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Football Short Story
Game Changer: Red Grange
Football Nation: Four Hundred Years of America's Game from the Library of Congress,
Susan Reyburn
(2013)
Football's strategic complexity makes it difficult for the fortunes of an entire team to hinge on the efforts of a single player. However, the success of an entire football league can be attributed to one man, Harold "Red' Grange. The ever-grateful New York Giants owner Tim Mara would never have built his football dynasty were it not for the ice deliveryman from Wheaton, Illinois. And Grange did not even play on his team.
Grange took all of twelve minutes to become a football legend. On October 18, 1924, a Michigan team that had given up only four touchdowns during its 20-game unbeaten streak rolled into Champaign, Illinois, looking for number 21. They ran into or, rather, were outrun by, number 77. Students of football know the stats: In the first quarter alone, the flame-haired Illinois HB scored four TDs on runs of 95, 67, 56, and 45y; he later ran for another score and tossed a TD pass as the Illini won, 39-14. While that was his single greatest performance, as a three-time All-American he regularly produced eye-popping numbers that left reporters rummaging through their Roget's for words to describe him. Grantland Rice called him a "rubber bounding blasting soul," whatever that was, and Paul Gallico referred to him as a "touchdown factory." Dubbed "the distinguished ice peddler" and "pigskin purveyor," his lasting nickname was "Galloping Ghost" for his quickness and shifty moves. Grange made up for his unimposing size (5'11" tall, 175 pounds) on trailblazing end runs, dispatching would-be tacklers with a straight-arm sculpted from hauling around 75-pound blocks of ice.

Red Grange totes the pigskin for Illinois.
Grange's immense talent, however, is not the fundamental reason for his hallowed place in football history, which, because he got there first, no one else can rival.
When Grange played his last college game in November 1925, the pro sport was on thin ice and losing money. Who better, then, than a man of Grange's stature to shore up the league before it melted away entirely? The thing was, few exceptional college players were in the National Football League; professional players were about as respectable as actors in Shakespeare's era and sometimes paid even less. There was a discomfiting sketchiness to the NFL. Grange, however, questioned that. "You coach for money," he told his college coach, Robert Zuppke. "Why isn't it okay for me to play for money?" Zup was not amused.
Grange's decision to play in a Chicago Bears game five days after Illinois's season ended was shocking, yet it had exactly the effect the NFL hoped: It prompted a second look at what professional football could be. But the Ghost's decision did not go down well with those closest to him. "My coach, Bob Zuppke, didn't talk to me for four years. My father wasn't happy about it," Grange said later. "All of my friends looked upon me as if I was a traitor or something, as if I had done something terrible."
At the time, good players might make $100 a game; most scraped by on less. His manager-agent, the enterprising but not always law-abiding C.C. Pyle, arranged for himself and Chicago Bears to split the gate fifty-fifty with Chicago Bears owner George Halas. It was an astonishing contract, matched only by the audacious and brutal schedule Pyle and Halas organized for the Bears. From late November 1925 to late January 1926, the Bears toured the country, playing 19 games, and Grange was in all but two. In his first outing, he filled Cubs Park (Wrigley Field), drawing six times the usual gate. When he showed up at the Polo Grounds, so did more than 70,000 spectators, one of whom was Babe Ruth, sitting at midfield. Eying the crush of news media that greeted Grange, the Yankee slugger quipped, "I'll have to sue that bum. They're my photographers." Tim Mara probably did not mind that his Giants lost that day. The team, which he had recently purchased for $500 and now wanted to sell, had already put him $45,000 in the hole. In a single afternoon, though, Grange single-handedly filled the stadium and sent Mara home $130,000 richer.
The Bears' blitz and Grange's presence gave professional football a sense of legitimacy among fans, and it demonstrated to potential club owners that, with the right personnel, the NFL could be a profitable venture. Grange's success inspired other college stars to join the NFL, which dramatically improved the quality of professional play. Without Grange pulling in huge crowds everywhere he went, the tottering NFL might have gone the route of every other short-lived pro leage that preceded it. Despite injuries that made much of his nine-year professional career painful, Grange carried on, earning a place in both the college and professional football halls of fame. No better than George Halas, the last surviving founder of the NFL, put Grange's impact on the league in perspective when he said that "Grange was to us then what television is to the modern era." At the time, he was the best thing the NFL had to sell itself.
Baseball Short Story
The Road Stockings
John Erardi, Memories and Dreams: The Official Magazine of the Hall of Fame, Summer 2019
The greatest road trip in baseball history was arguably the one that was the most ambitious. The 20-game, June-long, 1,821-mile trip by the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. ...
Two of those Red Stockings are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame: SS George Wright, inducted in 1937; and his brother, CF/Manager Harry, inducted in 1953. Harry is known as the "Father of Professional Baseball," and his brother as the game's first superstar.
The Red Stockings' famous road trip began on May 31 t Little Miami Railroad Depot, ... three-quarters of a mile east of Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park.
The 32-day excursion was more like a rock 'n' roll tour than a baseball trip. Huge crowds turned out to see the handsome young men in their crimson hose and white-knicker uniforms in Cleveland, Buffalo, Rochester, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., where the Red Stockings received an audience with President Ulysses S. Grant.
They won all 20 games on the trip, and every game thereafter, playing before 200,000 fans. But things didn't start out so promising.
1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings

The day before the Eastern trip began, a game scheduled at the home park Union Grounds to raise money for their travels had been rained out. A shareholder in the club, Will Noble, had to borrow $300 ($5,575 in today's money) from his wife to get the trip started. It bought the team tickets as far as Boston. But the 10 players and two club executives needed to eat and occasionally sleep in a real bed. That same night, club president Aaron Champion visited the players in their rooms at the Gibson House to ensure they weren't drinking. It didn't work. The next morning, Champion found that "some of the members of the nine, forgetful of [their temperance] pledges, had touched the rosy too freely."
The Red Stockings, some grumpier than others, along with beat writer Harry Millar of the Cincinnati Commercial newspaper, boarded the train. ...
The Red Stockings were a team of characters ... Eight of the 10 were young, ranging from age 18 to 23. Harry was 34, P Asa Brainard 28. All were ... at the mercy of Champion and his right-hand man, John Joyce, who had to keep the trip financially afloat despite the rain - even accepting a loan from the beat writer. ... Champion and Joyce gave Millar a promissory note Millar kept to his dying day: "Received of Harry M. Millar $245 as a loan to the Cincinnati Baseball Club ..."
In Rochester, N.Y., the game had barely begun when rain soaked the teams and their eager fans. The Red Stockings broomed off the puddles, spread sawdust in the mud and played on.
When the team arrived for their game in Syracuse, the outfield grass was a foot high and the fence was in shambles. The Red Stockings had walked into the middle of a pigeon shoot. Harry couldn't find anybody who remembered scheduling the game, so the team settled for a salt bath at a local spa for 35 cents apiece.
The week that made baseball famous began on Tuesday, June 15, and ended six days later. But first it required a setup. It came on June 7, when the Red Stockings arrived in Lansingburgh, N.Y., a village on the north end of Troy, on the east shore of the Hudson River, 80 miles from Cooperstown. It is a direct shot - 175 miles due south down the Hudson - to New York City. But even in those days, one had to take Troy before one could take Manhattan. And the Red Stockings did, 37-31. In Boston, they whipped four Massachusetts nines.
The Red Stockings arrived at Earle's Hotel in lower Manhattan at 8 o'clock on June 14. At 1:30 p.m. the next day, officials of the New York Mutuals club called upon them, several elegant coaches at the ready, to ferry the impeccably clad Red Stockings across the East River to the Union Grounds in Brooklyn, Greater New York's most famous ballpark. ... The spectators roared at the first sight of red, bringing cap-tips from the players. The ensuing 4-2 game - the Red Stockings scored twice in the bottom of the ninth inning - had the crowd on its feet. ... The low-scoring thriller, with defensive gem after gem, belied the underhand era in which scores of 40 and 50 runs were common and was immediately proclaimed a classic.

Union Grounds Brooklyn 1865
It brought out a huge crowd for the next day's game at the Capitoline Grounds (estimated at 12,000, by far the biggest baseball crowd to date). The Red Stockings walloped the powerful Brooklyn Atlantics, 32-10, then knocked off the Eckfords, 24-5, one day later back at the Union Grounds.
Three victories in three days over the best teams in New York, with the Red Stockings pocketing a $1,700 share of the bloated gate receipts.

Capitoline Grounds Brooklyn 1870
One huge foe awaited, the Philadelphia Athletics, adjudged by everybody as the strongest group of hitters anywhere ... The dizzying fame of the Cincinnati nine drew the attention of female admirers. As a light rain fell on the eve of the Athletics' game, a group of young women passed in front of the Red Stockings' hotel. They lifted their long skirts to avoid the mud in the streets, many revealing a flash of red stockings. The Cincinnatis won the next day, 27-18.
Then home to a raucous parade, eight city blocks long, and a sumptuous banquet at the Gibson House.

About This Site
This site is devoted primarily but not exclusively to college and pro football. The unique feature of this site is the publication each fall of the author's rankings of all FBS college football teams and similar rankings for the NFL. I live in New Orleans and am a graduate of LSU and FSU. So I present a Southern and particularly an SEC point of view but one that is reasonably objective. I also publish a monthly Football Magazine with stories from the past and a monthly Baseball Magazine with a similar format. During the winter and spring, there's a monthly Basketball Magazine.

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