So we had only two home games—one in Duluth and one over in Superior, where the ball park had railroad tracks on both sides. The railroad men would leave boxcars lined up there. We drew 3,000 or 4,000 at the box office in Superior, but there were just as many standing on the boxcars watching free.
I believe it was Sept. 6 that we hit the road, and we didn't get back until Feb. 5. We traveled by train and occasionally by bus, and one time we took a boat from New York to Providence. During one stretch we played five games in eight days, with a squad of 17 men. Most of the time we were down to 13 players—just two men on the bench. When we played the Giants a league game in New York we had 14 players. Mr. Mara looked at us and said, "I don't know what you'd call this. Is it a football team?" And Grantland Rice, the big sportswriter, said, "Well, they're the Iron Men from the North." And that's the way we were dubbed from there on.
We won 19 ball games, lost seven and tied three, and in some places we got good crowds, very good crowds, although not like the ones they draw today. The boys had that contract for 50-lose, 60-tie and 75-win, but at the end of the season they all got paid off on the 75 basis, and the club netted a profit of $4,000. But there were times during the season that we were six or seven thousand in the hole. When we got paid for a game I would send the check back to a Duluth bank, and as we traveled I would write checks on our account in Duluth. In Providence early one morning I got a telegram at the hotel from the banker in Duluth. It read: OLE, YOU BETTER GET THOSE ESKIMOS HOME WHILE YOU STILL GOT ENOUGH BLUBBER MEAT TO FEED THEM. I'll always remember that our quarterback, Cobb Rooney, got up and said, "Ole, tell that banker what he can do. You can pay us our salary when you catch up."
All along, Ernie Nevers was everything we hoped for. Against the Pottsville Maroons he completed 17 consecutive passes. In all the games we played in 1926 Ernie sat out a total of just 27 minutes. He'd get insulted if you told him to rest. He knew the people were paying to see him, and he made sure they did.
One problem we ran into all the time was getting publicity. You'd see items in the newspapers after a game, but we had a hard time getting anything into the newspapers ahead of time. The news media as a whole were afraid to publicize professional football, because college ball was big and the colleges frowned on us. In fact, they had a rule that if you played professional ball you could never get a college coaching job. I remember a time a little later, around 1930, I took a trip East with the Chicago Cardinals and we were on the same train as the University of Chicago football team. They were going East to play Princeton. The two teams were in adjoining coaches, and Amos Alonzo Stagg, the Chicago coach, locked the doors between the coaches. He thought the pros would contaminate his players. He had a rule that if after a boy was graduated from Chicago he played pro ball his letter would be recalled. I remember going out on the platform during a stop in Ohio. Stagg was out on the platform, too, and I said, "How do you do, Mr. Stagg?" I must have said it 10 times, but he never answered.
Well, my second year as owner, I came out only about $1,000 ahead. We couldn't get the games we needed. One reason was the league cut down from 22 clubs to 12, and another reason was that we were asking a $4,000 guarantee and the weaker clubs would rather schedule a team that asked, say, $1,500 less. After that '27 season I put the club in mothballs, and then I sold the franchise for $2,000 to a buyer from New Jersey, who put the team in Orange. In 1932 the team was transferred to Boston, and in 1937 George Marshall took it to Washington. The franchise I paid a dollar for is now worth, I suppose, $15 million, if not more.
But I didn't do so bad by selling. You see, we negotiated the deal at a league meeting in Cleveland, and the fellows from the other clubs were anxious to see it settled and get away, because they didn't always have money enough to stay three, four days in a high-priced hotel. I wanted $3,000, but the fellow from Orange wanted to give me $2,000. The others said to me, "Come on, Swede. We got to get going home." So I said, "All right, but with one stipulation. The next time a franchise is granted in the state of Minnesota I will have the first opportunity to bid for it." In order to get out of there they gave me a letter to that effect, and over the years I kept letting the NFL know about it. In 1961, when the Minnesota Vikings were created, I got 10% of the stock. The franchise cost $600,000, and for my share I paid $60,000. Since then we've had offers of between $12 and $15 million for the franchise. So I guess you would have to say that as a result of originally buying a franchise for a dollar, and later investing $60,000, I now own stock that is worth about a million and a half.
RED GRANGE (1925-1934: Chicago Bears, New York Yankees ( AFL), New York Yankees)
Seated at the side of his pool, Red Grange looked the part of a retired sportsman. He wore sunglasses, a light yellow shirt, tattersail slacks and blue cloth shoes. The sunlight, filtering through the skylight-type roof over the pool, revealed a tint of the old red hair among the gray. With his wife, he had settled at Indian Lake Estates, a peaceful central Florida development populated by well-to-do senior citizens. A lone among all the players of the pro football decades that preceded television, Grange earned from football the six-figure income that stars of the 1960s were to realize. Behind his early financial success was that unique operator, C. C. (Cash & Carry) Pyle, probably the first players' agent known to football. It was the Roaring Twenties, the Golden Age of Sport, and with Pyle calling the shots Grange became the plutocrat of football. He fondly remembers Cash & Carry.
Charlie Pyle was about 44 years old when I met him. He was the most dapper man I have ever seen. He went to the barbershop every day of his life. He had a little mustache that he'd have trimmed, and he would have a manicure and he'd have his hair trimmed up a little, and every day he would get a rubdown. His suits cost $100 or $200, which was a lot of money in the 1920s. He wore a derby and spats and carried a cane, and, believe me, he was a handsome guy. The greatest ladies' man that ever lived.