WHEN HIS FANS were tuning out, Bill Bidwill was taking stands and counting money. As the losses piled up and his organization was the butt of jokes, the Cardinals owner continued to take stands and count money.
Bidwill's organization made little pretense of competing. The Cardinals generally stunk in St. Louis, where they went 28 years without hosting a playoff game, and they stunk even more in Arizona, where they spent nearly 20 seasons losing everything except the profits.
Then Bill's son, Michael, joined the family business. And his father started listening.
Michael Bidwill earned a law degree in 1990 and spent six years as a federal prosecutor before joining the Cardinals in 1996. His title was vice president/general counsel, but his mission was to get a new stadium.
In 2000, the same Maricopa County voters who had rejected previous proposals approved Proposition 302, essentially taxing tourists to provide 65 percent of the funding. After 21 acrimonious months, a site was found in Glendale. Less than a year later, in April 2003, bulldozers cranked up in the Phoenix suburb. The stadium opened in August 2006, 18 months before Arizona would host a Super Bowl in its massive silver barn.
Now, less than a year after Super Bowl XLII at the University of Phoenix Stadium, the Cardinals are hosting the NFC championship game. They are one victory away from playing in Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Fla.
Michael is now the team president, yet Bill remains the owner. Both are delighted.
The 49ers might want to study this. And it wouldn't hurt the Raiders to take notice.
Our local teams have fallen on hard times, and the common denominator is recalcitrant owners doing it their way, deaf to other ideas, even while surrounded by flames of their own creation. John York was handed a winning coach, Steve Mariucci, and fired him. Al Davis discovered a winning coach, Jon Gruden, and traded him.
York and Davis have been starting over ever since, and though neither has found a solution, York seems to be following a definitive plan. He's phasing himself out, placing the team in the hands of his eldest son, Jed.
Jed York's new title is team president, and he's behind the decisions to dismiss coach Mike Nolan, promote Mike Singletary to interim status and ultimately give Singletary a four-year contract.
While Jed's primary purpose is to return the 49ers to elite status, his immediate mission is to get a new stadium. If he is as effective as Michael Bidwill was, San Francisco will have a new facility by 2018.
The Cardinals' success surely is linked to the stadium. The team that sold out 12 games in 18 seasons while borrowing Sun Devil Stadium has sold out every game since the move-in. In the process, the organization once without a fan base has stolen the Sonoran desert from the beloved Phoenix Suns.
The Cardinals began building in 2004, when Michael spent $11 million to hire Dennis Green, who had experienced success at Minnesota, and Green drafted Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals added Kurt Warner in 2005 and shelled out big money for free agent Edgerrin James in '06. When the losses kept coming and it was apparent general manager Rod Graves was ceding too much influence to the coach, the Bidwills fired Green — and promptly signed Graves to a three-year extension.
When Michael Bidwill and Graves replaced Green — eating the final year of his contract — with Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, arguably the NFL's hottest assistant, it further indicated the Cardinals were committed to winning and that spending would not get in the way.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals invested in a new practice facility. The organization that was too cheap to fly in prospects for workouts joined the rest of the league in doing exactly that. Free agents kept coming, including linebacker Chike Okeafor at $25 million.
The old Cardinals would have ignored Pro Bowl wideout Fitzgerald's pleas for a new deal. The new Cardinals re-signed him last offseason for four years at $40 million.
No longer is this Bill Bidwill's team, all eyes on the payroll, squeezing Jefferson's head off every nickel, as a matter of principle. And his mind was changed not by three decades of futility but by his son's reasoned voice.
Suddenly, the Cardinals matter. The jokes have been silenced. A monster is growing in the desert.
Your turn, Jed York. And the Davises of Oakland, Al and son Mark — or whomever Al chooses to take over the Raiders — also ought to pay attention.
Contact Monte Poole at email@example.com.