Christopher "Chris" O'Brien, was a painting and decorating contractor as well as a pro football franchise owner. He is mostly known as the owner of the Chicago Cardinals, (later known as the St. Louis Cardinals, and now the Arizona Cardinals) and is known as the “Father of Professional Football in Chicago,”. O'Brien was also a co-founder of the American Professional Football Association (renamed the National Football League in 1922) by representing the Cardinals (then called the Racine Cardinals) at the September 17, 1920, league meeting at Ralph Hay's Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio.
Early Cardinals ownership
In 1898, O'Brien organized the Morgan Athletic Club. He and his brother Pat also played on the squad. Chris then changed the clubs home games to nearby Normal Field, prompting the new name the Normals. That same year O'Brien gave the team it's longstanding moniker when he, finding a bargain, bought used football jerseys from the nearby University of Chicago. Because the jerseys were faded from the maroon color worn by the University, O'Brien declared, "That's [the color is] not maroon, it's Cardinal red!"
Football in the Chicago-area was mostly amateur in the early 1900s, with opponents almost impossible to find, let alone book. This caused O'Brien to suspend the team from 1906 until 1913. By 1917, O'Brien was able to buy new uniforms as well as hire a coach, Marshall Smith. That year the Cardinals won the Chicago City Championship. However World War I forced the Cardinals to suspend operations again in 1918. After the war, the Cardinals were reorganized and began play under the name the Racine Cardinals.
Founding the NFL
In 1919, Ralph Hay and George Halas saw the popularity of O'Briens Cardinals in the Chicago area as a boost to the new league. O'Brien saw this an opportunity to keep costs down and prevent players from jumping from team to team. He traveled to Canton in September 1920 and represented Racine (Chicago) at the league meeting. O'Briens attendance made the Cardinals a charter member of the new league.
In the NFL
In 1920 O'Brien lured great halfback, John "Paddy" Driscoll, to the Cardinals for $3,000 a year, a sum considered outlandish at the time. The following year he move the Cards home games to Comiskey Park, and the team officially became the Chicago Cardinals, as not to confuse themselves with the new NFL franchise the Racine Legion, from Racine, Wisconsin.
That same year with the Chicago Tigers and Cardinals playing for the same fan dollar, O’Brien offered—and the Tigers’ boss Guil Falcon agreed—to play for the right to represent the city of Chicago in the APFA. The winner would remain as the city’s only professional team, the loser would fold operations. Driscoll scored the game’s only touchdown on a 40-yard run and the Cardinals won 6-3. As promised, the Tigers finished the season with a 2-5-1 record, dropped out of competition, becoming the first NFL/APFA team to fold.
In 1922 though, George Halas of the Decatur Staleys (renamed the Chicago Bears in 1922) would request permission from the NFL and from O'Brien to move his team to Chicago. Although the Cards' win over the Tigers gave O'Brien the right to block any professional team from settling there, he approved Halas' request for reasons unknown. Ironically the Cards would later be driven to St. Louis because of their rivalry with the Bears.
- For more details on this topic, see 1925 NFL Championship controversy.
O'Brien presided over the Cardinals first NFL title in 1925. However the title still carries controversy. On December 6, 1925, the Pottsville Maroons defeated the Cardinals, 21-7, to establish the best record in the league and seemed to all but officially clinch the NFL championship. However, NFL President Joseph Carr suspended the Maroons for playing a team of University of Notre Dame All-Stars in Philadelphia (and winning 9-7) on the same day the Frankford Yellow Jackets were scheduled to play a game in Philadelphia, violating Frankford's franchise rights. Pottsville, unable to complete its 1925 schedule, was stripped of their title because of the suspension. Chicago, who had the second best record in the league, was declared the 1925 champions by default as the result of Pottsville's suspension in a controversial decision. However two of Chicago's games against the Hammond Pros and Milwaukee Badgers were also not played because the Pros disbanded and the Badgers were forced from the league for having high school players to play in season finale.
Although the NFL attempted to officially award the 1925 NFL championship to the Cardinals, they refused the title. At the time, O'Brien felt his team did not deserve to take the title over a team which had beaten them fairly, and thus the 1925 championship was never officially awarded to anyone.
Selling the Cards
After running the Cardinals for 28 years, O'Brien sold the team to Chicago physician, Dr. David Jones.