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Bill Bidwill, owner of NFL's Cardinals, dies at age 88

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Longtime Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill died Wednesday while surrounded by his family and loved ones, the team announced. He was 88.

"We are overwhelmed by the support our family has received, not only now but throughout the latest chapter of his life," Bidwill's son, Cardinals president Michael Bidwill, said in a release. "We are especially grateful to the nurses, doctors and other caregivers whose endless kindness and compassion in recent years have made our dad's life so meaningful.

"Above all else, we will remember him as a man devoted to the three central pillars of his life -- his immense faith, his love for his family and his life-long passion for the Cardinals and the sport of football."

Bill Bidwill's father, Charles, bought the Chicago Cardinals in 1932, and Bill was associated with the team for nine decades. He started as a ball boy as a child and went to work for the team full time in 1960 -- the Cardinals' first season in St. Louis -- after a stint in the Navy. Bill became owner in 1972; the team moved to Arizona in 1988.

"I played my entire career for one franchise. That franchise was the Cardinals," said Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman Dan Dierdorf, who went to six Pro Bowls in his 13 seasons with the Cardinals. "I met Mr. Bidwill when I was only 21 years old, straight out of the University of Michigan. I grew up playing for the Bidwill family and for Bill. He was not what anyone would call an absentee owner. He was there every day, he was at the practices, he was just a constant. It's a sad day."

Bidwill gave up day-to-day operations to Michael in 2007, when Michael became the team president.

Under Bidwill's ownership, the Cardinals toiled in mediocrity. They had five winning seasons from 1972 until Ken Whisenhunt was hired as head coach in 2007, Michael's first year in charge. The Cardinals went to their first and only Super Bowl the next season.

"Obviously when we talk about the game of football, there's a scoreboard and there's wins and losses on the field," said Hall of Fame defensive back Aeneas Williams, who played 10 years for the Cardinals. "But the thing that I've always understood and heard even when the team was back in St. Louis, it was the philanthropic work that Mr. B would do. And he would do it in such a way where there was no fanfare and no calling attention to it."

Despite a lack of success on the field, Bidwill was ahead of the curve with diversity in the NFL. He hired the first black female executive in league history, Adele Harris; the NFL's first black contract negotiator, Bob Wallace; and the league's first black head coach-general manager tandem, Dennis Green and Rod Graves.

"Now you hear everybody talking about diversity and minority hires," Cardinals star wideout Larry Fitzgerald said. "Back when he first started doing it, that was not the norm. Obviously, I was a part of it with Rod Graves and Dennis Green when he hired the first general manager and head coach to work together at the same time; that was groundbreaking. Definitely before his time, and he was a forward-thinking person.

"He didn't care about the color of your skin or race or the gender; if he felt like you could do the job to the best of your ability to help us become better, then you were the right person for it. I think you're starting to see that more often now, and he was doing it a long time ago."

The Cardinals established the Bill Bidwill Coaching Fellowship in 2015 as a way to promote and increase diversity on their coaching staff.

Bill and his wife, Nancy, were married for 56 years before she died in 2016. Together they had five children: Nicole, Bill Jr., Patrick, Tim and Michael.

Bidwill is survived by his five children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

"Bill Bidwill was part of the NFL family his entire life, starting from his days as a ball boy through his time as an owner," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "Although never one to seek the spotlight, Bill had an incredible sense of humor and he made extraordinary contributions to the NFL. Bill's vision brought the Cardinals, the NFL and multiple Super Bowls to Arizona. He was a leader in embracing diversity and employed the first African American female executive, and the first African American general manager and head coach tandem. We extend our condolences to Bill's family and the Cardinals organization, which along with his faith, meant so much to him."