The Galloping Ghost

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That never worried me in any way at that time, because I knew that getting a sheepskin was not going to make a hundred thousand dollars for me in the first month, although I felt then that I would go back and finish up at some later date, which I never did.

How was Pyk able to keep his scheduled tour a secret until you finished your college football career ?

There were a lot of rumors, of course. They even had me down at the Champaign News Gazette a few days before our final game at Ohio State, and they grilled me about those rumors. But I hadn’t done anything. I had not signed any contract, although I had verbally agreed with Pyle, and it seemed to me that what I did after my last college game was nobody’s business but mine. So finally I told the newspaper, look, you print any damn thing you want, but be ready for a lawsuit if it’s not truthful. One of the nicest things said about me at that time—because they were really cutting me up pretty badly before that game—was a Mr. St. John, who was athletics director at Ohio State, and he came out and said that if Red Grange says he has not signed a pro contract to play pro ball, that is good enough for us, and we take him at his word. That was more than my own guys at Illinois would do. You see, all the college coaches and athletics directors, they were 100 per cent against professional football. They thought anybody connected with it was going to hell, you might say. When I joined the Chicago Bears, as far as the University of Illinois was concerned, I would have been more popular if I had joined the Capone mob.

 

How did Coach Zuppke react to your decision ?

Not very well. I told him about it right after we beat Ohio State, 14-9, before 85,000 people in Columbus. We drove around in a cab for a while after the game, and he tried to talk me out of turning pro. He said I was making a mistake. I told him that he was making a living out of teaching and coaching football, so what’s the difference if I make a living playing football. About three weeks after I turned pro, I went back to Champaign for the Illinois football banquet, and Zuppke got up and berated me in front of everybody. He said he didn’t want any more hundred-thousand-dollar football players at Illinois and stuff like that. Well, I’m somewhat of a bullheaded guy, I guess, and that kind of talk riled me up, and I walked out of the banquet, and Zuppke and I didn’t talk to each other for a couple of years.

How did you and Zuppke get back together ?

Two or three years later I happened to be in Champaign, and Zup called me up and we had lunch together. Funny thing, though, the subject of my turning pro was never mentioned at lunch that day or ever again, and he and I were the closest of friends from then on. He changed his thinking about professional football later. He told me once that he often wished he could keep his players until they were twenty-five or twenty-six years old, because just as they were hitting their peak, he would lose them through graduation.

Your entry into professional football really changed the game, didn’t it ?

In the sense that more people started paying attention to it, yes. Until I went with the Bears, the crowds were only a couple of thousand, and the sportswriters didn’t give the pros much coverage. I joined the Bears on Thanksgiving Day in 1925, and we played eight games in the next eleven days with twenty-two men. We went east and set an attendance record of sixty-five thousand in the Polo Grounds that stood for years. And when we went on tour after the pro season ended, we had sportswriters like Grantland Rice and Pegler and Damon Runyon and Ford Frick travelling with us. That had never happened before. I remember when we got to Washington, Senator McKinley of Illinois called and asked me if I wanted to meet the President. I was certainly flattered, but to show you how sports-minded the President was in those days, when the senator introduced me to Calvin Coolidge as “Red Grange of the Chicago Bears,” the President told me that he had always liked animal acts. I’ll never forget that.

Was it Grantland Rice who dubbed you the Galloping Ghost ?

No, it was Warren Brown, who was a great writer with the Chicago American in those days. Some of those sportswriters, though, they’d write anything that came into their heads. I remember once—maybe I shouldn’t tell this story —well, the late Bill Stern, the sportscaster, called me one day; and he said he wanted to go on the radio with a great story about a guy who got kicked out of the University of Illinois for gambling, and later he became rich and picked me up and paid my way through school just to have me go to Illinois. I told Bill that I had paid my own way through school and that I didn’t know any gamblers. Bill insisted that it was a good story and it didn’t hurt anybody, but I wouldn’t let him do it.

What was your agreement with the Chicago Bears in 1925 ?