And so, in the end, there was a sense of symmetry in what was happening in those frantic days surrounding the Long Count, with Ruth circling the bases as Dempsey ascended as a martyr into myth.
Never in the history of American sports had there been a scene like the one at' Soldier Field. For hours through the early evening, as American Hags fluttered on the rim of the stadium and a light rain came and went, thousands of people swarmed across Michigan Avenue and filed through the gates. "Along the upper sweeps of the stadium, 500 and 600 feet away, it looked like a flow of army ants through the dim, hazy light," wrote Grantland Rice in the New York Herald Tribune.
The day before, as the gate swelled toward a record $2,658,660—about $22 million in today's dollars and thus the largest gate, by far, in the history of boxing—the promoter of the fight, Tex Rickard, called the event "the crowning achievement of my life." Rickard has been called the greatest boxing promoter of all time, and he was certainly among the most flamboyant showmen of his era. He was born in a dusty roadside hovel in Missouri, and on his way to Soldier Field he prospected for gold in the Yukon, was a faro dealer in the Klondike, ran saloon gambling halls in gold-rush towns in Alaska and Nevada, served as the marshal of Henrietta, Texas, owned a cattle ranch in Paraguay and was a soldier of fortune in South Africa.
Along that path, he began promoting fights. In 1906, in Goldfield, Nev., Rickard put up $30,000 in cash as the guaranteed purse for the lightweight championship bout between Joe Gans and Battling Nelson. It was twice the largest purse ever before offered for a lightweight fight, and Rickard caused a local sensation by putting the money on display, in stacks of gleaming, newly minted $20 gold pieces, at a Goldfield bank.
Rickard thus launched himself as a seller of fights. By 1927 he was at the apex of his powers. He had first promoted Dempsey in 1919, when the fighter took the heavyweight title from Jess Willard, and together they had grown rich beyond any contemporary measure in sports. There were five million-dollar gates during the '20s, and Dempsey and Rickard figured in all of them. Indeed, with Rickard at the till, Dempsey became sports' fattest cash cow. In the first four of those million-dollar gates, he attracted customers who paid nearly $6 million, and the Long Count would bring that sum to nearly $9 million.
"Who can tie that for five appearances?" wrote Rice. "Who can come within $5,000,000 of [Dempsey's] mark? ...He is the greatest drawing card in sport."
And Chicago, to be sure, was Rickard's pièce de résistance. Sitting at ringside, he presided over the richest, gaudiest assembly of people that any sporting event had ever drawn. For days, trains pulling private and Pullman cars had converged on Chicago from every point of the compass—The Broadway Limited from New York, the Illinois Central from the South, the Santa Fe from out West—in what one railroad worker described as "the greatest troop movement since the war." When a train chartered by James J. Corbett, the former heavyweight champion, arrived at the LaSalle Street Station, half the talent of Broadway stepped off, including George M. Cohan and Irving Berlin.
Rickard had the audacity to offer 42,000 ringside seats, at $40 apiece. Some of those seats were 137 rows back from the ring, but Rickard sold them all—to Hollywood entertainers such as Al Jolson and Charlie Chaplin; to European royalty, including Princess Xenia of Greece; to all those Eastern swells, the Astors and the Harrimans and the Whitneys, who had arrived by private railroad cars; and to thousands of bankers, mobsters, industrialists, lawyers and politicians. "Plutocrats rubbed elbows with pickpockets," the Herald Tribune reported. They had occupied the swankiest hotel rooms in town, and now they hovered like moths around the brightly lit ring—Rickard's personal signature on the night, with its gilded posts and the gilded water buckets hanging from them.
"Everybody was there," recalls Povich, one of 1,200 newsmen at the fight. "If you were a celebrity, you had to be there. It was the place to be. It was being whispered that some ringside seats were selling for a hundred dollars. My, my!"
Pridefully beholding his grandest creation, Rickard turned to the man sitting next to him, Hype Igoe of the New York World, and said, "Kid, if the earth came up and the sky came down and wiped out my first 10 rows, it would be the end of everything. Because I've got in those 10 rows all the world's wealth, all the world's big men, all the world's brains and production talent. Just in them 10 rows, kid. And you and me never seed nothing like it."