Red Grange (1903
) was the Babe Ruth
. As a halfback
in the 1920s
he single-handedly transformed college football
into a big-time national sport. Then, as a pro with the Chicago Bears
in the late 20s and 1930s
, "The Galloping Ghost" did the same thing for the professional game.
Although not a big man at 5-11, 175 lbs., Grange was armed with blazing speed and an unbeatable strategy: "If you have the football and 11 guys are after you, if you're smart, you'll run." And run he did.
Grange was catapulted to the status of living legend and national sports darling during the course of a single football game on October 18, 1924. Playing against heavily favored Michigan, who had a 20-game win streak, No. 77 proceeded to run for 262 yards and score 4 touchdowns in the first 12 minutes of the game - as many touchdowns as the mighty Michigan squad had allowed in the past two years. After returning the opening kickoff 95 yards for a score, Grange proceeded to score on runs of 67, 56 and 44 yards. After resting briefly, Grange came back in to rush 11 yards for his fifth touchdown and then passed 20 yards for a sixth score as Illinois went on to win 39-14.
Grange totaled an incredible 402 yards of total offense: 212 rushing, 64 passing, and 126 on kickoff returns. It was an individual performance unlike anything the football world has ever seen before or since, and it inspired the sportswriter Grantland Rice to write the lines from which his nickname the "Galloping Ghost" derived:
A streak of fire, a breath of flame,
A gray ghost thrown into the game
Eluding all who reach and clutch;
That rival hands may never touch;
A rubber bounding, blasting soul,
Whose destination is the goal -
Red Grange of Illinois!
Grange finished up his college career as a three-time All-American. In only 20 games, he had run 388 times for 2,071 yards (a 5.3 average), caught 14 passes for 253 yards, completed 40 of 82 passes for 575 yards, and scored 31 touchdowns.
The next year he joined the Bears, instantly drawing thousands of new fans to pro football, legitimizing a sport that had previously been thought of as a game only meant for idle ruffians and college students.