Saturday, January 31, 2009



By Evan Weiner

February 1, 2009

12:30 AM EST

(New York, N. Y.) -- No matter what happens in Super Bowl XLIII, Card-Pitt will finally win a game. Card-Pitt? Isn’t that what covers a floor? A carpet covers a floor, but in 1944, the National Football League (the NFL of 1944 was a rag tag collection of family run franchises that operated less than six months a year and the only thing the NFL of 1944 has in common with the NFL of 2009 is the initials, NFL), the NFL did have a team called Card-Pitt because of World War II. There just weren’t enough players to fill NFL rosters in 1943 and 1944. The Cleveland Rams suspended operations in 1943 and the Philadelphia Eagles merged operations with the Pittsburgh Steelers to form the “Steagles” although the NFL refers to the team officially as Phil-Pitt. The Chicago Cardinals played in 1943 despite not having many qualified players.

The NFL decided to play in 1943 after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a statement that the American and National Leagues in baseball should continue playing because the country needed entertainment. FDR did not mention anything about football, but the NFL owners decided to follow baseball’s league. The NFL was missing hundreds of players.

“The Steagles, which was a great name, they had a very good team,” said present day Steelers owner Dan Rooney. “They started to win, the had a quarterback named (Roy) Zimmerman who was really good and they won the first number of games. They won like half the season and really were in first place and then they got a lot of injuries and in those days you could not replace them. Then the Cardinals the next year, that was a disaster, we had four coaches, none of whom was named the head coach.

“So it is the old story, who is the head coach. They were 0-10. But the reason for it (the two merged teams in 1943 and 1944) was the war and not only was it difficult because guys were gone, but where you could have a good team was where there was a military operation and in both Chicago and Philadelphia, they had a lot of navy people because of being on water, that was the reason they were able to get the players and that is the reason we combined with them.”

Philadelphia had enough players in 1944 after the U. S. Army felt it had enough men and decided not to draft men over the age of 26. The NFL was scheduled to have 11 teams in 1944 with the return of the Cleveland Rams and the addition of the expansion Boston Yanks. NFL Commissioner Elmer Layden did not want 11 teams because of scheduling problems and asked Art Rooney and Bert Bell if they would merge the Steelers with someone either the returning Rams or the Brooklyn Tigers. Rooney eventually teamed up with Charles Bidwill’s Chicago Cardinals.

Ironically both teams in Super Bowl XLIII are still owned by the families involved in the 1944 merger with Dan Rooney in charge of the Steelers and Bill Bidwill signing the checks for the Arizona Cardinals.

Arguably the 1944 Card-Pitt team was the worst team ever to play in the NFL. The returning Rams eked out a 30-28 victory in the opening game of the season. It was the closest the merged team came to a win.

The previous season, the “Steagles” finished at 5-4-1. It was a better atmosphere according to Rooney.

“Yeah they all had fun,” said Rooney, who was 11 years old and hanging around the “Steagles” in 1943. “It was one of those things, it was a tough time. We had a receiver by the name of Tony Bova who was 4-F because he couldn’t see but he was our leading receiver.”

The Rooney-Bidwill partnership was dissolved the day after the 1944 season ended. The Chicago Cardinals did not win a football game in either 1943 or 1944 and has a 29 game losing streak between 1942 and 1945.

Germany and Adolph Hitler fell by May 1945 and that allowed more men to be freed up and play football although the Boston Yanks and the Brooklyn Tigers combined forces for the season.

“Actually in 1945, it looked like things were ending so we all split and went on our own. We did start to get players like Bill Dudley who was one of our great players. He came back in the middle of the season and played the end of the season,” said Rooney.

By 1947, Pittsburgh had a good football team and finished in a tie for the top spot in the Eastern Division with the Eagles both finished at 8-4. The Eagles defeated the Steelers in a tie-breaking playoff game. Ironically enough, the Chicago Cardinals beat the Eagles to win the 1947 NFL Championship. It would be the last hurrahs for both the Rooney and Bidwill families for decades. During the 1950s, the Bidwill family started looking for a new home city and played games in Buffalo and Minneapolis. The team moved to St. Louis in 1960 with the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) chipping in to buy a Comiskey Park football grandstand and moving it with the franchise to St. Louis.

It was a great investment for CBS because it finally could broadcast Chicago Bears road games into the Windy City as virtually every one of the Bears and Cardinals home-road games overlapped and the NFL’s blackout policy did not allow a home team to broadcast a game within 75 miles of its stadium. With the Bidwill family’s team in St. Louis, CBS in Chicago could show six Bears games. Pittsburgh would not win a Super Bowl until 1975. Bill Bidwill’s Cardinals moved to Tempe, Arizona in 1988.

Pittsburgh and Chicago-St. Louis-Phoenix/Arizona have played a lot of football against one another throughout NFL history but never played in a “big game.” Whatever Card-Pitt fans remain from 1944 and there were only about 70,000 people who should up at the five “home” games at Comiskey Park in Chicago and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh can’t lose. Card-Pitt is going to win Super Bowl XLIII.

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