The Bear Goggles On Countdown to Kickoff series is now underway. The number 77 is retired to one of the greatest football players to ever live, Red Grange. Let’s look into the legacy of an under-appreciated member of the Chicago Bears.
If someone asked who you favorite Chicago Bear was, who would it be? I feel confident in saying the following 5 names would account for 75% of the answers: Walter Payton, Dick Butkis, Brian Urlacher, Mike Singletary, and Mike Ditka. Even if one of those players isn’t your favorite Bear, I feel even more confident in saying that your answer wasn’t Red Grange. Why is that? His credentials certainly stack up. Grange is often heralded as the best college football player of all time, and owns a bust in Canton as well. However, none of Grange’s stats or stats or achievements can top what he did for football as we know it today.
Harold “Red” Grange’s Legacy:
Flash back to the 1920’s. Football was a far cry from the sexy, multi-billion dollar enterprise it is today. Players were usually paid by the game, and when contracts were given out, they barely broke 4 figures. The fledgling NFL desperately needed legitimacy if it wanted to survive as an enterprise. In fact, college football held far more prominence than the NFL throughout the early 1920’s, but that all changed when the biggest star in college football opted to join the NFL.
Red Grange tore through teams as a member to the Fighting Illini. He famously scored 4 touchdowns in 12 minutes against the heavily favored Michigan Wolverines. He moved and cut elegantly in a game that was all about moving piles with brute force. After his performance against Michigan, sportswriter Warren Brown called him the “Galloping Ghost,” and the name has stuck to this day. He ran for over 2,000 yards and scored 31 touchdowns during his college career according to the NCAA.
The Chicago Bears signed Grange to a 19 game contract that put the NFL on the map. He drew tens of thousands to stadiums across the country and was the NFL’s first superstar. He drew sponsorships aplenty all while sustaining his play. Unfortunately, Grange suffered a major knee injury in 1927 which lessened his ability as a player. He still contributed to two championship seasons after the injury, but he wasn’t the same explosive back that catapulted him to stardom in the confines of Memorial Stadium. The NFL didn’t record yardage as an official statistic until 1932, so it’s impossible to quantify his dominance. However, touchdowns were recorded. Grange scored 21 rushing touchdowns, 10 receiving touchdowns, and 10 passing touchdowns throughout his Hall of Fame career.
Why isn’t Grange talked about more today?
The most obvious answer is age. Few people could mathematically have been alive to watch him play in his prime and talk about it today. However, plenty of young fans hail Walter Payton as the best football player to ever wear the blue and orange, but never lived to see him carry the football once. The Payton example brings up another problem with age, game tape. A quick google search will bring clips of Walter Payton’s tenacious running style to bear. Unfortunately, very little footage exists of Grange’s exploits on the turf. It’s impossible to prove his greatness by film and statistics because they don’t exist from the time he played.
Historical limitations aside, Grange’s legacy isn’t marketed in today’s NFL. Plenty of Singletary, Payton, and Ditka jerseys roam about Soldier Field on Sunday afternoons, but not many (if any) Grange jerseys. One reason why is because Red Grange wore a completely different jersey than the Bears do now. His career even predates the “Monsters of the Midway” throwbacks. Call me skeptical, but I have sincere doubts that Nike will mass produce this throwback:
While little film and concrete stats exist for Red Grange, there’s a plethora of sportswriting done on the Galloping Ghost. His legend carried on for decades after he touched a football, and people were there to write it down in detail. For once, there’s not much in regards to a quick fix here. Researching Grange requires time, effort, and digging.
Giving Grange his due:
Why is one of the best football players of all time hardly discussed into today’s NFL? In today’s visual and analytical culture, not enough film and stats exist to interest large audiences. Additionally, not many people walk around in Grange jerseys, so the name begins to disappear altogether. It also doesn’t help that most people who see a 77 jersey lose interest because they think it’s a lineman.
Regardless, Grange is a player worth researching. The way sportswriters of the 1920’s depicted Grange makes him sound mythical to an extent. To give you an idea, here is the NFL’s short tribute to Red Grange.
Maybe next time when someone asks who you favorite Chicago Bears player of all time is, you can at least give a second to remember Red Grange.