Before football fans reviled the name Kroenke, they had reason to dislike the name Bidwill. Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill left St. Louis for Phoenix in 1988, after 28 years in the Gateway City. But Bill’s son, Michael, has never forgotten his first football home and quietly maintained ties, particularly to the Cardinals of the ’70s and ’80s.
So, when members of the local football fraternity reached out, Michael didn’t hesitate to extend a helping hand. The request came last spring from the Tom Lombardo chapter of the National Football Foundation, which promotes and aids youth football. Its signature event is an annual dinner at which it awards scholarship money to 11 area scholar-athletes and honors the top 25 high school players in the area. The Rams had foot the bill for the latter award, known as the Golden Horn Elite 25, paying for plaques and dinner for the players and their parents. But funding for the program dried up after the Rams departed for Los Angeles. Bob Bunton, executive director of the local chapter, initially sought help from the Kansas City Chiefs because of their marketing efforts to woo local fans. The Chiefs declined.
Unsure where to turn, he considered reducing or eliminating the Elite 25, until several retired Cardinals suggested he ask Michael Bidwill, now president of the Cardinals. “I didn’t believe it at first,” Bunton says. But with nothing to lose, he wrote a formal request to Bidwill, signed by former Cardinals Johnny Roland, Dan Dierdorf and Roger Wehrli as well as former coach Jim Hanifan. A week or so later, Bunton got a call from Bidwill’s office. “He said we should just send him the bill. He didn’t ask for more details,” Bunton says. “We have other angels who support us, but not at this level. His gift allows us to sustain our mission. The Top 25 aren’t scholar athletes and some of them are from rough areas, so it’s important they get recognition.”
The plaques now read Big Red Top 25 and include the Cardinals logo. To say Bidwill goes about his business quietly is an understatement; the Cardinals’ media relations department was at first unaware that he had made the donation. Former Big Red players, though, “weren’t surprised at all,” Bunton says. “Every one of them has told me how kind he has been to them, how charitable he is, and how he still loves St. Louis.”
As proof, Bidwill continued to advocate for St. Louis to remain the home of the Rams until the owners’ vote in early 2016 that approved the move. Bidwill also recently helped out another player near and dear to area football fans. When members of Kurt Warner’s family were stranded in Chicago, in danger of missing Warner’s induction into the Hall of Fame, Bidwill dispatched his private jet to pick them up and get them to the ceremony. “He’s not only a kind person, but he’s not looking for any recognition, especially when he does things out of the blue, no questions asked,” Bunton says. “He still has a love for St. Louis.”
And a name to remember fondly.