IT'S DIFFICULT to imagine an athlete better suited for his time than Red Grange. Born in 1903, football's first superstar played with a ballerina's grace and a bull's power, but as Gary Andrew Poole shows in The Galloping Ghost, there was more. "With his swiveling hips," Poole writes, "sexuality permeated his running style." In an era when football players seemingly started games bloody and muddy, the Illinois and Chicago Bears star had an ardent female fan base. This Elvis in shoulder pads became a pop-culture icon in the Roaring Twenties, as football—first college and then, with Grange's help, the pro game—gained traction. Poole's well-researched bio also cites Grange, a proud son of Wheaton, Ill., as a symbol of the Midwest's rise as a cultural counterweight to the Eastern establishment. Poole's affection for Grange sometimes borders on hagiography, but 21st-century fans will benefit from his reburnishing of the legend.
If Grange was a man of his era, it's difficult to imagine two coaches less suited for theirs than Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, old-school football men who rose to prominence during a period of social upheaval. That tension colors Michael Rosenberg's War As They Knew It, an engaging look at the Ohio State and Michigan coaches. The times were a-changing in the '60s and '70s, but Schembechler begged his players to ignore "distractions" like the Vietnam War, and Hayes once publicly reprimanded a player who said, "I ain't hip," for not saying, "I ain't hip, sir." The coaches' rivalry is well known, but Rosenberg reinvigorates it with detailed reporting and sharp storytelling.