The miracle man of the 1920s was Red Grange. Primarily an open-field runner—and by all evidence the best ever—this led to a joke that has become part of football lore. Before Grange's famed Michigan game of 1924 when he scored five touchdowns and gained 402 yards (including returns), the Wolverines' daily newspaper had said, "All Grange can do is run." And the Daily Mini had rebutted, "All Galli-Curci can do is sing."
Grange's style was not to waste motion and he had a freedom of movement. He would start wide, cut back, then cut back again, carving a big S on the field. He once said his mind tried to envision where his teammates were and what they were doing as he ran and he would somehow use them. "I could see the run happening as I ran," he explained.
Grange had real speed for his day, a fast start, excellent balance and the uncanny ability—peripheral vision, they called it in Doak Walker's day—to see tacklers coming from the sides.
Knute Rockne complained that much of Grange's success was due to "skillful exploiting in the papers," but he did make all of those runs for three years, and he later turned them into big money. He endorsed everything he could find, including cigarettes he did not smoke, which could have invoked one of the marvelous ad slogans of all time: "If Red Grange smoked, he'd smoke Philip Morris!"
As much as Grange ran, he did not come near running as often as O.J. did at USC. Nor has anyone else in just two years. Or against such consistently rugged opposition, much of it stacked against him. As it has been said before, no runner in college ever combined speed, power, elusiveness and endurance like Simpson. All he did was gain about 3,500 yards in 22 games (counting Rose Bowls), scoring 36 touchdowns.
Over and over, O.J. made holes where there weren't any and created daylight out of tangled jerseys. Not only was he 6'2" and more than 200 pounds, he had 9.4 speed and moves. And never had a fast man carried so often, up to 40 times a game. In the 100th season of college football he was, appropriately enough, all of the greatness that had come before him in one dynamic package.
It has never been easy for a lineman to achieve glory, as we are aware, for in football most of the romance thrives on dazzling runs and accurate passes. Baugh, Walker, Grange and Simpson prove it, as have so many others. But a few have risen from the gore of the scrimmage line and remained giants ever since. The player on the All-Century team who goes back the farthest is the center, Bob Peck of Pittsburgh, who was one of the best at focusing attention on himself.
One reason was that he taped his wrists, ankles and headgear so there would be no mistaking him in a heap. Small but outrageously aggressive, Peck's yelling could often be heard high up in the stands, and, when he made tackle after tackle and kept up the chatter and fierce mannerisms, a Pitt whoop got started: "When Peck fights, the team fights."
With Peck at center, Pitt lost only one game from 1914 through 1916; and the last team was not only the national champion, Pop Warner said it was the greatest he ever coached.
The guards who flank Bob Peck were the same type of fanatics. One needs to say little else of Tennessee's Bob Suffridge except that General Bob Neyland considered him the greatest lineman he ever had. Suffridge was a moody, antagonistic player who could hardly eat or speak on the day of a game. Best of the pulling single wing guards, he was a defensive terror as well. The Vols did not lose a regular-season game in the three years that Suffridge made All-America, 1938 through 1940. As for the other guard, it is doubtful if ever there breathed a more dedicated player than Texas' Tommy Nobis, who had size and ability to go with it. He had a fire that was usually found in players trying to compensate for lack of size—like Peck or Suffridge.