Grange, Harold Edward ("Red")
GRANGE, Harold Edward ("Red")
(b. 13 June 1903 in Forksville, Pennsylvania; d. 28 January 1991 in Lake Wales, Florida), red-haired football idol during the Jazz Age of the 1920s whose astounding feats as a college and professional player helped popularize pro football as a viable commercial enterprise.
Born the third of four children of Lyle and Sadie (Sherman) Grange, Grange experienced a difficult childhood. His mother died when he was only five, prompting his father, a lumberjack foreman, to move from Pennsylvania to Wheaton, Illinois, a town west of Chicago. There he had relatives who could help raise his daughters and sons. The family moved sporadically until the elder Grange's appointment as police chief provided some stability. Young Grange spent a year working on his uncle's nearby farm and delivered huge blocks of ice to homes during the summer months, later earning him the sobriquet the "Wheaton Iceman."
Inheriting size, strength, speed, and a genuine sense of humility from his father, Grange soon excelled in sports. Though not big by modern football standards, the 180-lb., five-foot, ten inch-tall Grange earned sixteen letters at Wheaton Community High School, competing in football, basketball, baseball, and track. As a sophomore running back Grange showed his early promise by scoring fifteen touchdowns in only seven games and winning selection to the all-county team. The following year he accounted for thirty-six touchdowns and thirty extra points, twice scoring more than fifty points in a game. His senior year proved only slightly less impressive, with twenty-six touchdowns and thirty-four points after touchdowns (PATs). He added all-sectional honors in basketball and state track championships in the 100- and 220-yard dashes as well as the long jump to his list of incredible accomplishments during his high school career.
Grange enrolled at the University of Illinois in 1922, when freshmen were ineligible for varsity competition. He emerged as a star the following year, however, as Illinois vied with other midwestern schools for regional honors and national publicity. College football teams began winning acclaim for their institutions in the late nineteenth century, and by the 1920s college football enjoyed a national following. Its widespread popularity spawned the construction of massive stadiums on college campuses to maximize revenues as sports became commercialized enterprises linked to higher education. Newspapers, magazines, and the new technology of radio provided extensive coverage of games, promoting teams, coaches, and individual players.
Within that era of ballyhoo, the "Four Horsemen" of Notre Dame garnered fame as a well-oiled machine, guided by the coaching genius of Knute Rockne, but Grange's gridiron feats emerged as the catalyst for individual stardom. Grange's accomplishments, combined with a shy, reserved, and humble demeanor, produced the qualities expected of heroes, further endearing him to a multitude of fans.
Grange gained fame for his long, dazzling runs through the opposition and for turning short pass plays into long gains. He clearly made his mark in his first varsity game (against the University of Nebraska in 1923), rushing for more than 200 yards and scoring three touchdowns, two on long runs. He scored the winning touchdown against Iowa, defending conference champion, and gained 247 yards against Northwestern. Grange tallied the winning scores against Chicago, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, amassing 1,260 yards and leading the league in scoring en route to an undefeated season, the conference cochampionship, and All-American honors.
The following year ensured his football immortality. Coach Bob Zuppke switched Grange to the tailback position in the single wing formation to make better use of his multiple talents, and his versatility soon became evident.
The University of Illinois had erected a massive stadium for its campus, accommodating more than 60,000 eager patrons. Deemed Memorial Stadium to honor the Illinois students who had made the ultimate sacrifice during World War I, the arena symbolically linked football with patriotism, and regional rival Michigan had been scheduled for the dedication game (1924), ensuring widespread media coverage.
Grange struck like lightning, returning the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. He quickly scored three more times within the first twelve minutes of the contest on runs of sixty-seven, fifty-six, and forty-four yards. After resting throughout the second quarter, he returned in the third period to score yet again, then passed for another touchdown in the final stanza. He had run for more than 400 yards and passed in excess of 60 to ensure the Illinois victory. The performance won Grange instant celebrity status. Newspaper and magazine articles raised him to heroic proportions by emphasizing not only his prodigious athletic abilities but his humility, work ethic, and reputed poverty in small-town America. Such qualities resonated with American perceptions of the past and the egalitarian promise of democracy as citizens wrestled with rapid societal changes wrought by urbanization, industrialization, and commercialization. Grange represented traditional values yet proved to be a transitional figure in the new economy.
Despite such recognition the eastern media still perceived "western" football as substandard and Grange's exploits as dubious. Grange erased their doubts in the 1925 season. After a disappointing start, Illinois traveled to Philadelphia to meet Penn, the best of the eastern teams the previous year and undefeated in 1925. Before the suspect eyes of the eastern sportswriters and on a muddy field, Grange ran for 363 yards and scored three touchdowns to humiliate Penn 24–2.
More than 100 reporters and over 85,000 fans watched Grange's last collegiate game at Ohio State. Although he passed for only one touchdown, Grange created a bigger stir and a burgeoning scandal after the game when he announced he would leave college to join the professional football ranks with the Chicago Bears. His decision and lucrative contract, engineered by agent C. C. Pyle, caused collegiate coaches to ostracize their professional counterparts for meddling and led to a change in National Football League (NFL) policy to prohibit recruitment before graduation.
Pyle had struck a favorable deal with the Bears, providing Grange with 50 percent of the gate receipts. Pyle himself would receive 40 percent of Grange's take. Both the Bears and Pyle wanted to cash in on Grange's celebrity status, and the young football star soon took the field for a Thanksgiving Day game in Chicago against the first-place Cardinals. More than 36,000 fans filled Cubs Park and thousands more were turned away, but the game proved anticlimactic. Disappointed spectators, there to see Grange run, booed Cardinal punter Paddy Driscoll, who continually negated Grange's chances by kicking the ball away from him in a scoreless tie.
The Bears sold out again the following week against a weak team from Columbus, Ohio, and Grange played well in a narrow victory. Thereafter, the Bears embarked on barnstorming tours that capitalized on the Grange phenomenon. In addition to the Bears' regularly scheduled league games, Pyle added contests in several large cities. After an easy win in St. Louis, the Bears turned eastward, playing before 35,000 in Philadelphia and more than 70,000 in New York, where Grange was accorded a bodyguard of fifty policemen for the largest crowd to witness a pro game up to that time. Grange's stellar play and Pyle's promotional abilities engendered numerous endorsement contracts as Grange, bestowed with the nickname "Galloping Ghost" by sportswriter Grantland Rice, assumed the modern role of athletic huckster.
The tour continued through Washington, Boston, and Pittsburgh, with Grange becoming a marked man by opponents. The scheduled tour called for eight games in twelve days, but an injury to Grange caused him to miss two games, and the Bears canceled a final appearance at Cleveland. After a two-week hiatus, a southern and western tour resumed the day after Christmas and lasted through January 1926. Grange returned to the field for three games in Florida, one in New Orleans, and three in California, where 75,000 spectators paid to see the game in Los Angeles. The tour concluded with games in Portland and Seattle.
Spurred by the tour's success, Pyle sought part ownership of the Bears' franchise for himself and his client. Denied and unable to secure another franchise in the NFL, Pyle organized a rival organization to exploit Grange's fame for the 1926 season. Hastily established and victimized by bad weather that limited attendance, the alternative American Football League struggled through one season before expiring. Grange still drew fans, however, and the NFL welcomed his return as he and Pyle managed the New York Yankees' franchise.
Midway through the 1927 season Grange suffered a serious knee injury in a game against the Bears that sidelined him for four weeks and greatly limited his effectiveness thereafter. Reinjured in a postseason barnstorming tour, Grange sat out the 1928 football season engaged in a vaudeville tour and a Hollywood movie. Pyle committed him to appear in One Minute to Play and The Racing Romeo, and Grange also appeared in a profitable movie serial called The Galloping Ghost. After terminating his partnership with Pyle, Grange returned to the Chicago Bears for the 1929 season, where he joined his younger brother Garland. Although football fans continued to throng to Grange appearances, a dislocated shoulder further hampered his offensive abilities.
Grange had greater success during the 1930 football season, and he gained more than 1,000 yards, played stellar defense, and won selection to the all-NFL team. He reclaimed that honor the following year, although his offensive production had declined. Grange continued to play well defensively in 1932, and he won additional fame for his winning touchdown catch while lying on his back during the championship playoff game with the Portsmouth, Ohio, Spartans. This memorable night game was played indoors at the Chicago Stadium on an abbreviated field due to inclement weather. In the 1933 title game Grange made the game-saving tackle as time expired against the New York Giants.
The 1934 season began with the Bears opposing a college all-star team before more than 79,000 at Soldier Field in Chicago. Grange had helped publicize the event, which remained a popular preseason spectacle for more than four decades. The initial scoreless tie failed to settle the debate over the merits of collegiate versus professional players. The Bears completed an undefeated season but lost the championship game to the Giants, who had donned gym shoes in the famous "sneakers" game played on a frozen field at the Polo Grounds. Grange retired after another postseason tour.
Grange remained with the Bears as an assistant coach through the 1937 season and parlayed his fame into other opportunities. He had written football commentaries for newspapers as early as the 1920s and became a regular contributor to the Saturday Evening Post in 1932. His articles further established the credibility of professional football by extolling its players' predominance in comparison to the college game. Grange began announcing football games in 1934 and continued his broadcasting career with the CBS radio network thereafter, providing observation and analysis periodically during the fall.
In 1937 Grange relinquished his coaching duties in favor of a sales manager position with the Hinckley & Schmitt water company. During that year he also contributed to a biography of Bob Zuppke, his former coach at Illinois.
Grange married Margaret Hazelberg, an airline stewardess, on 13 October 1941 in Crown Point, Indiana. She is credited with bringing financial stability to the football star's previously spendthrift lifestyle, and in 1942 he started his own insurance business in Chicago.
In 1944 Grange accepted the presidency of a new professional football league, but he resigned before play commenced to ensure the success of his insurance brokerage. He became a public relations representative for the Falstaff Brewing Company, and he continued his radio commentaries, which expanded to television broadcasts in the years following World War II. Grange covered the Bears' games until his retirement from that role in 1963, and he reported on college contests until 1969.
In 1950 Illinois Republicans, attracted by Grange's conservative political views, elected him a trustee of the University of Illinois. He served in that role for five years, despite suffering a heart attack in 1951. In 1954 the Granges left Chicago for Florida, residing in Miami for five years until they built a house near Lake Wales in central Florida, where Grange pursued boating, fishing, and golfing.
Despite that secluded location, Grange remained in demand. In 1957 Congress summoned his testimony in its investigation of professional football's adherence to antitrust laws. He furthered his political involvement in 1960 as a member of a Republican national organizing committee.
Although Grange tried to maintain a low profile throughout the remainder of his life, his fame followed him. The National Collegiate Hall of Fame had already inducted him when the Pro Football Hall of Fame made him a charter member in 1963. The Helms Athletic Foundation offered additional laurels, and the Football Writers Association named him the only unanimous choice for its all-time All-America team in 1969. His own career had been a model for professional athletes, drawing comparisons to the superstars of the 1960s who enjoyed remunerative contracts and endorsements, yet his courteous, reserved, and modest behavior offered ample contrast to their boisterous and flamboyant individuality.
Age and old football injuries slowed Grange in the 1980s. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1990 and died on 28 January 1991 of pneumonia in Lake Wales Hospital in Florida.
The longevity of Grange's mark on football and American culture is undeniable. It took sixty-five years before another player surpassed his scoring records at Illinois, and Howard Griffith did so with much less fanfare. Grange is often credited with bringing credibility and popularity to professional football, perhaps attributing too much credit to a singular individual. Societal processes, economic conditions, and media attention certainly provided the environment for hero worship, as they did for Babe Ruth in baseball or Jack Dempsey in boxing, but Grange's legendary football feats surely catapulted him to national celebrity status, forever linking his name with the sport.
The Red Grange Story: An Autobiography (1953), was written with Ira Morton almost forty years before Grange's death. Halas by Halas: The Autobiography of George Halas (1979), provides substantial coverage of Grange's pro football career. John Carroll's award-winning biography Red Grange and the Rise of Modern Football (1999) is the most complete account of Grange's life, and John Sayle Watterson, College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy (2000), presents a brief summary of the player's college exploits. The Coffin Corner (19:1, 1997), the official magazine of the Progressive Football Researchers Association, gives a detailed evolution of the "Grange League" of 1926. An obituary is in the New York Times (29 Jan. 1991).
Gerald R. Gems