The Galloping Ghost

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The powerful University of Michigan football team, undefeated in three years, was the decided favorite on October 18, 1924—the Saturday the University of Illinois invited sixty-five thousand paying fans to witness the dedication of its new Memorial Stadium at Champaign. The two teams had not met in 1923, when Illinois, also undefeated that season, shared the Big Ten Conference title with Michigan, and the pregame publicity contest had been raging for months. The Illini hopes centered on Number 77, a junior AilAmerican halfback named Harold “Red” Grange. “All Grange can do is run,” the Michigan student newspaper had declared, to which Illinois’ coach, Robert Zuppke, replied, “All Galli-Curci can do is sing.” What Grange did to Michigan that afternoon is still considered fry many observers to be the greatest single performance in the history of the American sport. He ran back the opening kickoff ninety-five yards for a touchdown. During the next ten minutes of the game he scored three more touchdowns. Returning to the field in the second half, Grange scored a fifth touchdown and passed for a sixth as Illinois stunned the Wolverines, 39-14. Henceforth Red Grange had a new nickname: the Galloping Ghost. In all he scored thirty-one touchdowns for Illinois, gained more than two miles during his three-year varsity career, and moved the colorful sportswriters of the 1920’$ to indulge in lyric poetry, as Grantland Rice did, to describe his athletic feats:

A streak of fire, a breath of flame, Eluding all who reach the clutch; A gray ghost thrown into the game That rival hands may never touch.

The day after his final college game in 1925 Grange became the sport’s first six-figure professional star when he signed to play for the Chicago Bears. Until then pro football had been a somewhat disreputable occupation, frowned upon as a trade for college graduates. The Galloping Ghost changed all that. Crowds of more than seventy thousand turned out to watch the nation’s most heralded football star perform, and the National Football League began attracting prominent coverage on the sports pages of the newspapers. A serious, knee injury in 1927 robbed Grange of his thrilling ability as an open-field runner, but he eventually became a defensive stalwart of the Bears and served as the team’s captain for several championship years before his retirement in /955. His never-equalled career totals—from high school through the professional ranks—include 2,566 points scored and 35,^29 yards gained, for an incredible average of 8.4 yards per carry. After three years as an assistant coach to the Bears’ owner and head coach, George Halos, Grange became a successful insurance salesman in Chicago. Until /95/, when he suffered a heart attack, he broadcast the Bears’ games on radio and television. He and his wife, Margaret, a former airline stewardess whom he married in 1941, now live at Indian Ijake Estates, Florida, where he recently talked with an American Heritage editor.

F ame is a difficult thing for young people to handle. Before you left college, you suddenly became perhaps the most famous All-American in the history of football. How did you cope with that ?

I guess probably I didn’t know any better, or maybe it was the way I was raised. My mother died when I was five years old, and my dad raised me and my brother, Garland. Dad was chief of police in Wheaton, Illinois, and around my dad you could never be a big shot, even if you wanted to be, because he wouldn’t stand for it. So you see I never had the idea that anybody, just because they could do certain things, should be any better than anyone else.

Having the Galloping Ghost as a son didn’t impress your father ?

It never bothered Dad very much. He took it with a grain of salt and never got excited much about it. We’re kind of an odd family, I guess. Things don’t impress us that much. I’m not impressed by too many people, and I don’t feel that I impress very many people. I think it’s a good way to live.

Did growing up as the son of a police chief present any special problems to you ?

I never tangled with him, if that’s what you mean. He had been the foreman of a crew of lumberjacks back in Forksville, Pennsylvania, where I was born [on June 13, 1903]. So he was plenty tough, and he wouldn’t stand for any monkey business. I remember one time as a freshman in high school, well, the seniors were having a party, and us freshmen got in a window and stole the ice cream. Boy, did my dad make me pay for that, about ten times over, and apologize, too. So we were brought up that way; and it’s kind of odd, too, because without a mother, who generally has the rule of the house, kids don’t generally turn out that well. My brother and I ran the household. I did the cooking, my brother did the shopping. We lived in a flat over one of the stores in the business section. That was the way it was, and we went all through grade school and high school that way, baching it, until I went down to the University of Illinois in 1922.

Did your father encourage you in athletics ?