The National Football League was in its infancy in 1925 and in desperate need of a major gate attraction. The league’s wishes were granted on Thanksgiving Day as the introduced their newest member – “The Galloping Ghost.”
Just days after his collegiate career ended, a standing-room crowd of 36,000 – the largest in pro football history at the time – packed Wrigley Field to get a glimpse of Harold “Red” Grange in action. Although the Bears and cross-town rival Chicago Cardinals played to 0-0 tie, the NFL had its first bona fide star.
Grange played respectably in his professional debut as the crowd, and the Cardinals, keyed on the famous player. In fact the crowd booed whenever the play was not directed toward Grange. Aside from gaining a black eye, Grange totaled 92 yards from scrimmage, added 56 yards on punt returns, threw six passes and had an interception to break up the Cardinals’ only real scoring threat of the day. Newspapers reported that he pulled in an astronomical $12,000 for his day’s work – much of which most likely found its way to his manager, C.C. “Cash and Carry” Pyle.
Over the next several months, Grange and his traveled the country on a barnstorming tour. More than 400,000 spectators – from coast to coast – saw the fabled All-America from the University of Illinois display his athletic talents on the football field.
Using Grange as his star attraction, Pyle organized a rival league called the American Football League in 1926. Grange starred for the New York Yankees. While the Yankees had moderate success, the league failed. Grange rejoined the Bears in 1927 but suffered a serious knee injury that sidelined him through the entire 1928 season. He came back in 1929 and played with Chicago through 1934.
Red Grange signs his pro contract just days after competing in his final collegiate game. Present at the historic signing are Bears co-owners Edward Sternaman and George Halas (left) and Grange's manager C.C. Pyle (right).
In actuality, Grange was a far better defensive back than a ball carrier on offense. More importantly for the NFL, the name recognition of Red Grange was instrumental in attracting large crowds for the professional game. His signing with the Bears helped the league succeed and grow to a new level in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
The game program cover from Red Grange's debut in the National Football League on Thanksgiving Day, 1925.
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