The Galloping Ghost

PrintPrintEmailEmail

There was no recruiting in my day, not like they do now. That came along in the 193o’s. The great college coaches when I was playing—men like Bob Zuppke [Illinois] and Knute Rockne [Notre Dame] and Alonzo Stagg [Chicago] and Fielding “Hurry Up” Yost [Michigan]—they would not recruit. It was beneath their dignity. You held those fellows in awe. You tipped your hat to them when you saw them. If you wanted to come to the campus and talk to them, they were available, but they would not recruit. It was an honor to play for them.

Why did you choose the University of Illinois ?

The big thing was that it was the cheapest place to get an education for Illinois residents. We had to pay our own way, you see. There were no athletics scholarships, and the tuition at Illinois was very small. Besides, every kid in Illinois wanted to play for Coach Zuppke if he thought he could make it. Practically all the guys on our team were from Illinois, and the teams from other Big Ten states were about the same, and they were all about equal, and it was good football, the best in the country, in my opinion. Today these colleges go all over the country recruiting. I frown on some of these things. I think it’s wrong to give kids too much to go to school. They’ve just spoiled them.

What happened after the fraternity forced you to go out for football ?

I won a few wind sprints, and I kept making the cuts. It really surprised me. Finally, after I think we had had three or four days of practice, they told us we were going to play a regulation game against the varsity. They only beat us by two points, and I think we beat them every Wednesday scrimmage the rest of the season. Coach Zuppke spent a lot of time with the freshmen after that.

Illinois was undefeated your sophomore year, and you were named to Walter Camp’s All-American team. How did that affect your life ?

For one thing, I finally got a pair of football shoes that fit me. In high school we had to supply our own shoes, and I couldn’t afford them, so I had to wear the shoes of whoever wasn’t playing at the time. The ones they issued me my freshman year at Illinois didn’t fit either. But when I made the varsity my sophomore year, we had good shoes that fit. In fact, I remember that Coach Zuppke had them buy me a special pair of “kangaroo” shoes that were made to order. They cost fifteen dollars, which was unheard of in those days. They were much lighter than the regular shoes we wore. Zuppke had me wear them in one game, and afterward he said, “Grange, give me those shoes,” and he threw them away. I asked what was the matter, and he told me that I was “sneaking” in them. To Zuppke sneaking meant you weren’t running all out. I told him I was running as fast as I could, but he insisted I was sneaking, and he threw them away. He had names for everything.

C oach Zuppke was quite a man, wasn’t he ?

He was one of the most unusual men I ever met, and he was also, let me tell you, never at a loss for words. Nobody ever got the best of him in conversation. He’d say anything. I remember one time reading in the newspaper where Zuppke had been at some banquet and somebody asked him why I hadn’t been knocked down on a certain play. And Zuppke had answered, “Well, you can’t knock Grange down because his feet are so big.” Now, I’m six feet tall, and I wear a number nine shoe, which is really small for a guy my size. Another time I read where Zuppke had said that I was a great runner because of my unusual peripheral vision. I didn’t even know what peripheral vision was. I had to look it up in the dictionary. I suppose it means looking sideways, and while I have good vision, I can’t look sideways any better than anyone else. Zuppke’d say anything. He was a master at bringing a team up to its peak for a game. But I adored the guy. To me he was a football god. We didn’t play Michigan my sophomore year. They were undefeated, too, and Zuppke started getting us ready the summer before we played them. I hadn’t been home two days before I started getting letters from Zuppke telling me what Fielding Yost, the Michigan coach, had been going around the country saying about our team. Every week I’d get a letter telling that Yost had been in Philadelphia or Detroit or someplace else, saying that Illinois wasn’t fit to be in the Big Ten, and on and on and on. The whole team got these letters from Zuppke. It wasn’t until after we beat Michigan that I found out that Yost had been in Europe all summer and hadn’t said any of those things.

On October 18, 1924, Illinois was at its peak for Michigan ?

I have often said that on that day I don’t think any college team in the United States could have licked our ball club. Maybe they could have the day before or the day after, but not on that day. It was the most perfect football game that I ever had the chance to play in. I’ve played in a lot of games, but I never played in one that the blocking was so terrific as it was in that game. Generally a blocker has an assignment, and even if he’s successful, he’ll lay on the ground and watch the game from there, which is a good seat. But the day we played Michigan, our blockers hit somebody, and then they got up and hit somebody else and kept doing that. So the touchdowns I scored that day weren’t any great thing. With that kind of blocking probably your grandmother could have scored those touchdowns.

S o you’d say that Zuppke deserves a great deal of the credit for Illinois’ stunning victory over Michigan that day ?