The Galloping Ghost

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We were all sports-minded. Dad encouraged my brother and me to go out for sports, and he backed us up i oo per cent. I don’t think Dad ever missed a football game—or a basketball game, for that matter. For many years he was the only man on the police force. There were a lot of Saturday afternoons when anybody could have robbed the bank.

Didn’t you have some sort of heart trouble as a child ?

When I was about six—it was just before we moved from Forksville to Wheaton—I got a stick and tried to polevault, and I ran the doggone stick into my ribs and busted a couple. The doctor who looked me over said I had a heart murmur, and he told my father that I should never get excited, and stay out of sports. Well, I couldn’t stay away from sports. I was wrapped up in them—football, baseball, basketball, track, everything. I’d sneak out and play anyway. Well, one time, I must have been eight or nine, I got a couple of vertebrae knocked out. It hurt so, I couldn’t sit down to eat. So I had to tell Dad. Well, he said, “I can’t stop it, so you might as well get in it and do the best you can,” and from then on he never stood in my way. Incidentally, that time he took me to another doctor, who couldn’t find any heart murmur or anything.

Would you describe yourself as a natural athlete ?

Well, I could run fairly well. I ran the 100 [yard dash] in high school in 9.8 [seconds]. Speed is something you’reborn with, and I had good balance, and, of course, I loved sports. At least I liked to play football. I didn’t like to practice. Running those signals, that was murder. I was lucky, though. My high-school and college coaches never tried to change my way of running. I’ve seen a lot of other coaches try to change a fellow’s style, and it hurt them because you can’t do things that don’t seem natural to you. But I almost didn’t get to run at all.

W hat happened ?

It was the summer before my junior year in high school, and I was working on an ice truck with one of my football teammates, Herman Otto. Our truck had a handle on the side, and I would take the ice in a house, and Otto would turn the truck around and slow down so I could jump on the side. We must have had a couple of tons of ice on, and when I went to take the handle, the handle pulled off, and I fell and couldn’t get my left leg out of the way. The back wheel of the truck ran over my leg about two inches above the knee. The doctor said if it had been two inches lower, he’d have had to cut my leg off. I was doggone lucky. You just have to figure that somebody’s looking out for you. I started working summers on the ice truck when I was a kid, and I kept it up for years, even after I became a professional football player. My dad, he was always of the opinion that hard work never hurt anyone. And it was great conditioning for an athlete, walking all day long up and down stairs and carrying that stuff. I’d start at six in the morning, and many a day I’d work until seven or eight at night, six days a week. We got five dollars a day until the union came in, and they upped our salary to $37.50 a week.

Did any of your customers ever give you any trouble ?

Most of the housewives are pretty nice people, but you’ll get a screwball every once in a while. I remember one who always used to holler if I got a little drop of water on her kitchen floor. One day she said she was going to keep her husband home to beat me up. He was a little guy, smaller than me, and she ran the place. She weighed about 220 pounds. She could have licked both of us. Sure enough, the next time I came, she shoved him out in the kitchen. Well, he gave me a wink, and then he bawled me out. I didn’t say anything, and about fifteen minutes later he caught up with me on the street. He said, “Grange, here’s five bucks for making me look good.” I’ll never forget that. But let me say this: if you deal with the public, maybe I’m wrong, but one person out of ten is somebody I don’t want to know. If you have forty guys on a football squad, you’ve got four or five guys that you’re going to have trouble with. You can’t get away from it.

Did the ice-truck accident affect your athletic career ?

I had sixteen letters in high school. I played four years of football, basketball, track, and baseball. In fact, I always said my two best sports in high school were basketball and track. At least they were the two I liked best, and when I went to the university, my idea was that I would go out for basketball and track. But my freshman year I pledged to the Zêta Psi fraternity, and they lined us all up and asked what we did in high school. When they came to me, I told them I was going out for basketball. They said, no, you’re going out for football. Well, I remember going over to the old Illinois gym and looking through the window, and I saw at least a hundred kids from Chicago high schools and big high schools. So I went back to the fraternity house, and I said, “I can’t make that team.” They finally got a paddle out, and they convinced me I had better go out for football.

Even though you scored seventy-five touchdowns jor Wheaton High School, you were not recruited by the University oj’Illinois ?