SI Vault
Myron Cope
October 13, 1969
In the decades that preceded the unblinking camera's eye, professional football was a very different life. Its famous figures can still be found—on a farm here, in a parlor there—and as they talk they evoke memories of an American sport—and an America—that is gone forever
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October 13, 1969

The Game That Was

In the decades that preceded the unblinking camera's eye, professional football was a very different life. Its famous figures can still be found—on a farm here, in a parlor there—and as they talk they evoke memories of an American sport—and an America—that is gone forever

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Money was of no consequence to Charlie. I would say that at the time I met him he had made pretty near a million dollars and lost it. At this particular time he owned three movie theaters—two in Champaign, Ill. and one in Kokomo, Ind. One night during my senior year at Illinois I went down to the Virginia Theater in Champaign and one of the ushers located me and told me, "Mr. Pyle wants to see you in his office." Well, the first words Charlie Pyle said to me were, "Red, how would you like to make $100,000?" I couldn't figure what he was talking about. But he said, "I have a plan. I will go out and set up about 10 or 12 football games throughout the United States. I think I can talk Halas and Sternaman into making the Bears available, and as soon as the college season ends we will make this tour, and I'll guarantee you that you'll get at least $100,000 out of it."

Of course, I was flabbergasted. But Charlie made good his word. He lined it up for me to play with the Bears and then went out on the road and set up the whole program. I'll never forget the game we played in Coral Gables outside of Miami, at a time when Florida was swinging. In 1925 everybody there was selling real estate and building things. Three days before the game we looked around, and there was no place to play a football game, so we said, "Where are we going to play?" The people told us, "Out here in this field." Well, there wasn't anything there except a field. But two days before the game they put 200 carpenters to work and built a wooden stadium that seated 25,000. They sold tickets ranging up to $20 apiece, and the next day they tore down the stadium. You'd never know a ball game had taken place there.

I couldn't really tell you how much money I made with Charlie Pyle, but I got my $100,000 out of that tour, and that was just the start. Charlie had me endorse sporting equipment and meat loaf and football dolls and soft drinks and a Red Grange candy bar. You name it, we had it. And where the average fellow would ask for $5,000, Charlie would ask $25,000. Mostly he got cash. Cash or a check. He didn't fool around.

Money itself meant nothing to Charlie, but he did like to hear his name mentioned. He was the closest friend a lot of big sportswriters had. In 1926, the year that Charlie set up his American Football League, he had an office in the Hotel Astor. Westbrook Pegler would be down there every morning. This was during Prohibition, you know, and each morning when Westbrook left he would take a couple of bottles of Pyle's Scotch with him, and then he would turn around and write a column and call Pyle everything he could lay his tongue to that could go on paper. Charlie sometimes would complain, but Westbrook would say, "Just as long as I keep your name singular, don't holler."

One thing about Charlie was that he always thought pro football had a future. I didn't. When I played, outside of the franchise towns nobody knew anything about pro ball. A U.S. Senator took me to the White House once and introduced me to Calvin Coolidge and said, "Mr. President, I want you to meet Red Grange. He's with the Chicago Bears." I remember the President's reply very well. He said, "Well, Mr. Grange, I'm glad to meet you. I have always liked animal acts."

CLARKE HINKLE (1932-1941: Green Bay Packers)

Oldtimers say he may well have been the toughest man who ever played professional football—tougher, if not stronger, than Bronko Nagurski. "Clarke Hinkle was near the end of the line when I first played against him" says Bulldog Turner, the illustrious Chicago Bear center, "but he was still the hardest runner I ever tried to tackle. He didn't bend over. He run just about straight up. And when you hit him it would pop every joint all the way down to your toes." Fullback, linebacker, sometimes passer, placekicker and punter, Hinkle performed with a wondrous sense of dedication and, though he weighed only 207 pounds, he left big men shattered. I found him living alone in an eight-room house in Toronto, Ohio, one of those dreary industrial towns that pock mark the banks of the Ohio River. The old frame house on North Fourth Street stands on a corner two blocks from the river. As we talked in the living room, the house trembled from time to time as a trailer truck rumbled down North Fourth or a Pennsylvania Railroad freight clattered along the tracks that all but run through the Hinkle backyard. Trim and sharp-featured at 62, his hair attractively white around the edges, he welcomed me cheerily, attired in a youthful ensemble consisting of maroon turtleneck with gold piping around the neck, eggshell Levi's, matching maroon socks and loafers. He settled into a rocker in front of a black stone mantel on which rested a plaster-of-paris replica of a bust that sits in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A likeness of the young ball-playing Hinkle had been intended, but the art bore no resemblance to the man, now or earlier. "I think they made a mistake and copied from a picture of somebody else," he reflected without rancor. He said that he gets along by selling industrial supplies, mostly lubricants, and that he supplements his income by doing a sports show for the television station down the river in Steubenville. In the dining room, on the opposite side of the center hallway, some 20 hats lay strewn on the table. Later, as he passed through the room to get us coffee, he paused and explained that they were but a fraction of his hat supply—he has at least 50. On the table were checked hats, pork pie hats, Alpine chapeaus, fur hats, everyday felt hats—all manner of hats except homburgs and silks. "These are new hats, not collector's items," Hinkle said. "I wear 'em all. I'm a sucker for hats."

When I went out to Green Bay in '32 I was an Easterner, one of the few Easterners that were out there in what you might call the Northwest. I was a real dude. The day I got off the train I had on brown suede shoes and maybe a velour hat and a black suit with a gray shirt and a purple tie. See, I'd played at Bucknell University, and that's the way they dressed back East. I always went for clothes.

Well, it was about 2 o'clock in the afternoon when I arrived at the hotel. The players were sitting around in the lobby, being as a lot of them lived at the hotel. Nobody said a thing. They just looked at me. I went back to the desk to register, and all the while they analyzed me. I'm sure they thought, "Here's another one of those fancy Dans." I looked like a dandy. Oh, hell, yeah. Till I got on the football field.

I'd had pretty good years at Bucknell, and in '31 I'd been invited to play in the East-West Shrine game in San Francisco. I was voted Most Outstanding Player in that game. Now there was no football draft in those days, so after the game Curly Lambeau came up to my room at the Palace Hotel and talked me into signing a contract with the Packers at $125 a game. Lambeau was one of the few pro football people who made a practice of going to the East-West game to look for talent. Most of the others couldn't afford such trips, or wouldn't bother.

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