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WAS HE THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME?
John Underwood
September 04, 1985
You would never get Red Grange himself to say it, but there's a strong case to be made for the Galloping Ghost
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September 04, 1985

Was He The Greatest Of All Time?

You would never get Red Grange himself to say it, but there's a strong case to be made for the Galloping Ghost

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They're benefiting today because of the things we did. And isn't it too bad that the NFL never took care of those early players? I complained a few times, because we had guys in hospitals, guys who had had amputations because of football injuries. Guys who had problems. I thought the game could have done something for them, but it never did. As far as I know, pro football hasn't done anything for anybody except lately, and that's mostly for itself. I never made a real stink about it, but I was sad for the oldtimers."

Muggs returned with lunch—homemade soup, finger-size crackers coated with cheese, and fresh grapes. "That's the way we like to eat," she said. "Simple but to the point." Grange didn't finish his soup. Later, Muggs went to a dental appointment, and Grange and the visitor moved into the kitchen for coffee. Rusty rested on a plaid cushion under the table.

"How did you like Hollywood?" the visitor asked.

Grange said it was fun, that he had been flattered and petted by a lot of important people. "I went to the parties and had some interesting dates," he said. "I played poker with Adolphe Menjou and Andy Devine, and Mr. Kennedy was wonderful to me. But it was the hardest job I ever had. The best part was the blood-and-thunder stuff—the fights, the chases. I did a lot of the stunts myself, riding a motorcycle in some scenes. My dad taught me when he was a cop, and I was a pretty good motorcycle rider. But I didn't want to work that hard."

"What about television? You worked hard at that for a long time."

"Well, it's so demanding. You say the wrong word, people make a big thing out of it. Make a mistake in football, you can cover it up. If it's on TV, it's out. It can make you nervous. I actually didn't talk too much when I did television. Now these color guys hold a clinic after every play to let you know how much they know about the game. They're wrong half the time."

He said he could understand the complaints about his grammar, "although we all make those mistakes. The part I didn't like was when they wanted us to harp on the bad things. I think a lot of guys do it—criticize atha-letes, criticize coaches—to make themselves look good, but it doesn't. When I saw a mistake, I didn't make a big deal, because I didn't want to hurt a guy's feelings. There isn't anything in life where mistakes aren't made."

He said all the celebrated atha-letes he had met had finally come to a live-and-let-live outlook on life. "Babe Ruth came to my room that first year in New York. He called from the lobby. I'd never met him, so I asked him to come up. He said, 'Kid, I want to give you two pieces of advice: Don't pay any attention to what they say or write about you. And don't pick up too many checks.' "

The real book on Ruth, though, he said, was that "when I was with him, I couldn't spend a dime. He picked up checks quicker than anybody. He'd say, 'I'll take that, kid.' There was never a more down-to-earth guy than Babe Ruth."

What about the other starry lights in his constellation who now, in retrospect, shine so brightly? Did he realize how golden the Golden Age was? "No, I don't think so," said Grange. "It's something you accept as the way things are supposed to be. I can't think of a reason for it, except maybe the atha-letes knew the details of their games better in those days. You never stopped learning the details. Coaches would spend hour after hour drilling you. At Illinois we took batting practice, and then we took more batting practice [yes, he played baseball, too]. We never complained because we liked it."

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