RED GRANGE (1903-91)
Harold (Red) Grange, football's fabled galloping ghost, died early this week in a Lake Wales, Fla., hospital at the age of 87. Grange was the last surviving giant of the Golden Age of Sport, that storied decade, the '20s, in which he, Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Bobby Jones and Bill Tilden pushed sports to the center of American consciousness.
Grange played halfback for Illinois from 1923 to '25, and in each season was voted to the All-America team. To Damon Runyon, he was "three or four men and a horse rolled into one." In 1924, against Michigan, Grange ran back the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown and followed that with scoring runs of 67, 56 and 45 yards—all in the first 12 minutes of play. A year later, he led the Illini to a 24-2 win over heavily favored Pennsylvania, rushing for 363 yards and three TDs in ankle-deep mud.
Two days after his last college game, Grange signed with the Chicago Bears, thus entering the then dirty world of professional football. When Grange's coach, Bob Zuppke, tried to dissuade him, Grange said, "Zup, you coach for money. Why isn't it O.K. to play for money?"
Though he was always too modest to take credit for it, Grange gave pro football legitimacy. In his first 66 days with George Halas's Bears, Grange played 19 games in 17 cities, from Miami to Seattle. The Bears drew NFL-record crowds of 73,000 in New York and 75,000 in Los Angeles, with Grange getting 30 percent of the gate. "Make me feel good," an exhausted Grange told C.C. Pyle, the tour's promoter. "Tell me how much I'm up to now."
Grange and Pyle started their own league in 1926, and when it failed, Grange and the team for which he played, the New York Yankees, joined the NFL. In the third game of the '27 season, he suffered a knee injury that limited his lateral mobility. Grange returned to the Bears for six more seasons, but he was never the same. He retired from the game in '35 and went on to hold, with considerable success, a series of jobs in insurance and other businesses.
The image of the Galloping Ghost endured. As Grantland Rice, who is generally credited with giving Grange his spectral sobriquet, wrote:
A streak of fire, a breath of flame,
Eluding all who reach and clutch;
A gray ghost thrown into the game
That rival hands may rarely touch.