be our year.

Professional American football had rough beginnings due to lack of competition in local areas, low to no pay for players, and the occasional pause in action to support war efforts. But two Chicago area teams struggled on through world wars and flu epidemics due to passion for the game, their rivalry, and sportsmanship which helped build up passion for the professional sport in it’s infancy.

The Chicago Bears franchise owe their name to player-coach, and later owner, George Halas who took over the Decatur Staleys in 1921 and moved them to Chicago. In the move George Halas renamed the team the Chicago Bears “to reflect baseball’s Chicago Cubs, the team’s host at Wrigley Field”. Halas was a businessman and supported the development of a professional football league of 13 teams to support ticket sales, rivalries, and establish a yearly champion all of which are the foundation of the NFL that we know today. George Halas’ Chicago Bears were a dominant team in the NFL and they set the tone for player recruitment and scouting college talent. However, in 1922 the Chicago Bears played the Chicago Cardinals twice in their founding year, losing to the Cardinals twice and helped to fuel one of the first intense rivalries in professional football.

The now Arizona Cardinals owe their name to the purchase of used jerseys in 1901 from the University of Chicago for the Racine Normals (who played at Chicago’s Normal Park off of Racine Avenue). The faded colors of the jerseys were said to be maroon, but owner Chris O’Brien claimed they were “cardinal red” and changed the teams name to the Racine Cardinals. The Racine Cardinals continued with that name until 1920 when they joined the formation of the National Football League as the Chicago Cardinals, and continued with that name until 1959 when they relocated to St. Louis Missouri. Despite the baseball team already using the St. Louis Cardinals team name, the football St. Louis Cardinals or “Football Cardinals” used the name until relocating to Phoenix, Arizona in 1987.2 Much to share with their St. Louis baseball counterparts the Cardiac Cardinals team name stuck with the franchise and continues to follow even after the 1994 renaming to the Arizona Cardinals.

With close to 100 years of history between these two founding football clubs one interesting moment that has stood the test of the time is the Thanksgiving Day game in 1929 which produced "an all-time highlight when the Cardinals' superstar running back, Ernie Nevers, scored all 40 points -- an NFL record that stands today -- in a 40-6 victory over the Chicago Bears".

The history of these two Chicago based teams were pillars in the foundation of America’s most popular sport entertainment. The Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals may not be the overwhelming powerhouses that they were in the foundation years of the NFL, but they still give us the emotional roller coasters and just enough hope each year for a championship run.