Football Short Stories - 9
Other authors entertain us.
Red Grange Turns Pro - 1
The Red Grange Story: An Autobiography, as told to Ira Morton (1953)
There were many who thought I made a big mistake when I turned pro after my last college game in the late fall of 1925. Professional football in those days was frowned upon by faculty representatives, coaches, athletic directors and the commissioner of athletics for the Big Ten Conference. It was hard to find anyone in college circles for it. ...
Of course, time has changed all that. Today pro football occupies the same high position in the sports world as college football. ... Naturally it was impossible back in 1925 for me or anyone else ... to foresee all the changes that have taken place. Yet if I were placed in the same position today as I was then, I would still follow the identical course. I wish to make the point strong that I have never for one instant regretted what I did.
The story behind my turning professional and my association with Charlie Pyle, who was responsible for the whole thing, begins the second week of my senior year at Illinois. I was about to take my seat in a Champaign movie house one Saturday night when an usher approached me. Handing me a slip of paper with a few words scribbled on it he said, "Mr. Pyle who runs this theater wants you to have this. It's a pass that'll get you in the Virginia Theater as often s you want for the rest of the year ..."
Several days later I went to the Virginia again. As I entered the theater I was greeted in the lobby by Mr. Pyle and invited up to his office. I had heard his name mentioned many times before, but never met him. ...
"How would you like to make one hundred thousand dollars, or maybe even a million?" Pyle asked. I was momentarily stunned. Regaining my composure, I quickly answered the query in the affirmative. When I attempted to find out what Pyle had in mind he told me he had a plan, but wasn't at liberty to reveal the details at the time. He said he'd contact me in a few weeks and made me promise that after leaving his office I wouldn't mention our conversation to anyone.
I found out later that Pyle left the next day for Chicago to confer with George Halas and Ed Sternaman, co-owners of the Chicago Bears. He offered them a tentative deal whereby I would join their team immediately after my last college game against Ohio State. I was to play in the remaining league games that season and then go on tour with the Bears in a series of exhibition games that Pyle would book himself from Florida to the West Coast.
According to Pyle's proposition, the Bears were to share the gate receipts approximately fifty-fifty with us. This Pyle intended to split sixty-forty in my favor. At first, Halas and Sternaman balked at the percentage figures, but ... finally agreed to terms. Pyle then left Chicago to book the exhibition games in the West and Far South.

L-R: Red Grange and Bob Zuppke
It was three weeks before I saw Pyle again. I learned then, for the first time, the full details of what he'd been up to. The arrangements he made with the Bear owners seemed agreeable to me and we shook hands on it. But he stressed one point. "Red, we'll sign nothing, nor will you receive one cent from me, until after you've played your last college game. We don't want to do anything to jeopardize your standing as a college player." And that's the way it stood until I signed an official contract with Pyle after the Ohio game some eight weeks later.
During my senior year rumors were continually circulating about the possibility of my becoming a professional. ... No one other than Pyle ever approached me while I was at Illinois and we kept our plans with Halas and Sternaman secret until after the Ohio State game.
One week before the battle in Columbus, the Champaign News-Gazette called me into their office and practically accused me of having signed a contract to play pro ball. They told me I wasn't eligible to play against the Buckeyes because of it. I replied that I had not affixed my signature to any contract and defied them to produce evidence to the contrary. ...
Two days before the Buckeye-Illinois battle there was a report that L. W. St. John, the Ohio State athletics director, might challenge my eligibility to play against his team because of the rumors that I had inked a professional contract. St. John answered the report with: "If Red Grange denies the rumor, his word is good enough for me." ...
The contest with the Buckeyes was played on November 21st before a packed house of 85,500, the largest crowd ever assembled anywhere up to that time for a football contest. ... We defeated Ohio State 14-9. As the gun went off, ending the game, reporters swarmed about and pressed me for a statement. I announced for the first time my intention to play with the Chicago Bears and informed them I was going to sign a contract in Chicago the following day.
Zup [Illinois coach Bob Zuppke], visibly disturbed by the news, drove with me from the stadium to the hotel. ... we spent almost an hour in a cab as Zup ordered the driver to "keep driving" while he tried desperately to make me change my mind. ... "Football isn't a game to play for money." My reply summed up what I believed all along. "You get paid for coaching, Zup, why should it be wrong for me to get paid for playing?"
We finally parted and I didn't see Zup again for about three weeks. By then I had played in several pro games. We were attending the annual Elks banquet in Champaign for the Illinois team and Zup was the principal speaker. During the course of his speech he berated me for joining the pro ranks. I thought his remarks were completely uncalled for. ... I was so mad at Zup at the time I got up from my place at the speaker's table and left the hall while he was still talking. The next day we had both forgotten the incident.
To be continued ...
Whatever It Takes to Win
Big Eight Football, John D. McCallum (1979)
Dana X. Bible, who coached
LSU in 1916
Dana Xenophon Bible, better known as D. X., was a bald, lip-smacking, scripture-quoting son of a Latin and Greek scholar whose unspectacular coaching tech­niques brought solid, fundamental football to Lin­coln. He frowned on fancy football. His basic formations were the punt, the Minnesota shift, the single wingback, and the double wingback. His pet maneuver was a fake-punt-and-run-play on third down. In his book Championship Football he gave the perfect exposition of how to mold a winning team. His chapter on scouting spelled out in infinite detail the lengths he went to to get a good rundown on a future opponent. He made his scouts answers 42 mimeographed pages of questions on each game and fill out eight more pages of comments and dia­grams. ...
On the bench during a game, Bible was - well, sel­dom on the bench. Space was reserved for him there, but he almost never occupied it. The players not in the starting lineup always stood up, close to the sideline, at the kickoff, and D. X. stood with them. But when they sat down, he remained on his feet. The chances were that if you put a pedometer on him, you would have found that he covered more ground than any of his halfbacks in the course of a game, and this is not knocking the young men who played halfback for him. Remember, they were in and out of the game, while Coach Bible "played" 60 minutes every Saturday. He roamed up and down the sideline, watching the players, the officials, occasionally yelling at them all, darting back to the bench to talk to a player going into the game, striding out to meet a player he was removing, consulting with his assistants.
The players sitting on the bench were supposed to watch the game closely. There were times, however, when a couple of them could not see what was happening because the coach was standing in front of them. None of his players would have been too surprised had he ripped off his coat and torn right into the ball game. They knew that the temptation to be out there was strong upon him sometimes.
Bible failed to win the Big Six conference only in 1930 and 1934. ... On the negative side, Bible lost four out of five games to Minnesota, coached by Bernie Bierman, and the best he could get out of eight games with Jock Sutherland's Pittsburgh teams was scoreless ties in 1930 and 1932. This, however, did not detract from his stature very much, because the Gophers and Panthers were top national powers and the Huskers usually pushed them to the limit.
Even though Nebraska lost to Minnesota, 7-0, and to Pitt, 19-6, in 1936, the Corn­huskers ranked No. 9 in the national polls. The Gophers finished No. 1, the Panthers No. 3. The loss to Minnesota rates among the historic heartbreakers, for there were only 59 seconds left when Andy Uram, taking a lateral from QB Bud Wilkinson on a punt return, raced 75y for a TD.
Winning TD for Minnesota vs Nebraska 1936
The aftermath emphasized Bible's ability as a practical psychologist, even though he was, in effect, again calling on character. The next game was with Indiana, and the Hoosiers led the Cornhuskers 9-0 at the half in great measure because UN was still "down" from its effort against Minnesota. The halftime scene in the Nebraska dressing room was some­thing to remember. D. X. just threw away technical details and concentrated on psychology. He challenged his players' desire to win, their courage to fight back. He offered starting positions to the first eleven men who wanted badly enough to beat the rest of the team to the exit. They lit out for the door. Bible beat them to it. Then he stood blocking the way, insisting they weren't ready. A genuine mob scene developed. Normally affable players knocked each other down fighting to get out. Some squared off and fought. The pande­monium was terrifying. And it worked. Nebraska came back to win the game, 13-9; and they played the second half with only eleven men.
"Coach Bible was a forceful leader," said one of his Huskers years ago. "He had courage to match any situation. No matter the problem, he could take charge. He had the ability to organize a team into a loyal and spirited group. He demanded discipline and respect, and he got it."
When Dana X. Bible left Nebraska for Texas in 1937, he negotiated one of the best contracts in the history of college coaching. The Longhorns wanted him so badly that they gave him a twenty-year contract, the first ten years as coach and athletic director, at $15,000 a year. Before they could agree on the deal, the Texas legislature pondered and debated. Fifteen grand meant that Bible would be getting more than the college president. The legislature resolved the impasse by raising the president's salary.
The Johnny Bright Case
Football Nation: Four Hundred Years of America's Game from the Library of Congress
Susan Reyburn (2013)
"John was ambushed for two reasons: One, he was a hell of a football player. And two, he was black," said Gene Macomber, a teammate of Drake's Johnny Bright, a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy in 1951. What occurred that season in Stillwater, OK, was emblematic of what other black players had endured, but none so publicly.
The mood in town was not especially welcoming when the undefeated Drake Bulldogs arrived to play 1-3 Oklahoma A&M (as Oklahoma State was then known). Bright, Drake's only black player, was not permitted to stay at the team hotel, instead finding accommodations at the home of a black minister. And the word was that the Aggies would be gunning for Bright. "They told me Johnny wasn't going to finish the game," said Macomber, who had visited a local barbershop that morning.
And so it was. Three times in the first quarter, Aggie tackle Wilbanks Smith viciously struck Bright in the face, knocking him out cold. In each instance Bright was hit well after he was out of the play and without the ball. No penalties were called. The dazed Bulldog, his jaw broken, then tossed a 61y TD pass and left the game, catching sight of a sign in the stands reading "Get the nigger." The Aggies went on to a 27-14 victory.

Wilbanks Smith smashes Johnny Bright in the face long after the ball has been handed off.
A&M coach J. B. Whitworth denied that Smith had been instructed to go after Bright (despite A&M student eyewitness admissions to the contrary). After the jawbreaking hits, Smith made a jaw-dropping statement, saying he was sorry if he had "overcharged Johnny." The incident might have ended in a "Drake said, A&M said" stalemate had not the Des Moines Register run indisputable proof of the outrage on its front page the next day. Don Ultang and John Rob­inson's photographs clearly depicted what Life magazine would call "the year's most glaring example of dirty football," and the New York Times would later name this "one of the ugliest racial incidents in college sports history."
The story drew national attention and widespread criticism of A&M, whose athletic council, even after seeing film footage of the plays, pronounced the hits as merely "illegal blocks" and "just another football incident." Neither the college nor Coach Whitworth disciplined - or even reprimanded - Smith. Infuriated, Drake presented its case, photographs and all, to the Missouri Valley Conference, asking that it take action. Officials declined to do so, prompting Drake to withdraw from the league. In a supportive gesture, Bradley University withdrew as well. The University of Detroit, scheduled to play A&M next, received "scores of letters" according to its coach, asking that his team avenge Bright.
Johnny Bright played briefly once more that season, finished fifth in the Heisman voting, and accepted an offer to play professionally in Canada, where he enjoyed a Hall of Fame career and later became a school principal. As a result of the Oklahoma A&M game, Drake down­graded its football program, college football helmets were reconfigured to include face bars, and the NCAA made hands-to-the-helmet moves illegal. In the spring of 1952, Ultang and Robin­son won a Pulitzer Prize for their series of photographs.
Bright refused to be bitter about what he deemed a life-changing event. "Because one person chose to do wrong, not all of the good derived from sports should be overlooked," he said shortly after the game. "The letters I have received from people all over the country indicate [that] most people are for fair play, regardless of race, creed or color. Among those letters were several ... from Stillwater."
Newspapers around the country reprinted the award-winning images of the vicious hits on Bright. In 2005, Oklahoma State issued an apology for what had occurred on its field. The next year, Drake named its new gridiron Johnny Bright Field.
The Relentless Pursuit of Greatness Drives Joe Burrow
Cody Worsham, LSU-Texas A&M Gameday Program
At the heart of everything Joe Burrow does - the eye-popping statistics, the awe-inspiring toughness, the game-changing leadership - is an undeniable will to win.
If you're looking for the foundation for Burrow's 2019 run at the Heisman Trophy and national championships, the platform upon which he's mounted a campaign as one of the best QBs to every play in the SEC, it's a competitive drive he was seemingly born with.
Ever since he first picked up a ball, Burrow had to be the best, and he's spent every day since collecting characteristics - grit, accuracy, poise, and everything else he's displayed all season - geared to making him unbeatable.
"He's always wanted to be the person with the ball in his hand and be the person scoring points," his mother, Robin says, "whether it was soccer or basketball or baseball or football. It's just in his DNA, I guess."
"He's the most competitive dude on the planet," says Sam Vander Ven, Burrow's childhood friend and high school teammate. "Without a doubt. Whether it's a video game or anything outside of sports, he's a ruthless dude."
The first time his parents saw that ruthlessness on display was after a fourth grade baseball tournament. Burrow never paid attention to trophies, his parents say. They were trivial consequences from the thing he was really after - scratching that unending competitive itch. The only time he ever noticed one was when that itch went unscratched.
"The only trophy that he evr paid attention to was when he got second in a baseball tournament, and one of his best friends had thrown the second place trophy in the garbage can," says Jimmy, his father. "So we're driving home and we're just horrified that that happened. Joe gets home, and we go up to his room and about an hour afterwards, and he had dismantled the second place trophy." That provided an opportunity to teach Burrow a lesson in humility and losing with grace. Even as he absorbed that lesson, it didn't make the losing less intolerable to his disposition. As much as he loves winning, Burrow may hate losing even more.
There's plenty of evidence to support that claim. Like his senior season basketball pictures, taken just three days after Burrow lost the state championship game in football. The hurt in his eyes is evident even today, five years removed from the defeat. "He carried that loss with him quite a long time," Jimmy says.

L-R: Joe Burrow runs against Bama, Carried off at Tuscaloosa
Burrow never forgets a loss - there aren't many to remember to be fair - whether it's collective or personal. Tom Vander Ven, Sam's father, remembers a high school game in which a rival intercepted a Burrow pass early in the first quarter. "The most potential you'd see in Joe was after he threw an interception," Tom says, "which was not very often in high school. Whenever somebody picked him off, he would make them pay."
After that interception, Burrow changed the game plan. He started targeting the defensive back who'd intercepted him in the first quarter as often as he could. Three quarters, 300y, five TDs, and a 55-9 win later, Burrow made good on the debt. "Joe definitely made him pay," Tom says.
It's something his teammates at LSU notice. Sometimes, the worst thing you can do in practice is intercept a Burrow throw. You'll spend he rest of the practice in the center of his target, which is a dangerous place to live.
"I see it in practice all the time, in 7-on-7s," says LSU punter Zach Von Rosenberg. "Guys that pick the ball off, he's infuriated. He's like, 'Give me the ball. Let's do this again.' It's a switch that gets flipped that turns him into that massive competitor."
Perhaps the only thing that gets Burrow going better than a pick is getting hit. That's something his high school offensive coordinator, Nathan White, realized as early as Burrow's sophomore season, when the offense got off to a sluggish start against an inferior opponent. Man, White thought. I'm just going to run Joe until he gets into this thing. He got into that thing, alright. Burrow would finish the game with 161y on 23 carries, and for the rest of his prep career, Burrow ran the ball on the second or third play of every single game. To this day, White ... runs his QBs early in games to get them going.
"He started rolling, got a few hits," White says. "He was like a different man after that."
"I enjoy getting hit sometimes," Burrow says. "It makes me feel like a real football player instead of a QB. People can look down on QBs sometimes if they're not taking hits. I like mixing it up in there."
Perhaps no hit hurt Burrow last year quite like LSU's seven-overtime loss to Texas A&M. He took plenty of hits in that game, throwing for 270y and three TDs while adding 131 rushing yards ... and three TDs on the ground. It was, by all means, a heroic effort, and it was, perhaps, the catalyst to his 2019 run as college football's best QB. But it took a toll, physically and emotionally. After 39 passes, 23 carries, six sacks, and seven overtimes, Burrow passed out in the locker room and needed an IV bag, cookies, and apple sauce to recover.
"That was the second dagger," Robin says, comparing the A&M defeat to the state championship game loss his senior season at Athens.
Like a hit or a pick, though, Burrow has always had an ability to catalyze defeat, to harness heartbreak and transform it into motivation and clarity of thought. He takes them hard, but they don't hold him back. In fact, they have the inverse effect.
"He can channel that frustration into positive energy," Robin says. "I think he definitely internalizes things a little bit, but uses it in a positive way."
That's why Jimmy says Burrow entered 2019 with three games circled on the calendar.
First was Florida, who handed him his first loss as LSU's starter in 2018 and clinched the win with a pick-six. One year later, Burrow completed 21-of-24 passes for 293y and three TDs in a 42-28 win over the Gators.
Then came Alabama, who shut Burrow and LSU out in 2018, 29-0, in a game he played with an injured shoulder. One year later, Burrow went into Tuscaloosa and hung 393y on the Tide, leading LSU to a 46-41 victory,
Next us is A&M, and be assured that Burrow remembers that dagger. "I know he looks forward to three games this year ...," Jimmy says. ... "In his mind, those were failures. In games like that, he tries to focus on not letting things like that happen again."
That's the will to win that Burrow's tapped into all year, his entire career. It's the force behind everything he's done on his way to the brink of everything he's ever dreamed of. It's what makes him special, and it's what should keep opponents up at night.
Joe Burrow's comin'. And he ain't backing down.