Chicago Bears Traditions

Bears in The Hall

Red Grange

Since selection requirements dictate that a player must have been retired for five seasons before he can be eligible, no American Football League player has yet been named to the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Well, actually... there's been one! His name? None other than the Galloping Ghost, Harold (Red) Grange, who many say is the greatest football player who has ever lived!

Grange, of course, was the playing star of another American Football League, one of four organizations by that name that have seen fit to challenge the established National Football League in the last half of the century. For the record, Grange's AFL played one season, 1926. A second AFL operated in 1936 and 1937 and a third in 1940 and 1941. Finally, came the fourth, and the only successful, American Football League venture, beginning in 1960.

But back to the charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Grange.

Unique among the immortals honored in the pro gridiron shrine is the fact that Grange, the player, is still best remembered for one superb afternoon against Michigan when he was carrying the mail for the University of Illinois.

It was October 28, 1924, and Grange scored on runs of 95, 67, 56, and 45 yards-in the first quarter. He scored a fifth touchdown in the third quarter and passed for a sixth in the final stanza. Illinois not only had beaten mighty Michigan, 39-14, but Grange had galloped for 402 yards on 21 carries and completed six passes for 78 more yards.

But this performance, while the most famous, was the one of many great days the Redhead had in college. In three seasons at Illinois, Grange score 31 touchdowns and rushed for 3,637 yards. He was named an all-American three straight years.

As much as Grange may have done for college football, he did even more for professional football. He drew hundreds of thousands of new fans lured by the magic of his name and his No. 77 jersey. And when they came, they saw a new exciting brand of football. And pro football, which had more than once faced financial collapse, was finally on its way!

Cagey George Halas, owner-coach and player of the Chicago Bears, realizing that pro football needed a super gate attraction, finally worked out a deal with Grange and his agent, C.C. Pyle, just after Illinois closed out its season in 1925.

Halas didn't wait until the next year to put his new star before the fans, either. Grange was in a Bears' uniform for the first time on Thanksgiving Day, 1925, for an intra-city battle with the Chicago Cardinals. The Cardinals' ace punter and himself now a Hall of Famer, Paddy Driscoll, kept punting the ball away from Grange throughout the afternoon and, as a result, Grange didn't gallop and the game ended in a scoreless tie. But 36,000 fans showed up and the play-for pay sport was really on its way.

The Bears and Grange played 17 exhibition games from that time until mid-February. It was a grueling grind but for the most part, the record throngs liked what they saw. A significant crowd of 65,000 fans turned out in the Polo Grounds to see Grange and the Bears beat the Giants, 19-7, and in turn save the New York franchise for the NFL.

Then, when Pyle, Grange and Halas couldn't agree on terms for the 1926 season, Pyle formed his own league, the American Football League. The New York franchise with Grange as its box-office draw prospered, but the rest of the league floundered and gave up after one year.

The NFL did grant Pyle the New York Yankees franchise in 1927, but tragedy struck Pyle, the Yankees, and most specifically, Grange, in the form of a knee injury in a game against the Bears.

"I didn't play at all in 1928," Grange remembers. "In fact, that injury erased most of my running ability. I was just an ordinary ball-carrier after that. I did develop into a pretty good defensive back, however."

So perhaps it is fitting that super-runner, Grange, who had to concentrate more on his defense after injury eliminated him as the offensive threat he once was, made him last great play on defense.

In the 1933 championship game between the Bears and the Giants, the Bears were ahead, 23-21, in the game's waning moments. The Giant wingback Dale Burnett broke into the open with only Grange in his way to bar the winning touchdown. Complicating the issue was he fact that Giant center Mel Hein was trailing Burnett to await a lateral if grange caught him.

Grange reacted instantly, grabbing Burnett around the chest, smothering him high so that no lateral was possible. They were rolling to the ground when the gun sounded the end of the game. Chicago had won.

"The greatest defensive play I ever saw," said winning coach Halas.

"The greatest defensive play I ever saw," echoed losing coach.