Farewell to the Big Red (11-29-1959)

Chicago’s pioneer pro football team was playing its very last home game.  The place was Soldier Field, and it was the Cardinals versus the Bears.

That’s the Chicago Cardinals.  They were around long before the Bears—or the NFL.

The team started out as a part-time, semi-pro outfit in 1898.  They became known as the Cardinals after they cut a deal for some cardinal-red uniforms.  In those days, the only money the players got was by winning bets from the opposing team, or passing the hat among the spectators.

When the pro league was formed in 1920, the Cardinals became a charter member.  They played their home games at Comiskey Park and had some early success.  The team won NFL championships in 1925 and 1947.

But as the seasons passed, Chicago became a Bears’ town.  The Bears had the star players, the publicity, the money.  They were the dominant team in the NFL.  The Cardinals usually posted a losing record.  They were the team you went to see when the Bears were on the road.

By 1959 the Cardinals’ owners were trying anything to stay in business.  They traded off their one headliner, halfback Ollie Matson, for nine players.  They abandoned Comiskey in favor of Soldier Field.  When the team scheduled two of their “home” games in Minneapolis, rumors circulated the Big Red would be leaving Chicago.

So now came the Cardinals’ last home game of the season, against their cross-town rivals.  The South Siders were in last place with a 2-7 record.  The Bears were 5-4, and still had a shot at a division title.  Though temperatures stayed in the 20s, a standing-room-only crowd of 49,000 jammed Soldier Field.

The two Chicago teams always faced off near the end of the season.  More than once, the underdog Cardinals had upset the haughty Bears and cost them a championship.  Would it happen again?

On the first play from scrimmage, the Bears quarterback threw a long pass.  Two Cardinal defenders went up for the ball—and tipped it into the hands of the Bears receiver, who went 76 yards for a touchdown.

After that it was no contest.  The Cardinals lost, 31-7.

The team played its final two games on the road.  They lost those, too.  By the time the 1960 season began, the Cardinals had moved to St. Louis.

—30—

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3 Responses to “Farewell to the Big Red (11-29-1959)”


  1. 1 James F. O'Neil November 29, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    Wonderful! And after I left Chicago, I was able to see the Cardinals while studying in Saint Louis. Thanks for the memories.

  2. 2 benson November 30, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    Have always had a soft spot for the Big Red. I was just in diapers when they moved south, but did manage to go to some games at Busch Stadium when we lived in Spfld.

    They never managed to have good ownership. Always under-financed or dead. A wonderful what-if: Imagine the DeBartolo family owning the Cardinals rather than the 49ers. I know they were turned down by baseball to buy the White Sox. What a formidable pair that would’ve been on the South Side.

    John, not sure if you’re aware of a big thick paperback, “When Football Was Football: The Chicago Cardinals and the Birth of the NFL” by Joe Ziemba. Lots of minutiae but still fascinating.


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