200 Years of Illinois: Grange’s Ghost Story

On October 18, 1924, a streak of fire and breath of flame named Harold “Red” Grange had a game for the ages, scoring six touchdowns against a University of Michigan defense thought to be among the best in the nation. The Galloping Ghost put up extravagant numbers against the Wolverines and, indeed, most everyone else, before turning pro a day after the season finale against Ohio State. Though born in Pennsylvania, Grange moved to Wheaton at age five. He earned sixteen high school letters and three track & field state championships while working himself into even better shape with a job humping ice. His 75 prep touchdowns impressed everyone but Grange. As legend has it, he only chose football over careers in basketball and track due to pressure and paddling by his fraternity brothers.

Grange partnered with Champaign businessman C. C. Pyle, owner of the Virginia Theater, when he went pro. Pyle brought in a stack of commercial endorsements and negotiated his client’s deal with famously stingy Chicago Bears owner George Halas. A brutal two month, 19-game barnstorming tour brought Grange $3,000 per game plus a share of the gate. He returned home not only in triumph but wearing a fur coat of luxurious raccoon. Not long after, Grange tried and failed to buy into the young National Football League. He started a league of his own. When it folded, he returned to the Bears. A 1927 knee injury cost him the following season and his explosiveness, but he remained a solid pro player at defensive back. He retired in 1934.