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Harold ‘Red’ Grange: The Galloping Ghost

 

During sport’s Golden Age, football’s golden boy was three-time All-American halfback Harold “Red” Grange, sometimes nicknamed The Galloping Ghost. Standing just 5 feet, 11 inches and weighing 175 pounds, his philosophical strategy was simple: “If you have the football and 11 guys are after you, if you’re smart, you’ll run.”

Young Grange’s storybook life began on June 13, 1903, in Forksville, Pennsylvania. His mother died when he was 5 and his father, Lyle Grange, a lumber company foreman, moved his young family to Wheaton, Illinois, where four of his own brothers had settled. There, he switched professions and worked his way up to become the chief of police in Wheaton.

Grange’s son, Red, starred in athletics at Wheaton High School, where he earned 16 letters in football, baseball, basketball, and track. His working summers as a helper on an ice truck enhanced young Grange’s physical development to the point where eventually he was given the nickname “The Wheaton Iceman.”

Following high school graduation he attended the University of Illinois. Red’s fraternity brothers persuaded him to join the university’s football team. In his first game, played during the 1923 season, Grange scored three touchdowns, including a 66-yard punt return against Nebraska. During his sophomore year, in seven games he ran for 723 yards and scored 12 touchdowns as he led unbeaten Illinois to the consensus national championship.

After a four-year career at the University of Illinois, Coach Bob Zuppke summarized Red Grange’s performance with, “I will never have another Grange, but neither will anyone else. They can argue all they like about the greatest football player who ever lived, but I was satisfied I had him when I had Red Grange.” William H. Danforth, founder and president of the Ralston Purina Company, was noted for his weekly motivational “Monday Morning Messages” that went to every Ralston Purina employee. One of Danforth’s messages written during the 1940s featured Red Grange’s story. Titled “‘Red’ Grange Again,” it reads:

“His very name fascinates me.

“What was it that lifted this sorrel-topped, gangling youth into a perfect football machine -- the greatest halfback of all time?

“Unheralded, Harold Grange, a tall, manly, modest boy, came to a college of 10,000 students. He played freshman football, but with so many freshmen, that was all. He delivered ice during the summer. The next year the season wasn’t two games old before Coach Zuppke had a find. ‘Red’ Grange had everything -- fast as a frightened hare, a wizard in side-stepping, the owner of a deadly straight arm.

“Throughout the next year he lived up to his high promise. Then, as Captain in his senior year, he reached his greatest heights. Thousands of eyes followed the flash of those fleeting numerals ‘77’ when it looked as if every team played at least three men on him in every game.

“Then, to earn money for a start in life, to pay back his father, an Illinois Deputy Sheriff, and to see his younger brother through college, he toured the country playing professional football with the Chicago Bears. Forty-five thousand attended one game in Chicago; thirty-five thousand people saw him in a game in Philadelphia; seventy thousand jammed the Polo Grounds in New York -- more people than ever saw a World Series game. Will Rogers and Ring Lardner discussed him. Daily papers and pictorial reviews gave him preferred position. The Literary Digest dissected him.

“When I think of ‘Red’ Grange I think quicker; I move faster.

“Has ‘Red’ Grange stirred your blood?

“I’m ready to adopt ‘Red’! Aren’t you?”

W.H.D.

Ken and Nan Webster have collected inspiration for many years from many sources, and now inspire readers of “A Matter That Matters.” Contact them at kennanco@gmail.com or visit www.kennancompany.com.

 
 
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