As Bidwill vacates 'worst' title, crown might fit Angelos

Super Bowl Xliii

January 27, 2009|By RICK MAESE | RICK MAESE,rick.maese@baltsun.com

TAMPA, Fla. - Peter Angelos, step on up.

The deck has been reshuffled in the Worst Owner in Sports Contest. It's sad to say because the Orioles haven't played a game in nearly four months, but Angelos is somehow shooting to the top of the charts. With a bullet.

For years, owners like Angelos, James Dolan, David Glass, William Ford and Tom Benson have had the luxury of knowing they weren't a serious contender for this top spot among bottom feeders. Hey, as long as the Bidwill family owned an NFL team, they figured, No. 1 would always be unattainable.

A funny thing happened on the way to Tampa. Bill Bidwill's Arizona Cardinals stumbled their way into the Super Bowl.

Bidwill had a virtual headlock on the Worst Owner title for years. It was almost like a point of pride. You could see him making erroneous, cheapskate decisions and could almost hear owners like Angelos muttering, "Crafty Bill! Determined to stay No. 1. Thank you!"

But here we are in Tampa and the Cardinals are just a few days away from challenging the Pittsburgh Steelers for the championship. In the snap of a finger, Bidwill has somehow completely excused himself from the Bad Owner conversation.

Which leaves us debating the merits of guys like Angelos (ahem, 11 straight losing seasons and counting). But this week is about football, so let's not waste too much time taking stock of the Orioles' shortcomings. Rather, let's learn from the Cardinals. Let's - and who would have ever thought we would utter something like this? - see what we can learn from the Bidwill family.

The first NFL game I ever attended was in Phoenix. We bought tickets outside the stadium for $5 apiece, if memory serves correctly. I remember the crowd was smaller than my homeroom algebra class.

The Bidwill family moved the team from Chicago to St. Louis to Phoenix, seemingly determined to hide it from the rest of the country. This is a franchise that until this season posted just one winning campaign in the past 23 seasons. They haven't played for an NFL title since 1948 and since that time had won just one playoff game until last month.

So how did they get from there to here? There's no precise science. I asked several players yesterday, and there seems to be a two-pronged formula:

1. You need a commitment from the owner. From the general manager to the head coach to the starting quarterback, everybody says he signed up because he was sold on the idea of an organization eager to turn the corner. Even if it took a half-century to even reach that point.

2. Some talented players have to make a leap of faith. You hope either they don't know what they're signing up for or they're determined to not repeat history. With this group, you would think the Cardinals have existed for just a single season, when, in fact, they've been around for 110 years, longer than any other NFL team.

It doesn't hurt if, as wide receiver Anquan Boldin said, you had never really heard of the Bidwills and if you were generally oblivious to the years of futility suffered in the desert. But I wouldn't count on that.

I asked quarterback Kurt Warner - the kind of guy you would trust to take your mom out for milkshakes, by the way - if he was concerned about all the Bidwill talk that preceded his arrival in Arizona.

"I think there's always reservations coming into different places where you're not sure or ... where the perspective from the outside is more about a losing organization," he said.

But everyone seems to have accepted from the moment they arrived that this team was destined for the Super Bowl. Which seems like a silly thought. From Tempe to Scottsdale, this might still sound like blasphemy, but Warner actually praised the Bidwills.

"My relationship with the ownership has been great since I got here," he said. "The one thing I commend them on, since the first time I got here, they've been asking me, trying to make adjustments where they need to make adjustments to get to the point we're at today."

It certainly took them long enough. Charles Bidwill bought the team for $50,000 in 1932. Though the team passed from father to son and kept hopping cities westward, it wasn't until recently that the Bidwill family committed that much money to annual salaries.

The stories surrounding the team's propensity to pinch pennies are somewhat infamous: locking the Gatorade cooler, making players fork over the Federal Express fee to deliver paychecks.

So it's not surprising that when Ken Whisenhunt interviewed for the head coaching job two years ago, he questioned the ownership's commitment to winning. Its response - it promised him a new weight room, it told him it would pay for a good staff, it promised to keep talented players on the roster and whatever he needed to help the team escape its pathetic past.

So here the Cardinals are, on the doorstep of America's biggest game. In just a few short weeks, the Bidwills, a mainstay at the top of the charts, completely erased their name from one of sport's most notorious lists.

It only took 60 years.

Here's hoping it doesn't take the Angelos clan quite that long.

Steelers (14-4) vs. Cardinals (12-7)

Sunday, 6:30 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 4

Radio: 1090 AM

Line: Steelers by 7

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