In 1944, the Chicago Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers combined depleted forces to form a team known as Card-Pitt.
One of the most unique stories in the history of the Arizona Cardinals franchise takes place during the days of World War II. Beginning on September 16, 1940, men aged 21-45 were required to sign up for military conscription. At the height of the war, the draft had taken many professional football players away from the NFL and into the U.S. military. Because of this, some teams found themselves unable to put together a full roster.
One of these teams was the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had combined with what remained of the Philadelphia Eagles roster in 1943 to form a team known by nickname as the “Steagles.” Finding themselves in the same situation again in 1944, the Steelers morphed with the Chicago Cardinals in order to form a team known as “Card-Pitt.” Originally, the Steelers had attempted but failed to merge with the Brooklyn Tigers.
The Cardinals were a struggling team at this point, having gone winless in 1943 and winning just one game since October 18, 1942. By combining their efforts with that of the Steelers, the team expected to do better in ’44. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the case. Card-Pitt struggled mightily, going 0-10 and finishing in last place in the NFL Western Division, which featured the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and Cleveland Rams.
Card-Pitt performed so poorly that the sports writers referred to them in the papers as the “carpets.” Amazingly, though, they weren’t the only team that went winless in the ’44 season. In the Eastern Division, the Brooklyn Tigers did as well. The season would go on to be one of the 13 league championship seasons for the Green Bay Packers, who defeated the New York Giants in the NFL championship game.
From Worse To Worst Yet
The team is remembered by pro football historians today as one of the worst teams in the history of the NFL. John Grigas handled primary responsibilities as a quarterback, a running back, and kick returner on the team. As a quarterback, he completed just 38.2% of his passes for six touchdowns and a walloping 21 interceptions which led the NFL. As a running back, he rushed for 610 yards and three touchdowns, but for just 3.3 rushing yards per attempt.
The one bright spot for Grigas was that his 23 kick returns for 471 return yards also led the NFL, as did his 1,156 all-purpose yards. However, his 21 interceptions turned into a lot of points off turnovers for opponents, and Card-Pitt was outscored 328-108 by the time the season ended. To add further insult to injury, Elbie Shultz, an offensive lineman for the team in ’44, went on to win the NFL championship in 1945 as a member of the Cleveland Rams, also the year that World War II ended.
Card-Pitt & World War II
The World War II era of the NFL tells the story of the United States at the time. The story of Shultz, who went from a member of a winless team in ’44 to an NFL champion in ’45, follows along the lines of the trajectory of the global war effort. Throughout World War II, there were plenty of times when people believed the Allies might not succeed, and that the ugly stain of fascism and authoritarianism would win the day.
Card-Pitt may indeed be one of the worst teams in the history of the NFL, but it’s also an important historical team because of the era it represents. At a time when the public was in desperate need of something to cheer them up at home, a hapless Cardinals team pushed on to do just that, even if it had to merge with another franchise temporarily to do so. The war effort required a lot out of American citizens left at home, two franchises coming together to support a weary public is the American ideal at its best.