Before 1920: The Cardinals roots stretch back to 1898 when a neighborhood group that gathered to play football in a predominantly Irish area of Chicago’s South Side, playing under the name Morgan Athletic Club. Chris O’Brien, a painting and decorating contractor acquired the team later, and soon its playing site changed to nearby Normal Field, prompting the new name Normals. In 1901, the team gained longstanding identification when O’Brien, finding a bargain, bought used jerseys from the nearby University of Chicago. The jerseys were faded maroon in color, prompting O’Brien to declare, “That’s not maroon, it’s Cardinal red!” The club’s permanent nickname had been born! In Chicago at the time, football competition was exclusively amateur, but such opposition became increasingly hard to find, so in 1906, the team disbanded. In 1913, O’Brien reorganized the Cardinals. By 1917 they were able to buy new uniforms and hire a coach, Marshall Smith. That year they lost only two games and were champions of the Chicago Football League. The war in Europe and a flu epidemic in the United States forced the team to suspend operations once again in 1918. Following Armistice Day, O’Brien organized the Cardinals for a third time. From that day forward, the Cardinals have been a permanent part of the professional football scene in America.
1920: The Racine Cardinals whose popularity in the Chicago Area is well known are among 11 franchises that pay the $100 entry fee to join a new league, which would become the NFL. The Cards would play their first league game on October 10th at the nearby home field of the Chicago Tigers. The Cardinals and Tigers would battle to a scoreless tie that autumn day. On Halloween the Cardinals would play their first league home game, and would defeat the Detroit Heralds 21-0. The Cardinals would go on to finish with a 3-2-2-league record, while winning three additional non-league games.
1921: The Cardinals lure great halfback, John “Paddy” Driscoll, to the Cardinals for $3,000 a year, a sum considered outlandish at the time. But Driscoll was an authentic superstar, a superior runner, blocker, punter, and possibly the finest drop kicker in the history of football. He was also hired to coach the team. However, under Driscoll the Cards would only manage a mediocre 3-3-2 record.
1922: The Cardinals move their home games to Comiskey Park, and officially became the Chicago Cardinals as not to confuse themselves with a new team in the league form Racine, Wisconsin. Comiskey Park would be the Cardinals nest for the next 37 years, except for a three year stint from 1926-1928 when the returned to Normal Field. The move would seem to do the Cardinals well as they posted a solid 8-3 record while finishing in third place.
1923: The Cardinals get off to a fast start outscoring their opponents 85-0 while wining their first four games. However the Cards would end up in the middle of the pack again finishing in sixth place despite a solid 8-4 record.
1924: The Cardinals would play mediocre football all season on the way to finishing in the middle of the pack with a record of 5-4-1.
1925: The Cardinals complete an 11-2-1 season to claim their first ever NFL Championship. However, it would not be without controversy. At the time teams were allowed to make their own schedules, and all league games would count in the standings. This was clearly seen in Red Grange’s barnstorming tour with Chicago Bears that began with a scoreless tie on Thanksgiving. The Cardinals would enter a key game with Pottsville (Maroons on December 6th with a 9-1-1 record a win would sew up the Championship for the Cards. However, the Maroons would stun the Cards 21-7 at Comiskey Park to take over first place with a 10-2 record, a half game better then the Cardinals. The Cardinals, who had completed all their scheduled games, would quickly scramble to schedule two games with in three days against weaker NFL teams. On December 10th the Cards would face the Milwaukee Badgers, who, the already had disbanded for the season. An unknown cast of add-ons augmented including local high schoolers, would fall 59-0 to the Cards in what many called a “practice game”. The Cards would go on to beat the Hammond Pros 13-0, two days later to finish 11-2-1, a half of game ahead of Pottsville to claim the title. However the Maroons would not go down with out a fight scheduling a game against the Notre Dame All-Stars in Philadelphia, geographically within the territorial rights of the NFL’s Frankford Yellowjackets and an obvious violation of league rules. The resultant outcry from the Yellowjackets would factor into the final outcome of the struggle for the league crown. The Maroons’ lustrous 9-7 win over the Four Horsemen-led Fighting Irish contingent, billed as the first football all-star game ever played in America, had things looking rosy in the Keystone State. However, Commissioner Joe Carr had been thorough and adroit in informing the Maroons prior to the all-star game that stiff penalties would be enacted if the event were carried out. His edict called for the suspension of all Pottsville rights, including the team’s right to compete for the NFL crown. The Maroons’ charter was revoked and the franchise forfeited. As events turned out some seven months later, Carr would reinstate Pottsville for the following season in the wake of the formation of the new American Football League (AFL), originated by Grange and his manager, C.C. Pyle, in 1926. Carr reasoned that it made little sense to hand over a good team like the Maroons to a new and powerful rival.
1926: The Cardinals follow up their controversial championship by getting off to a fast 5-1 start. However the Cards would go into a nosedive losing five of their final six games. The lone bright spot was stale mating the cross-town Bears with a scoreless tie on Thanksgiving to finish with a 5-6-1 record.
1927: The Cardinals get off to a strong start winning their first three games. However they would not win another as they posted a terrible record of 3-7-1.
1928: Playing a limited six game schedule the Cardinals win just once finishing next to last with a record of 1-5.
1929: After running the Cardinals for 28 years Chris O’Brien sells the team to Chicago physician, Dr. David Jones. In his first year of ownership, he coaxed running back Ernie Nevers out of retirement to become player-coach. Still in his prime, the 26-year-old Nevers scored an NFL-record 40 points on six touchdowns and four extra points in an historic 40-6 victory over the cross-town Bears on Thanksgiving. The Cards would finish the season with a 6-6-1 record snapping their streak of three consecutive losing seasons.
1930: The Cardinals continue to play mediocre football finishing in the middle of the pack again with a record of 5-6-2.
1931: The Cardinals continue to toil in mediocrity posting a less then stellar record of 5-4.
1932: The Cardinals are sold again this time the buyer is Charles W. Bidwell, Sr., a vice president of the Chicago Bears, who purchased the Cardinals for Dr. David Jones’ asking price of $50,000. Bidwell would divest himself of his Bears holdings and a new era began. However the new era began with disappointment as Ernie Nevers, and the Cardinals finished with a 2-6-2 record.
1933: The Cardinals were not much better in Bidwell’s second year as the Cardinals began to take on a reputation of being the league’s doormat after completing a 1-9-1 season.
1934: The Cardinals continue to struggle finishing fourth in the Western Division with a mediocre record of 5-6.
1935: Under new head coach Milan Creighton the Cardinals ended their string of three consecutive losing seasons by finishing with a respectable 6-4-2 record.
1936: The Cardinals return to their losing ways finishing in last place with a woeful record of 3-8-1.
1937: The Cardinals continue to play mediocre football posting a record of 5-5-1 while finishing in fourth place.
1938: The Cardinals return to last place winning just 2 of 11 games, while be shut out 3 times and held under ten points six times for a 2-9 record.
1939: Hoping to restore a spark to the franchise the Cardinals hire former Running Back Ernie Nevers to coach the team. However the move does not workout as the Cardinals finish with an awful 1-10 record. It marks the Cardinals second consecutive losing season and third in four years, and closes out a decade where the Cardinals finished better than .500 three times.
1940: The Cardinals defeat their cross-town rival Chicago Bears 21-13 on September 25th. The Bears would go on to win the NFL Championship while the Cardinals finished with a disappointing 2-7-2 record.
1941: The Cardinals continue to lose posting a horrible record of 3-7-1 while finishing in fourth place.
1942: The Cardinals suffer their fourth consecutive losing season finishing in fifth place again with a wretched record of 3-8.
1943: The Cardinals go from bad to worse failing to win a single game, and posting their sixth consecutive losing season. The Cardinals on their way to 0-10 would have only three games decided by a Touchdown or less.
1944: As a wartime emergency measure, the Cardinals combined with the Pittsburgh Steelers to play as one team. It was called Card-Pitt. Co-coached by the Cardinals’ Phil Handler and the Steelers’ Walt Kiesling, a former Cardinal guard, the team split its home games between Comiskey Park and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. However the losing ways carry over as the team fails to win a game in ten attempts, while only managing to be with in a few points twice.
1945: On October 14th the Cardinals stun the Bears with a 16-7 win at Wrigley Field the win was the first victory by the Cardinals in nearly three years, in which the Cardinals as either themselves or combined with the Pittsburgh Steelers lost a NFL record 29 games. However, the win would be the lone salvation as the team would not win again and finish with a 1-9 record.
1946: Coach Jimmy Conzelman decides to adopt the “T-formation” to revive the struggling offense, which is led by second year QB Paul Cristman, who along with Fullback Pat Harder and halfback Elmer Angsman ended the Cards string of eight consecutive losing seasons by finishing the season with a 6-5 record.
1947: Owner Charles Bidwell who for most of his 15 years as Cardinals owner suffered through horrendous seasons dies in April, only a few months before the team’s greatest glory. His wife Violet would take over as head of the franchise. Prior to his death Charles Bidwell made big news by signing University of Georgia all-America running back Charley Trippi, for the then-unheard of sum of $100,000. The Cards got off to a fast start winning their first three outings, a run that included a 31-7 trouncing of their hated cross-town rivals, the Chicago Bears. In week four, the Cardinals headed to Los Angeles on a trip heavy with fate. They incurred their first loss of the season, 27-7 to the Rams, but lost something far more precious than a game. Rookie punter Jeff Burkett suffered an appendicitis attack and missed the game as well as the team plane back to Chicago. He spent several days recuperating after an appendectomy before boarding a United Airlines DC-6 bound for home. He never made it. The plane crashed in Bryce Canyon, Utah, killing the young star who was the NFL’s leading punter at the time of the tragedy with a 47.4-yard average. Under the pall of the loss of Burkett, the Cardinals climbed to 7-3 but were in the throes of a two-game losing streak heading to Philadelphia on December 7th for a critical game against the Eagles. Trailing 7-3 at the half, Chicago exploded for six second-half touchdowns, including two by Trippi, and held the powerful Van Buren to just 44 yards rushing to grab a crucial 45-21 road win. With a record of 8-3 the Cardinals entered a season finale showdown with cross-town the Bears who were also 8-3 at Wrigley Field, the winner would advance to the NFL Championship. The Cardinals would jump out in front on the very first play as Boris Dimancheff ran a flair pattern, turned outside the end, and then raced down the center of the field. He outdistanced Bears DB Mike Holovak, caught Paul Cristman’s perfect pass, and galloped into the end zone despite stumbling over the baseball pitcher’s mound. The Cardinals would intercept four passes by legendary Bear quarterback Sid Luckman and converted two into touchdowns en route to a 30-21 win. The win was especially sweet, as they had beaten the Bears to at least squash for one year their inescapable status as Chicago’s “other” team. On December 28th, a grim, frozen Comiskey Park gave little indication of the approaching heat of the day’s upcoming war. The game was defined by Chicago’s quick-openers, producing three devastating, backbreaking, long scoring runs from scrimmage-two 70-yarders by Elmer Angsman and a 44-yarder by Charley Trippi. In the third period, Trippi circled under a high Joe Muha punt, taking it on his own 25-yard line. Spectacularly sidestepping three Eagle pursuers, Trippi pranced 75 yards for a touchdown, getting hit three times along the way. However, Philadelphia fought evenly throughout with one-eyed quarterback Tommy Thompson setting two playoff records on 27-of-44 passing for 297 yards. The Cardinals would clinch the championship on Marshall Goldberg late 4th quarter interception which won the game 28-21.
1948: The Cardinals put together an even better regular season finish 11-1 to claim their second consecutive Western Division Title. The Division title would earn the Cards a NFL Championship rematch with the Eagles in Philadelphia. However, the Cardinals would fall 7-0 in the Championship Game that was played under blizzard conditions.
1949: With the departure of Head Coach Jimmy Conzelman the Cardinals would struggle to finish with a mediocre record of 6-5-1 ending their two year reign at the top of the NFL’s Western Division.
1950: The Cardinals move to the Eastern Division posting a mediocre record of 5-7 while finishing in fifth place.
1951: The Cardinals who reverted back to their losing ways a season earlier finish in last place with an awful 3-9 record. However, two of the team’s wins came against the Chicago bears at least earning them bragging rights in the Windy City.
1952: The Cardinals get off to a strong start winning three of their first four games, but end up with another awful season as they win just one game the rest of the way for an awful 4-8 record.
1953: With the glory days a distant memory the Cardinals were in the midst of their fourth consecutive losing season, which threatened to be the franchise 3rd winless season if they did not win their final game of the season against the Bears at Wrigley Field. The winless Cardinals would enter the game with extra incentive to win when Head Coach Joe Stydahar threatened to with hold the team’s game checks if they failed to avoid a winless season. The inspired Cardinals would pull it off defeating the Bears 24-17 to finish the season 1-10-1.
1954: The Cardinals continue to play awful football finishing dead last again with a terrible record of 2-10.
1955: The Cardinals continue to struggle posting their sixth straight losing record while finishing in 4th place with a record of 4-7-1.
1956: On October 14th against the Washington Redskins at creaky old Griffith Stadium the Cardinals had a year of highlights in one game. Frank Bernardi broke Phil Sarboe’s 21-year-old club mark with a 95-yard punt return that remains the longest in Cardinal history. Later in the same game RB Ollie Matson returned a kick from the middle of the endzone to score an NFL record tying 105-yard kick off return. The Cards would finish the season with a 7-5 record to end a string of six consecutive losing seasons.
1957: The Cardinals return to last place posting a terrible record of 3-9 after starting the season strongly with a 20-10 win on the road against the San Francisco 49ers.
1958: The Cardinals continue to toil at the bottom of the standings posting an awful record of 2-9-1 to tie for the worst mark in the Eastern Division.
1959: In the midst of another awful 2-10 season that marked their ninth losing season in ten years the Cardinals era in Chicago was ending with a whimper. It had become all too clear that the cards were Chicago’s other team, and no matter what they did could ever fix that. That Cardinals legacy of losing had made it impossible for them to compete with the Bears, who were among the NFL premier franchises from day one. For their final season the Cards played four home games at Soldier Field and two in Minnesota in an attempt to find a new home. The franchise would earn its final win as the Chicago Cardinals on November 1st against the Pittsburgh Steelers, before losing their final six games. Shortly after the season owner Violet Bidwell decided to relocate the team to St. Louis.