Illinois, The Galloping Ghost, and a high school in Toledo

Red Grange was chosen as the Big Ten’s greatest icon by the Big Ten Network. I would have preferred that it be Woody Hayes, Archie Griffin, or Chic Harley (who wasn’t even included!), but I can’t complain too much about the choice of Grange. I’m just glad it wasn’t Bo Sklembachlor or Tom Osborne (since the BTN is so dead set on trying to convince the world that all of Nebraska and Penn State’s histories are relevant to Big Ten fans).

Harold Edward “Red” Grange was born in Forksville, Pennsylvania in 1903, but his family moved to Wheaton, Illinois when he was five. He was a high school, college, and pro football star, commentator, and some time actor. The day after his final college football game (against Ohio State) he and player/coach George Halas agreed terms for a contract with the Chicago Bears. Apparently he did alright for himself, but I’m more concerned with his school days.

After being a four sport star at Wheaton High School, earning 16 varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball, and track, he enrolled at the University of Illinois with the intention of competing only in basketball and track. He scored three touchdowns against Nebraska in his first game for the Illini, who went on to go undefeated and win the 1923 national championship – as did Fielding Yost’s Michigan team, since the teams didn’t play each other in that year’s Big Ten schedule. They did play in 1924 though, and every Buckeye should be a Red Grange fan for what he did to the defending national champion Wolverines in Memorial Stadium’s opening game. First, he returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. Then, he scored on a 67 yard run, again on a 56 yard run, and again on a 44 yard run, all in the game’s first 12 minutes. Those four touchdowns equaled the amount of touchdowns that Michigan had allowed during the entirety of the previous two seasons. He then sat out the second quarter (showing more mercy than the ugly northerners deserved), then returned for another touchdown run and passed for a sixth. One must assume that the mercy rule was enacted because the game ended 39-14. Grange’s 402-yard outburst was more than enough to give the sun and blue their first loss since the 1921 Ohio State game in Ann Arbor. ESPN and others claim that this game inspired Grantland Rice to give him the nickname “The Galloping Ghost”, but Grange said that Chicago sportswriter Warren Brown came up with the name. Rice did call him a “gray ghost” in a description of the 1924 game with Michigan. Also after this game, the Chicago Tribune said, “They knew he was coming; they saw him start; he made no secret of his direction; he was in their midst, and he was gone!” In the 20 games he played for Illinois, he ran for 3,362 yards, received for 253, and threw for 575.

Kickoff return TD vs Michigan

But back to Wheaton High School. In his junior year he scored 36 touchdowns while his team went undefeated. In his senior year his team only lost one game. In that game, a 39-0 loss to Toledo’s Scott High School, Grange was knocked out and remained unconscious for two days. Such is the power of Toledo. That Scott High School team was chosen by the National Sports News Service as the national champion. Take that, Illinois!

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