The Galloping Ghost

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In my day so many of these fellows played not because they wanted to get rich. They just loved to play football. You could get probably the finest All-American lineman out of college for a hundred dollars a game, which was the way most people were paid. Trafton, for instance, the Bears’ center, after thirteen or fourteen years he was the highestpaid lineman on the Bears, and he got a hundred thirtyfive dollars a game. You would, of course^ be guaranteed maybe twenty-four or twenty-five games a year, and remember, this was back when a suit of clothes only cost seven dollars and you could get a good steak dinner for sixty or seventy cents. But just to give you an example of how the times have changed, when I joined the Bears in 1929, except for my salary the entire payroll—all the coaches and players and even the trainer—was about three thousand dollars a game. I remember some of our early games at Wrigley Field in Chicago; our trainer would wait until they had sold a dozen tickets, then he’d take the ticket money across the street to a drugstore and buy the tape for our ankles. So help me, that’s true.

In what other ways has the game changed since your time ?

There’s no way you can really compare it. Today I think it’s a better game, and the thing that has made it better is that you have two teams, a defensive and an offensive team, playing. I’ve often said that there are three or four rule changes that have made modern football so much better. One is the free-substitution rule that permits players to go in and out of the game. In my day you couldn’t go back in until the next quarter. Another change was bringing the ball fifteen yards in to the hash marks after you had gone out of bounds. Before that they always brought the ball in one yard, and your opponents would just keep shoving you off the sidelines, play after play. I’ve played against the sidelines that way for a whole quarter. Pretty dull game that way.

 

Who decided to bring the ball in to the hash marks ?

George Halas. In 1932 die Bears played Portsmouth for the championship indoors in Chicago Stadium because of bad weather. Well, the field was only eighty yards long, and the sidelines were only about a foot from the stadium walls. We didn’t want anybody to get hurt, so Halas suggested a rule that whenever the ball went out of bounds, we would bring the ball back in fifteen yards. It worked pretty well, so the next year Halas proposed it at a rules meeting, and they adopted it. Shortly after that the college rules were changed, too.

What other changes do you think have improved football ?

I think being able to pass anyplace behind the line of scrimmage, instead of more than five yards back, like in my day, has opened up the game. And of course the equipment is a lot better today. The nylon and plastic and sponge-rubber stuff they wear nowadays gives much better protection and maneuverability, and it weighs about one third what our equipment did. When I was playing, our uniforms were made of leather and felt and canvas and wool, and along about five minutes after the game started and everyone was soaking wet, well, you can imagine what that felt like. But the big thing that has popularized professional football is television. I used to travel around the country a lot before television, and once you got outside a professional franchise city, why, people had no idea what pro ball was like. They’d say that the pros don’t tackle and they don’t block and that there was no spirit. Well, there was just as much tackling and blocking in my day, maybe more than now, but you could not convince people until television brought the game into their living rooms.

Is it true that Halas talked you out of retiring after the 1932 championship game ?

I retired every year, you know. Half the guys retire every year, and then they come back the next year. But that year I had had it, and I didn’t see any great future out of being a defensive football player. But George wanted me to come back, and I did. Then, in ig33, we had a play-off game with the Giants in Chicago, and I think that was probably the greatest football game I ever participated in. It was the first East-West play-off championship in the National Football League, and the score changed hands seven times. Seven different times! Well, there were just a few seconds left, and we were ahead, 23-21.1 was playing defense, and Harry Newman, the Giant quarterback, threw a pass to Dale Burnett. I was the only Bear between Burnett and the goal line, and I knew that as soon as I tackled him, Burnett was going to lateral to MeI Hein, the great Giant center, who was trailing him. So I grabbed Burnett around the chest and held his arms so he couldn’t lateral. And we went down, and the whistle went off, and the Bears won the championship. I guess that had to be one of my greatest thrills in football.

How much was a championship worth to the players in those days ?

In 1933 the winner’s share was $210, and the losers each got $140.

I n 1934 you were honored at the Illinois homecoming game. Considering the circumstances under which you had left the university, was there anything special about going back there in triumph ?