In the early 1920s, George Halas was desperately seeking a special gate attraction to help draw attention not only to his Chicago Bears team but also to the National Football League as a whole. University of Illinois running back Harold "Red" Grange, who ran with ghostlike speed and elusiveness, seemed to be the answer.
Although college stars rarely turned to pro football in those days, Halas and his partner Dutch Sternaman pondered just how much Grange could do for their team. Grange, who worked as an ice deliveryman during his college summers agreed to play for the Bears.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1925, just 10 days after Grange's last college game, 36,600 filled Cubs Park (now know as Wrigley Field) to see Red's pro debut against the Chicago Cardinals. Ten days later more than 70,000 packed New York's Polo Grounds to see Red and the Bears take on the New York Giants.
Sensing that a rare opportunity was at hand, Grange's agent, C. C. "Cash and Carry" Pyle, Halas and Sternaman, lined up an exhausting “barnstorming tour” of the country winning thousands of new fans for pro football. When Pyle and the Bears ownership couldn’t agree on terms for the 1926 season, Pyle formed a rival American Football League with a team in New York called the Yankees that featured Grange.
While the Yankees had moderate success, the rest of the league failed. Pyle was allowed to move his team into the NFL in 1927 but Grange suffered a crippling knee injury during a game against the Bears. "l didn't play at all in 1928,"Grange remembers. "l was just an ordinary ball-carrier after that. I did develop into a pretty good defensive back, however."
Halas invited Grange back to the Bears in 1929 and he remained with them through the 1934 season. In the 1933 NFL Championship Game, Grange was a defensive hero with a difficult touchdown-saving tackle in the final seconds.