The Galloping Ghost

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I think those two were the biggest pressure games we had while I was at Illinois, and I probably played my best football in those games. We received a lot of credit for beating Pennsylvania, which we should have, because we didn’t have as good a team my senior year. Everybody said that Pennsylvania rules the East, and we beat them because our scouting reports showed that they always overshifted on defense. I was calling signals that day in Philadelphia, and Zuppke told me to run our fullback, Earl Britton, into the strong side on the first two plays. I think he lost three or four yards each time, and he came back to the huddle and said, “What have you guys got against me? I pretty near got killed.” Well, on the third play, just like Zuppke told me to do, I shifted our line to the right, took the ball back to the left, and went fifty-five yards for a touchdown. I didn’t even see anybody. There wasn’t anybody over there. And that happened all day long.

What was the final score ?

We beat them 24-2. And our last touchdown was scored on the “flea flicker.” It was a fake field goal. I’d hold for Britton, our kicker, only the snap would go to him. Then Britton would toss a little basketball lob to our right end, who would turn around and throw me a lateral. When we tried it against Pennsylvania, we had the ball on about their 35-yard line on a very muddy field. Well, Zuppke had a bunch of signals he would give us from the bench, and when he saw us line up for the flea flicker, he tried to call off the play. We ignored him. Then he sent a substitute out on the field, but we waved him back to the bench. So Zuppke turned his back on us and put his hands over his eyes. The play worked perfectly, and I scored the touchdown. Later, back at the hotel we stayed at in Philadelphia, I saw Zuppke in the middle of a huge group of fans in the lobby telling how he had sent in the flea flicker and insisted that we use it right away. You couldn’t get ahead of Zuppke.

Did Zuppke invent the flea flicker ?

Yes, he said he did. He also claimed credit for the spiral pass from center, for the huddle, for the practice of dropping back guards to protect the passer, and for the screen pass. And I tend to believe him. Zuppke was a little bit ahead of most coaches of that day because he played a lot of wide-open football. The other coaches, like Stagg at Chicago, liked to hit the line all day for two or three yards, but Zuppke … well, he was an artist, you know. All these paintings around my house here were done by Zuppke. He used to compare football to painting, and he was fascinated by the grand design of the game. He dreamed of the perfect play, the play that would go all the way for a touchdown. His interests went way beyond football. When he coached high-school football at Oak Park, Illinois, Ernest Hemingway played tackle for him, and he and Hemingway became very close. Zuppke used to go down to visit Hemingway in Cuba all the time. Well, I asked Zuppke many times whether Hemingway had been a good tackle, and Zup always insisted that Hemingway had been one of the greatest he ever coached. So one night at a party, after Zup had had a few drinks, I said, “Zup, tell me the truth, how good was Hemingway?” And Zup said he wasn’t worth a damn.

D id anyone try to capitalize on your fame as a college AllAmerican ?

I had some letters from different promoters around the country who said they’d like to talk to me, but I threw them away. During my senior year I had a chance to endorse an outboard motor. They wanted to give me a thousand dollars—that was the biggest paycheck I had ever seen—but I had to turn it down because there was no way I could handle it without being ineligible. And then, I think it was the summer after my junior year, some alumni I knew wanted me to sell insurance or something, but it would have meant using whatever name I had made at the university to sandbag people, and I don’t like that. I could have made quite a bit of money in Chicago selling insurance that summer, but I would have been out of shape, and maybe I’m crazy, but I’ve always disliked anything that isn’t fair. Besides, I’m a lousy salesman, and I don’t like to sell, because I don’t like taking advantage of people. After I left football and went into the insurance business fulltime, I did very little individual selling. Mostly I worked with corporations and companies.

What led up to your decision to turn professional after your last college game ?

One night my senior year I was at a movie at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois, and one of the ushers came to me and said that Mr. C. C. PyIe, the owner, would like to see me. That was the first time I met Charlie—I think it was Westbrook Pegler who later dubbed him Cashand-Carry Pyle—and I’ll tell you I would not have liked to go through life without having met Charlie Pyle. That night his first words to me were “How would you like to make a hundred thousand dollars?” and he had me laughing. The most I had ever made was $37.50 on the ice truck. So I said How? And he said, well, he thought he could go to Chicago and talk George Halas and Dutch Sternaman, the men who owned the Chicago Bears, into setting up an exhibition tour throughout the United States. So naturally I was interested. I didn’t sign anything, but we did shake hands on it. A couple of weeks later he called me and said that everything was all set up.

Didn’t turning professional mean that you’d have to drop out of the university ?