PHOENIX – Hundreds of loved ones donning “WVB” pins filed into St. Xavier Francis Catholic Church on Tuesday to celebrate the life of Cardinals owner William Vogel “Bill” Bidwill, who had been a part of the organization for eight decades. Bidwill died Wednesday at age 88.
Before the ceremony, several buses loaded with former and current players and family members emptied into the parking lot, with many of the mourners wearing bow ties, a Bidwill trademark.
Among those who attended were Gov. Doug Ducey, New York Giants President John Mara, Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury and rookie quarterback Kyler Murray.
Bidwill’s casket – draped in the American flag reflecting his service in the Navy – was carried by four grandsons, Thomas and William V. Bidwill III, Charles and James Pike; Mike Bush, who served as Bidwill’s game-day security assistant; Rick Knight, the former Cardinals vice-president of security; and Cardinals Ring of Honor members Roy Green and Adrian Wilson.
Silence overtook the waiting area as a six-person Navy funeral detail saluted Bidwill, who served shortly after college. He began working for the Cardinals in 1960.
The Rev. Jim Van Dyke, the president of Georgetown Preparatory School, the school he formerly attended, presided over the Mass and addressed the impact of the man known to those closest to him as “Mr. B.”
“Bill’s life was about faith, family and football. Not separately, but intermingled,” Van Dyke said.
Bidwill’s balance of those three elements were present throughout the entirety of the ceremony.
He was eulogized by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Bidwill’s son, Cardinals President Michael Bidwill. Goodell said he was happy to see the large turnout but wasn’t surprised because of Bidwill’s positive influence on the community and the NFL.
“Bill left us with more than we could ever give him,” Goodell said, “We will all miss you greatly.”
Bidwill will be remembered for the initiative he took to improve diversity in the NFL.
Bidwill took pride in the fact that the Cardinals became the first organization in NFL history to employ an African-American head coach and general manager at the same time, when Dennis Green was the coach under GM Rod Graves, Goodell said.
Hiring that duo is just one example of the steps Bidwill took to help facilitate equality and diversity.
“Mr. B. didn’t just talk about diversity as a distant ideal. He made it so,” Goodell said.
The NFL is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and Goodell said Bidwill, who was the longest-tenured owner in the NFL at the time of his death, set the standard for the league.
Fitzgerald was drafted by the Cardinals in 2004 and struck up a close relationship with Bidwill.
“What Mr. B. meant to the National Football League, the Cardinals, his community, and a young 20-year-old from Minneapolis, Minnesota will endure forever,” Fitzgerald said.
After sharing some stories that got the crowd laughing, Fitzgerald said he was glad everyone could share a laugh because that is what Bidwill would want.
“He was telling dad jokes long before we knew what dad jokes were,” Fitzgerald said. “But one thing he was serious about was his family.”
Michael Bidwill’s eulogy underscored that. He remembered his father attending all of Michael’s high school football games, and how he included the family in business decisions, including the momentous one to move the Cardinals from St. Louis to Arizona.
His father’s sense of humor was a major theme in all three of the eulogies. Michael Bidwill noted that even when his father could no longer speak to share a joke, he still managed to put a smile on everyone’s face with his presence.
Bidwill dealt with several health complications late in his life. His son paid homage to the people who helped care for him as his health declined.
“He fought his illness with grace and strength,” he said, “Rest in peace, Dad. I love you.”
Bidwill is survived by his five children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.