"The football season is the only time of year when girls whistle at men in sweaters." ROBERT Q. LEWIS
Harold Grange, son of a sheriff's deputy in Wheaton, Illinois, went out for the high school football team because the uniform was attractive. "The sight of it was too much to resist," he said. He averaged five touchdowns a game that season, and two years later he was playing for Bob Zuppke at the University of Illinois. He was a good back and good learner. He made All America, quite a trick for a green kid.
The lightning struck in the next season, 1924, in the Michigan game in the Illinois Memorial Stadium at Urbana. Harold Grange, who carried ice in the summer to put muscle on his five-foot, seven-inch frame, took the opening kick-off and ran it 95 yards for a touchdown. Then he went 66, 55 and 40 yards for three more TDs, leaning against the Michigan goal post for a moment between times to store up some wind. It all happened within 12 minutes and when Zuppke took the boy out to rest him the crowd of 67,000 set off a demonstration that delayed the second quarter for fiveminutes. It was the greatest ovation in the whole history of football, and it could have rattled Zuppke's wunderkind. He made only one more touchdown that afternoon, passing for another as Illinois won, 39-14. In the dressing room, young Grange gave the coach all the credit. Zuppke's plays were designed to shake me loose," he said. "It has all been a combination of circumstances."
Circumstances would continue to be favorable for the kid in the yellow helmet. Red Grange, No. 77, made Jack Dempsey move over. He put college football ahead of boxing as the Golden Age picked up momentum. He also made some of the ball yards obsolete; they couldn't handle the crowds. He made people buy more radios: how could you wait until Sunday morning to find out what deeds Red Grange had performed on Saturday? He was "The Galloping Ghost" and he made the sports historians torture their portables without mercy. "What a football player this man Red Grange," Damon Runyon wrote: "He is melody and symphony . . . He is crashing sound. He is poetry. He is brute force. "Someone likened the speedy back to "young Lochinvar come out of the West," but assured his readers that "Red Grange is human. He is not a myth." Another borrowed from Kipling: "East is East and Grange is Grange."
PLAY FOR PAY
"I do not like football well enough to play for nothing." RED GRANGE
It was a time for superlatives in words, in deeds and in money.
Red Grange turned and twisted and shook off the enemy along thousands of yards of turf for a third year at Illinois, and the undergraduates carried him two miles in a great victory procession. His fellow students wanted him to run for Congress and write the nation's laws now that he had rewritten all its football records. Hollywood wanted him to come out and make pictures. A real estate firm offered him $125,000 a year, experience unnecessary. The New York Football Giants offered him $40,000 for three games. College officials and the holier-than-thou types in amateur sports begged him to shun these blandishments and finish his education. But Grange had his own view.
"A couple of years from now," he said, "the same fellows who advised me not to play professional wouldn't lend me a dollar if I were broke. In this world I figure it is every man for himself."
No. 77 turned pro.
On December 8 he was granted an audience with President Coolidge. The interview, in full:
COOLIDGE: Howdy. Where do you live?
GRANGE: Wheaton, Illinois.
COOLIDGE: Well, young man, I wish you luck.
Red Grange didn't need luck. He was box office. He proceeded to work some magic for the professional game. The Chicago Bears paid him $15,000 to pack their park for one Sunday outing and the Giants paid him $35,000 for the same service. He picked up $50,000 in endorsements under the shrewd handling of his new-found manager, C.C. Pyle, the Bunion Derby man. He got $300,000 from Arrow studios for a movie. "I don't want to play a sheik part," he said. "This business of lollygagging around with a girl most
of the time, as movie actors usually do in all the pictures I've seen, is not in my line. I can do all the rough work on the gridiron, but I want to do very little in the parlor." The people at Arrow put him in something called One Minute to Play. It was a football epic, to be sure, but the script did call for some lollygagging with girls.
Back on the playing field, Grange's labors earned him about $1,000 a minute and he had an answer for the envious few who professed to view this form of inflation with alarm. "I do not like football well enough to play it for nothing," said the policeman's boy from Illinois. His earnings ran into a million in the first three years, dropping thereafter with the inevitable decline of his talents. He stayed in the game thirteen years as player, coach, and promoter. Later he managed a night club in Hollywood, functioned as sales manager for a bottling company and sold insurance. Now he is back in public view as a between-halves television commentator on the football beat. And his old jerseyNo. 77reposes in a frame at the University of Illinois. No one ever carried that number again.