Red Grange (Harold Edward Grange)
“Red” Grange was born on June 13, 1903 in Forksville, a village of about 200 people in an area of Pennsylvania lumber camps. His father was the foreman of three lumber camps. For a number of years, the Grange family lived with relatives until they could finally afford a home of their own in Wheaton, Illinois. When they arrived, Grange’s father worked hard and became the chief of police. At Wheaton High School, Grange earned 16 varsity letters in four sports (football, baseball, basketball, and track) during the four years he attended, notably scoring 75 touchdowns and 532 points for the football team. As a high school junior, Grange scored 36 touchdowns and led Wheaton High School to an undefeated season. In his senior year, his team won every game but one in which they lost 39–0 to Scott High School in Toledo, Ohio. Knocked out in this game, Grange remained unconscious for two days, having difficulty speaking when he awoke. In addition to his success in football, Grange was an all-state track and field runner. In 1920 Grange was a state champion in the high jump, while placing 3rd and 4th in the 100 yard dash and the 220 yard dash respectively. In 1921 he won the state title in both the long jump and the 100 yard dash, and finally in 1922 he placed 3rd in the 100 yard dash and won the 220 yard dash. To help the family earn money, he took a part-time job as an ice toter for $37.50 per week, a job which helped him to build his core strength (and provided the source of his nickname “Ice Man”, or “the Wheaton Ice Man”).
After graduation Grange enrolled at the University of Illinois, where he was admitted to the Zeta Psi fraternity. He had initially planned to compete in only basketball and track but changed his mind once he arrived. In his first collegiate football game, he scored three touchdowns against Nebraska. In seven games as a sophomore, he ran for 723 yards and scored twelve touchdowns, leading Illinois to an undefeated season and the 1923 Helms Athletic Foundation national championship. Grange vaulted to national prominence as a result of his performance in the October 18, 1924, game against Michigan. This was the grand opening game for the new Memorial Stadium, built as a memorial to University of Illinois students and alumni who had served in World War I. The Michigan Wolverines were going for the National Championship. Illinois players knew they had a difficult job ahead of them if they expected to win. He returned the opening kickoff for a 95-yard touchdown and scored three more touchdowns on runs of 67, 56 and 44 yards in the first twelve minutes. On his next carry, he ran 56 yards for yet another touchdown. He scored the three touchdowns in less than seven minutes against the powerful Michigan defense. Before the game was over, Grange ran back another kickoff for yet another touchdown. He scored six touchdowns in all. Illinois won the game by a lopsided score of 39 to 14.
However, it was Chicago sportswriter Warren Brown who nicknamed Grange “The Galloping Ghost.” When questioned in a 1974 interview, “Was it Grantland Rice who dubbed you the Galloping Ghost?” Grange replied, “No, it was Warren Brown, who was a great writer with the Chicago’s American in those days.” As a college senior, in a 24–2 upset of the University of Pennsylvania, Grange rushed for a career-high 237 yards through deep mud and scored three touchdowns. Laurence Stallings, a famed war correspondent who had co-written What Price Glory? was hired to cover the game for the New York World. After Grange accounted for 363 yards, Stallings said, “This story’s too big for me. I can’t write it.” Grange’s younger brother Garland followed his footsteps to play football at Illinois. In his 20-game college career, he ran for 3,362 yards, caught 14 passes for 253 yards and completed 40-of-82 passes for 575 yards. Of his 31 touchdowns, 16 were from at least 20 yards, with nine from more than 50 yards. He scored at least one touchdown in every game he played but one, a 1925 loss to Nebraska. He earned All-America recognition three consecutive years, and appeared on the October 5, 1925, cover of Time. His number 77 was retired at the University of Illinois in 1925. Only one other number has been retired in the history of University of Illinois football, 50 worn by Dick Butkus, another Bears player.
Grange was immediately courted by teams in the National Football League. The long-suffering Rochester Jeffersons made a last-ditch effort to sign Grange at a salary of $5,000 per game, but were unable to do so, a key factor in the team’s demise. It was the Chicago Bears who ultimately signed him; player/manager George Halas agreed to a contract for a 19-game barnstorming tour, signed the day after Grange played his last college game. The contract earned Grange a salary and share of gate receipts that amounted to $100,000, during an era when typical league salaries were less than $100/game. That 67-day tour is credited with legitimizing professional football and the NFL in the United States. On December 6, 1925, somewhere between 65,000 and 73,000 people showed up at the Polo Grounds to watch Grange, helping save the New York Giants’ franchise. Grange scored a touchdown on a 35-yard interception return in the Bears’ 19–7 victory. Offensively, he ran for 53 yards on 11 carries, caught a 23-yard pass and completed 2-of-3 passes for 32 yards. In his first year, he accounted for at least 401 total yards and 3 touchdowns in his 5 official NFL games for the Bears.
Grange became involved in a dispute with the Bears and left to form his own league, the American Football League, to challenge the NFL. The league only lasted one season, after which Grange’s team, the New York Yankees, was assimilated into the NFL. In 1927 Grange suffered a serious knee injury against the Bears, which robbed him of some speed and his cutting ability. After sitting out 1928, Grange returned to the Bears, where he was a solid runner and excellent defensive back through the 1934 season. The two highlights of Grange’s later NFL years came in consecutive championship games. In the unofficial 1932 championship, Grange caught the game winning touchdown pass from Bronko Nagurski. In the 1933 championship, Grange made a touchdown saving tackle that saved the game and the title for the Bears.
Grange retired from professional football in 1934, earning a living in a variety of jobs including motivational speaker and sports announcer. In the 1950s he announced Chicago Bears games for CBS television and college football (including the Sugar Bowl) for NBC. Grange married his wife Margaret, nicknamed Muggs, in 1941, and they were together until his death in 1991. She was a flight attendant, and they met on a plane. The couple had no children. He, however, has one surviving daughter – Rosemary Morrissey – born in 1928 from a previous relationship with Helen Flozack. Grange developed Parkinson’s disease in his last year of life and died on January 28, 1991 in Lake Wales, Florida.
- June, 13, 1903
- Forksville, Pennsylvania
- January, 28, 1991
- Lake Wales, Florida
Cause of Death
- Parkinson's disease