Red Grange

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Red Grange
No. 77
Position: Halfback
Personal information
Date of birth: (1903-06-13)June 13, 1903
Place of birth: Forksville, Pennsylvania
Date of death: January 28, 1991(1991-01-28) (aged 87)
Place of death: Lake Wales, Florida[1]
Career information
High school: Wheaton (IL)
College: Illinois
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Rushing yards: 569
Receiving yards: 288
Touchdowns: 32
Stats at

Harold Edward "Red" Grange, nicknamed "The Galloping Ghost" or "The Galloping Red Ghost", (June 13, 1903 – January 28, 1991) was a college and professional American football halfback for the University of Illinois, the Chicago Bears, and for the short-lived New York Yankees. His signing with the Bears helped legitimize the National Football League.[2] He was a charter member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. In 1924, Grange became the first recipient of the Chicago Tribune Silver Football award denoting the Big Ten's most valuable player.[3] In 2008, he was named the best college football player of all time by ESPN, and in 2011, he was named the Greatest Big Ten Icon by the Big Ten Network.

Early life[edit]

"Red" Grange was born on June 13, 1903, in Forksville, Pennsylvania, a village of about 200 people in an area of lumber camps.[4] His father was the foreman of three lumber camps.[4] For a number of years, the Grange family lived with relatives until they could finally afford a home of their own in Wheaton, Illinois.

When they arrived in Wheaton, Grange’s father worked hard and became the chief of police.[5] At Wheaton High School,[note 1] Grange earned 16 varsity letters in four sports (football, baseball, basketball, and track)[5] during the four years he attended, notably scoring 75 touchdowns and 532 points for the football team.[5] As a high school junior, Grange scored 36 touchdowns and led Wheaton High School to an undefeated season. In his senior year, his team won every game but one in which they lost 39–0 to Scott High School in Toledo, Ohio.[4] Knocked out in this game, Grange remained unconscious for two days, having difficulty speaking when he awoke.[4] In addition to his success in football, Grange was an all-state track and field runner. In 1920, Grange was a state champion in the high jump, while placing third and fourth in the 100-yard dash and the 220-yard dash, respectively. In 1921, he won the state title in both the long jump and the 100-yard dash, and finally in 1922, he placed third in the 100-yard dash and won the 220-yard dash.[6]

To help the family earn money, he took a part-time job as an ice toter for $37.50 per week,[5] a job which helped him to build his core strength (and provided the source of his nickname "Ice Man", or "the Wheaton Ice Man").[7]

College football[edit]

After graduation, Grange enrolled at the University of Illinois, where he was admitted to the Zeta Psi fraternity.[5] He had initially planned to compete in only basketball and track, but changed his mind once he arrived. In his first collegiate football game, he scored three touchdowns against Nebraska.[5] In seven games as a sophomore, he ran for 723 yards and scored 12 touchdowns, leading Illinois to an undefeated season and the 1923 Helms Athletic Foundation national championship.[8]

Grange vaulted to national prominence as a result of his performance in the October 18, 1924, game against Michigan. This was the grand opening game for the new Memorial Stadium, built as a memorial to University of Illinois students and alumni who had served in World War I.[5] The Michigan Wolverines were going for the national championship. Illinois players knew they had a difficult job ahead of them if they expected to win. He returned the opening kickoff for a 95-yard touchdown and scored three more touchdowns on runs of 67, 56, and 44 yards in the first 12 minutes.[8] On his next carry, he ran 56 yards for yet another touchdown. He scored the three touchdowns in less than seven minutes against the powerful Michigan defense. Before the game was over, Grange ran back another kickoff for yet another touchdown. He scored six touchdowns in all. Illinois won the game by a lopsided score of 39 to 14.

The game inspired Grantland Rice to write this poetic description:

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 never touch;
A rubber bounding, blasting soul
Whose destination is the goal — Red Grange of Illinois!

Statue of Red Grange outside Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois

However, Chicago sportswriter Warren Brown nicknamed Grange "The Galloping Ghost". When questioned in a 1974 interview, "Was it Grantland Rice who dubbed you the Galloping Ghost?", Grange replied, "No, it was Warren Brown, who was a great writer with the Chicago's American in those days."[5]

As a college senior, in a 24–2 upset of the University of Pennsylvania, Grange rushed for a career-high 237 yards through deep mud and scored three touchdowns. Laurence Stallings, a famed war correspondent who had co-written What Price Glory? was hired to cover the game for the New York World. After Grange accounted for 363 yards, Stallings said, "This story's too big for me. I can't write it."[8] Grange's younger brother Garland followed his footsteps to play football at Illinois.[9]

In his 20-game college career, he ran for 3,362 yards, caught 14 passes for 253 yards, and completed 40-of-82 passes for 575 yards. Of his 31 touchdowns, 16 were from at least 20 yards, with nine from more than 50 yards.[8] He scored at least one touchdown in every game he played but one, a 1925 loss to Nebraska. He earned All-America recognition three consecutive years, and appeared on the October 5, 1925, cover of Time.[8]

His number 77 was retired at the University of Illinois in 1925. Only one other number has been retired in the history of University of Illinois football, 50 worn by Dick Butkus, another Bears player.[10]

In 2002, the NCAA published "NCAA Football's Finest," researched and compiled by the NCAA Statistics Service.[11] For Grange they published the following statistics:

Year Carries Rushing
Average Passing
Completions Passing
Interceptions Plays Total offense Touchdowns Points
1923 129 723 5.6 9 4 36 0 138 759 12 72
1924 113 743 6.6 44 26 433 4 157 1176 13 78
1925 146 605 4.1 29 10 106 7 175 711 6 36
Total 388 2071 5.3 82 40 575 11 470 2646 31 186

NFL career[edit]

I was interviewing George Halas and I asked him who is the greatest running back you ever saw. And he said, 'That would be Red Grange.' And I asked him if Grange was playing today, how many yards do you think he'd gain. And he said, 'About 750, maybe 800 yards.' And I said, 'Well, 800 yards is just okay.' He sat up in his chair and he said, 'Son, you must remember one thing. Red Grange is 75 years old.'

Chris Berman on ESPN's SportsCentury show[8]

Grange was immediately courted by teams in the National Football League. The long-suffering Rochester Jeffersons made a last-ditch effort to sign Grange at a salary of $5,000 per game, but were unable to do so, a key factor in the team's demise.[12] The Chicago Bears ultimately signed him; player/manager George Halas agreed to a contract for a 19-game barnstorming tour, signed the day after Grange played his last college game. The contract earned Grange a salary and share of gate receipts that amounted to $100,000, during an era when typical league salaries were less than $100/game.[8] That 67-day tour is credited with legitimizing professional football and the NFL in the United States. On December 6, 1925, between 65,000 and 73,000 people showed up at the Polo Grounds to watch Grange, helping save the New York Giants' franchise.[8][13] Grange scored a touchdown on a 35-yard interception return in the Bears' 19–7 victory. Offensively, he ran for 53 yards on 11 carries, caught a 23-yard pass, and completed two of three passes for 32 yards.[8] In his first year, he accounted for at least 401 total yards and three touchdowns in his five official NFL games for the Bears.

Grange became involved in a dispute with the Bears and left to form his own league, the American Football League, to challenge the NFL. The league only lasted one season, after which Grange's team, the New York Yankees, was assimilated into the NFL. In 1927, Grange suffered a serious knee injury against the Bears, which robbed him of some speed and his cutting ability. After sitting out 1928, Grange returned to the Bears, where he was a solid runner and excellent defensive back through the 1934 season.

The two highlights of Grange's later NFL years came in consecutive championship games. In the unofficial 1932 championship, Grange caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Bronko Nagurski. In the 1933 championship, Grange made a touchdown-saving tackle that saved the game and the title for the Bears.

Hollywood career[edit]

Grange's manager, C. C. Pyle, realized that as the greatest football star of his era, Grange could attract moviegoers, as well as sports fans. During his time as a professional football player, Grange starred in two silent films, One Minute to Play (1926) and Racing Romeo (1927). Grange also starred in a 12-part serial series The Galloping Ghost in 1931.

Later life[edit]

Grange (top) with broadcast partner Lindsey Nelson for NCAA Game of the Week coverage, 1955

Grange retired from professional football in 1934, earning a living in a variety of jobs including motivational speaker and sports announcer. In the 1950s, he announced Chicago Bears games for CBS television and college football (including the Sugar Bowl) for NBC. Grange married his wife Margaret, nicknamed Muggs, in 1941, and they were together until his death in 1991. She was a flight attendant, and they met on a plane. The couple had no children. He, however, has one surviving daughter – Rosemary Morrissey – born in 1928 from a previous relationship with Helen Flozack.[8]

Grange developed Parkinson's disease in his last year of life[8] and died on January 28, 1991, in Lake Wales, Florida.


Red Grange Field at Wheaton Warrenville South High School, which was named in his honor
  • Grange's autobiography, first published in 1953, is The Red Grange Story. The book was written "as told to" Ira Morton, a syndicated newspaper columnist from Chicago.
  • To commemorate college football's 100th anniversary in 1969, the Football Writers Association of America chose an all-time All-America team. Grange was the only unanimous choice.[8] Then in 1999, he was ranked number 80 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. In 2008, Grange was also ranked #1 on ESPN's Top 25 Players In College Football History list.
  • On January 15, 1978, at Super Bowl XII, Grange became the first person other than the game referee to toss the coin at a Super Bowl.
  • In 2011, Grange was announced as number one on the "Big Ten Icons" series presented by the Big Ten Network.
  • In honor of his achievements at the University of Illinois, the school erected a 12-ft statue of Grange at the start of the 2009 football season.
  • In 1931, Grange visited Abington Senior High School in Abington, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter, the school adopted his nickname for the mascot in his honor, the Galloping Ghost.[14] Also, Wheaton Warrenville South High School's football field is named in his honor and the team is referred to as the Wheaton Warrenville South Red Grange Tigers.
  • Annually, the Wheaton Warrenville South Boys Track and Field team hosts the Red Grange Invitational in honor of Grange's achievements in track and field.

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the song "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm" as released in 1960 by The Kingston Trio on their album Sold Out, guards in the Tower of London mistake Anne Boleyn, haunting the castle with her head tucked underneath her arm after being beheaded, for Red Grange carrying a football.
  • The 2008 movie Leatherheads, starring George Clooney, John Krasinski, and Renée Zellweger, was loosely based on Grange.[citation needed]
  • Grange was the first football player to ever appear on a box of Wheaties.[15]
  • Al Bundy is mistaken for Red Grange several times in the Married... with Children episode "Poke High" (episode 3, season 3).
  • In the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, the lead character, Willy Loman, says that his football-playing son (Biff) will be the next Red Grange. [16]
  • In M*A*S*H season 3, episode 21 ("Big Mac"), Major Frank Burns is chided for burning The Life of Red Grange.
  • In the American Dad! episode "The Magnificent Steven", while trying to teach Steve and his friends to be tough by playing football, Stan finds the boys hiding from the sunlight under a tree and exclaims "What, in the name of Red Grange, is going on?!"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The site of the original Wheaton Grade School and Wheaton High School housed in the same physical building constructed in 1874 and in operation with classes in 1876 is now known as Longfellow Elementary School.


  1. ^ "College Football Hall of Fame || Famer Search". Retrieved 7 April 2011. 
  2. ^ New York Times, Obituary
  3. ^ Rosenthal, Phil (December 3, 2009). "Chicago Tribune Silver Football, the Big Ten's MVP award, is headed to TV". Tower Ticker. Chicago Tribune
  4. ^ a b c d "About Harold "Red" Grange". Wheaton High. Retrieved 2008-05-18. [dead link]
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Galloping Ghost". American Heritage. Retrieved 2008-05-18. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Galloping Ghost scared opponents". ESPN Classic. Retrieved 2008-05-18. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Ghost of Illinois". ESPN. Retrieved 2008-05-18. 
  9. ^ "Football Matches". Time. Time Inc. 1927-11-08. Retrieved 2008-12-27. 
  10. ^ "Illinois Football History: Retired Numbers". Illinois Fighting Illini. Retrieved 2010-01-29. 
  11. ^ "NCAA Football's Finest" (PDF). NCAA. 2002. Retrieved 2010-07-02. 
  12. ^ Carroll, Bob. THE TOWN THAT HATED PRO FOOTBALL at the Wayback Machine (archived March 19, 2006). Pro Football Researchers Association Coffin Corner: Vol. III, 1981.
  13. ^ Neft, David S., Cohen, Richard M., and Korch, Rick. The Complete History of Professional Football from 1892 to the Present. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994 ISBN 0-312-11435-4 p. 52
    *Gottehrer, Barry. The Giants of New York, the history of professional football's most fabulous dynasty. New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1963 OCLC 1356301 pp. 35–6
    *Vidmer, Richard. 70,000 See Grange in Pro Debut Here, The New York Times, December 7, 1925, accessed December 3, 2010.
  14. ^ Abington High School
  15. ^
  16. ^ Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

External links[edit]