Pro football in the 1920s was the "poor relation" of the sports world. That began to change on Thanksgiving Day, 1925, when college football's greatest star, Harold "Red" Grange, took the field in the uniform of the Chicago Bears.
Grange (1903-1991) ranked with Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey as a giant of the "Golden Age of Sports" -- the 1920s. In his first game for the University of Illinois, Grange scored three touchdowns and rushed for 208 yards against Nebraska.
Against Michigan, the "Wheaton Iceman" scored four touchdowns in the first 12 minutes on runs of 95, 67, 56, and 44 yards. The modest, 185-pound redhead combined great speed with a mystifying change of pace to score 31 touchdowns in only 20 games for the Illini. Huge crowds flocked to his games in hopes of seeing one of his long, electrifying runs.
Grange's decision to turn pro made headlines all over the country and drew the first pro football sellout to Chicago's Wrigley Field. Ten days later, more than 70,000 paying customers packed New York's Polo Grounds to see Red take on the Giants. Then, the "Galloping Ghost" and the Bears took off on an exhausting tour of the country, winning thousands of new fans for pro football.
Grange and his manager, C. C. "Cash and Carry" Pyle, formed their own pro football league in 1926, with Red's New York Yankees team as the main attraction. Although the "Grange League" folded after one season, Red's personal popularity continued. He made movies, made public appearances, and had many endorsements.
The NFL happily took in his orphaned Yankees team for 1927. Unfortunately, a serious leg injury ruined Red's season, kept him out of football for a year, and doomed the Grange-less Yankees. Worse, it cost him much of the elusiveness that had made him football's most feared runner.
In 1929, Grange returned to the Bears. No longer the breakaway threat of old, he remained a clutch performer and a top defensive back for six more seasons. In 1931, when the NFL named its first official All-NFL Team, Grange was selected at halfback.
To learn more about football greats, see:
- Great Football Players
- Great Offensive Football Players
- Great Defensive Football Players
- Great Football Coaches