Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff: 77 Days with Red Grange

Chicago Bears
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With just 77 days until the start of the 2023 NFL season, today's Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff will feature the best player in franchise history to don the number 77. Today is an especially important submission in the series as legendary running back Red Grange is not only the best Chicago Bear to wear 77, he is the only one ever.

Red Grange's path to the Chicago Bears

Originally hailing from Forksville, Pennsylvania, Harold "Red" Grange grew up in Wheaton, Illinois. During his teenage years, Grange attended Wheaton High School, where he earned 16 varsity letters in four seasons across football, baseball, basketball, and track. During his high school years, and even into college, Grange worked as an ice delivery man, to which he attributed his strength and toughness.

After a decorated high school career on almost every field or court imaginable, Grange decided to attend the University of Illinois, where he would initially plan on playing basketball before instead deciding to join the football team, thanks to the guidance of then-head coach Bob Zuppke.

At the University of Illinois, Grange became a true superstar of the game, earning the name "Galloping Ghost" for his speed and elusiveness. As an Illini, Grange had some incredible games; as a freshman, Grange ran for three touchdowns against Nebraska in his first collegiate outing, he logged four touchdowns in the first quarter against Michigan as a sophomore, and had over 475 total yards against the University of Chicago in 1924.

Over his four seasons at Illinois, Grange was awarded three Consensus All-American nods, played in just 20 games, and totaled 31 touchdowns and over 3,300 total yards. Just as Grange's collegiate career came to an end, George Halas, the Chicago Bears, and the NFL as a whole were looking for a way to stimulate some life into their league, with a collegiate star like Grange being a perfect target to attract viewers.

After discussions with Halas, Grange agreed to a contract with the Chicago Bears in 1925. During the season, the team would play 19 games over 67 games as a barnstorming, popping up in cities all over the United States while playing against anyone from professional teams to amateur squads. Grange appeared in five of the team's games and logged two total touchdowns.

Reg Grange establishes new league before return to Chicago Bears

In 1926, Grange was not able to come to another agreement with Halas and the Bears. Grange instead decided to start his team, the New York Yankees, but even after securing a contract with Yankee Stadium, Grange was turned away from the NFL and was instead forced to start his league, the American Football League.

Grange remained in the AFL until the 1928 season, when he chose not to renew his contract following the year. Just a year later, the Yankees would go bankrupt without Grange in the backfield. Nonetheless, Grange rejoined the Chicago Bears ahead of the 1929 season. At the age of 26, Halas began his second stint with the Bears, adding two touchdowns in just 10 starts.

Red Grange Holding Football
Chicago Bears / George Rinhart/GettyImages

Grange would play for the Bears for five more seasons from 1930 to 1934. During this time, Grange logged 26 total touchdowns, was selected as First-Team All-Pro twice, and won the NFL Championship following the 1933 season. Grange retired from the NFL in 1934, with his jersey number being retired from the team not long after. Grange, who's 77 was also retired at the University of Illinois, making him and Bears legend Dick Butkus the only Illini to have their jerseys retired, is also the only player in team history to even wear the number 77.

Red Grange's legacy and life after football

Following his retirement, Grange stayed relatively active in both sports and popular culture, having several different stints in sports commentary and analysis, specifically with NBC and CBS. Grange, who spent time professionally as an insurance broker in Chicago, also served on boards of leagues such as the United States Football League and the short-lived National Girls Baseball League.

Alongside his career in sports and insurance, Grange worked as an actor, appearing in a handful of films including the self-named Galloping Ghost film, which focuses on a fictionalized version of Grange as a collegiate athlete.

As a player and an icon of the NFL, Grange had a lasting impact on the history of the game of football and its thumbprint on modern society. Grange, who has a spot in both the Professional and Collegiate Hall of Fames, has raked in accolades such as ESPN's #1 Player in College Football History and the Big Ten Network's #1 "Big Ten Icon", but has several odds-and ends accomplishments such as being the first non-referee to do a coin toss during Super Bowl XII.


In 1991, Grange passed away at the age of 87. Leaving behind one of the most spectacular football legacies, and that in general of an athlete, it is hard to think that another player could have matched the Illinois native's production and impact with the Chicago Bears, let alone one who wore the number 77.