Bidwill can blame himself for getting caught in sun

January 26, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Only in the NFL could a stadium be good enough for the Super Bowl, but not good enough for the team playing host to it.

In keeping with the spirit of the 1995-96 season, the Arizona Cardinals want a new domed facility, or they're probably going to move.

Owner Bill Bidwill should be basking in glory this week, showing off his city to the NFL, celebrating at party after party.

Instead, he's practically in hiding.

Serves Bidwill right.

He blew it.

He should have moved to Baltimore.

Heck, he had two chances. He spurned Baltimore for Phoenix in 1988. And he failed to jump at the Baltimore offer last fall, creating an opening for Art Modell.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue wouldn't dare admit failure in his beloved Sun Belt, but Phoenix is the next Cleveland.

And, unlike Modell, Bidwill is getting chased out.

Cleveland built a new ballpark, a new arena and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, believing Modell would never leave.

Phoenix will build a retractable-roof, baseball-only park to go with its new downtown arena, showing little concern for Bidwill's problems.

The Cardinals to Cleveland?

"I wouldn't want to comment on that," Bidwill said during a brief outing at the Super Bowl media center Tuesday. "We're pursuing this option here."

He might get more public support if he had a better team, but after firing Buddy Ryan, he needs not only a new stadium, but also a new coach and general manager.

Just a model franchise, those Cardinals.

Modell, at least, spent 34 years in Cleveland. Bidwill has no roots in Phoenix. No wonder he keeps getting shafted in favor of local sports czar Jerry Colangelo, owner of the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks.

Colangelo brings teams to Phoenix; Phoenix looks out for Colangelo. A county sales tax will finance the new baseball park. Public funds also helped build the arena that is home to the Suns and future home to the Winnipeg Jets.

Bidwill says he is willing to undertake a public-private partnership for his stadium, but what city is crazy enough to finance two domes?

That is Bidwill's only option -- the legislation for the new ballpark specifically forbids the NFL from using the facility.

Perhaps he should take the hint.

Arizona leaders never guaranteed him a domed stadium, only their "best efforts" to build one. Baltimore did offer a new stadium, but Bidwill chose to share a college facility with Arizona State instead.

"If you could take yourself back to that time in this country, everyone was talking about the sun states," said Tom Guilfoil, the Cardinals' team counsel.

"Other, more established cities were losing population, or holding their own at best. I suppose we were caught up in that vision. You talked to anyone at that time in and out of sports, and the future was in the sun states."

Of course, it was.

And they'll have sun, sun, sun until Bidwill takes the franchise away.

Baltimore? Guilfoil said Bidwill gave the city "very, very serious consideration." And former Maryland Stadium Authority chairman Herb Belgrad remembers a day in January 1988 when he actually thought the Cardinals would come.

Bidwill had taken his son out of hostile St. Louis, enrolled him at Georgetown Prep in Washington, and requested a lunch meeting with Belgrad and attorney Eugene Feinblatt the next day.

At the end of that meeting, Belgrad recalls Bidwill saying, "I will get back to you by the end of the week. I think you will like what you hear."

"When he left, we looked at each other," Belgrad said. "John Moag can tell you what the feeling is like when you think you've hit paydirt."

But it did not happen.

Bidwill returned to Phoenix, and by the end of the week, announced his move. Belgrad initially believed that Baltimore had made the best offer. He later found out that was not the case.

Baltimore improved its package for expansion, then again for Modell. But the Cardinals would have been the best geographic fit. They play in the NFC East, the same division as Washington, Philadelphia, the New York Giants and Dallas.

Then again, who needed Bidwill?

The Cardinals have made the playoffs only three times since moving from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960, and haven't done it in a non-strike year since 1975.

For insight into Bidwill's judgment, just consider that he moved to Arizona without grasping the impact of stifling daytime heat on his attendance.

It was a blunder reminiscent of San Francisco Giants owner Horace Stoneham, who picked out the site for Candlestick Park on a sunny afternoon, never realizing the place would turn into a frosty wind tunnel at night.

"We seriously, seriously misunderstood the heat factor," Guilfoil said. "Everyone still seemed to play golf. Life went on as we could see. Arizona State hadn't had any problems."

But Arizona State plays at night, the Cardinals mostly in the afternoon. The average attendance this season was 47,539. The team finished 4-12. Its only sellout was against Dallas.

"The concrete around the east side of the field becomes very warm in the first half of the season, and is very uncomfortable for our fans," Bidwill said.

"Our competitors for disposable entertainment dollars will have refrigerated buildings to play in at that time of year."

Too hot, too bad.

Bidwill blew it.

2& He should have moved to Baltimore.

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