Friday, February 12, 2010

The First Star

Harold "Red" Grange was the first pro football superstar. Immediately after concluding his college eligibility at Illinois, he dropped out of school and turned pro with the Chicago Bears. Grange was the first player to have an agent (C.C. Pyle) and Pyle teamed with Bears owner George Halas to arrange a brutal post-season tour to capitalize of Grange's notoriety.

Brutal is an understatement. Following a full college season, Grange played the last two games of the Bears' regular season schedule, and then played 10 games in 18 days in cold weather cities in December! Those 10 games were just a portion of the 17 game, six week tour. While Grange was never the same physically, he and his agent took in nearly $500,000 from the barnstorming tour and endorsements. That's when $500,000 was a tremendous sum of money.

It's all described in "The First Star: Red Grange and the Barnstorming Tour That Launched the NFL" written by Sports Illustrated writer Lars Anderson. I enjoyed the book and it's the true story of what pro football was like in the early years.

When games resembled rugby scrums, Grange brought speed and open-field running to the table and thrilled fans both at Illinois and with the Bears. He thrilled sportswriters too, including damon Runyon and Grantland Rice, who helped make Grange famous in their nationally syndicated columns:

Rice wrote:

"There are two shapes now moving / two ghosts that drift and glide / and which of them to tackle / each rival must decide / they shift with special swiftness / across the swarded range / and one of them's a shadow / and one of them is Grange"