Harold Grange, most commonly referred to as Red Grange or the "Galloping Ghost," was one of the first ever stars of American football. Grange is viewed as a legend of football's early years, similar to stars in other sports like Babe Ruth (baseball) and Jack Dempsey (boxing) who dominated their sports. Grange stood at roughly 5'11" and 175 pounds which in today's NFL would be especially light for the running back position. However, Grange still dominated the competition at the University of Illinois where he had a few of the greatest individual college games of all time. He then got signed by the Bears (there was no NFL draft back then) and continued dominating, while attracting huge crowds for the team.
Grange had his prime playing years in the NFL cut short by a bad knee injury in 1927 (only two years in), and was never the same player after that. Even with his NFL career not turning out as dominant as his time in college football, Grange is still viewed as a football icon, who helped make the NFL much more popular.
In the 1920s, American Football was still in its infancy. It was 40 years before the AFL/NFL merger, and football mainly was popular in the college ranks. However, many of the great college players didn't go on to play professional football. Harold Grange, one of the most popular college football players, decided to join the Chicago Bears after owner George Halas convinced him. Grange was an immediate ticket seller, and 10 days after his last college game, 36,600 people came to Cubs Park (Wrigley Field) to watch him play. Grange's agent C. C. "Cash and Carry" Pyle, and Bears owners Halas and Sternaman then took the Bears and Grange on a tour of the country.
After this, in 1926 Grange and the Bears couldn't agree on a contract. So Pyle started the "American Football League," with a team in New York called the Yankees that featured Grange. While the Yankees had some success, the rest of the league failed and Grange went back to the Bears to finish his career from 1929 to 1934, where he won two NFL championships.
Red Grange played football decades before the NFL as we know it today was formed. So when it comes to titles and awards, not many existed for Grange to earn. At the college level, Grange was a three time first team All American, and was widely considered one of the best ever college players.
In his second stint with the Bears in the NFL, Grange did win some titles and awards. In both 1930 and 1931 Grange was a first team all-pro with the Bears. Additionally, towards the end of his career Grange won two NFL championships with the Chicago Bears in 1932 and 1933. The 1932 championship was based upon record in the league, while the 1933 season actually had a playoffs.
Overall, while Grange may not have as many titles and awards as great players have today, his impact was still great. He helped make the NFL a more popular sport around the country, and packed stadiums unlike any other football star of the time.
Harold "Red" Grange was born on June 13, 1903 in Forksville, Pennsylvania. Grange's mother died when he was five and his father Lyle, a foreman for a lumber company moved the family to Wheaton, Illinois. Once Grange got to high school he became a star in baseball, basketball, football, and track. After his career ended in 1934 with the Bears, Grange worked in the insurance business.
Also after his football career, he met his wife Margaret nicknamed Muggs, who was a flight attendant on a flight he took. They married in 1941 and lived together until his death. The couple though had no children together during their marriage. Grange also came back to football years later working as an analyst for the Chicago Bears and in college football up until 1963. In his later years Grange also developed Parkinson's disease, which was a large factor in his death. Harold Grange died at the age of 87 on January 28, 1991 in Lake Wales, Florida.
Red Grange, while he still had a great NFL career, is best known for his time at Illinois where he dominated. During his time in college football Grange had a lot of great games, but one stands out from the rest. In 1924 Grange had his best game in college helping beat a Michigan team that had won 20 games straight. In the game, Grange returned the opening kickoff for a 95 yard touchdown, then scored three more touchdowns from runs of 67, 56, and 44 yards. All of this was in the first 12 minutes of the game. He then later sealed the game by running 11 yards for another touchdown, and passing 20 yards for a sixth touchdown.
Red Grange is best known for his play at running back as the "Galloping Ghost." However, in the NFL with his second stint with the Chicago Bears, Grange also played a lot of cornerback. This is because in 1927 Grange suffered a major leg injury, and after not playing all of 1928 came back. Grange thought he was just an ordinary ball-carrier after that, but that he did develop into a pretty good defensive back. Grange even helped seal the 1933 NFL championship game, with a touchdown preventing a tackle in the game's final seconds.
Back in the 1920s and 1930s, American football was not popular, and so players were not paid at all like they are today. Grange's agent was C.C. Pyle, an Illinois theater owner and promoter. Pyle negotiated Grange's first deal with the Bears that got him $3,000 per game, and a percentage of the gate (ticket sales). This deal was amazing for Grange as he played 19 games in 67 days in 1925, and the games in Los Angeles and New York brought in crowds of 65,000+.
When looking at the career of Harold "Red" Grange, you could point to all of his amazing achievements on the football field at the professional and especially the college level. However, his true impact came in the interest he generated for the game of football professionally. Before Grange, it was generally a surprise if the best college players went professional. Grange is quoted as saying he'd have been more popular with the colleges if he had joined Capone's mob in Chicago rather than the Bears. This shows that Grange was able to change how professional football was viewed, and generate interest across the country with his play for the Bears.