Seeing "Red" on Thanksgiving
The tradition of NFL football on Thanksgiving Day is as old as the league itself. In fact, in 1920, the league’s inaugural season, the Decatur Staleys (now known as the Chicago Bears) and several other teams played games on Thanksgiving. Albeit, some played non-league teams and the results didn’t count in the league standings. However, they’re still, if you will, “firsts.”
Obviously, since then there have been some really great Turkey Day games. But, the most “significant” in my humble opinion goes back to 1925 when the upstart NFL was still struggling for an identity and searching for some “star-power” to take it to the next level. Enter Illinois halfback Red Grange, the then-biggest name in college football.
On November 21, following his final collegiate game, Grange announced he was turning pro and joining the Chicago Bears. The announcement made the Bears and the NFL the toast of the town. They had the big-name player they desperately needed and it was headline news across the country.
Joining Grange at his signing announcement were George Halas and Dutch Sternaman, the Bears co-owners and Charles C. Pyle, better known as “Cash and Carry” Pyle who was introduced as Grange’s manager. You can make the argument that Pyle was pro football’s first player agent.
Here’s what the four agreed to. A contract was signed between the Bears’ co-owners and Pyle, who then entered in to a contract with Grange. Since Grange technically still had college eligibility, it was better that he sign a contract with the promoter than an NFL team. But in reality, it was just semantics. The agreement was that Grange would finish out the Bears 1925 season that still had six games remaining.
Grange’s first game as a pro was just five days after his final collegiate game and on Thanksgiving Day against the Chicago Cardinals. It couldn’t get much bigger than that, Chicago rivals, Thanksgiving Day and the “Galloping Ghost” Red Grange.
Of course, Halas, Sternaman and Pyle knew that with Grange in the lineup, there were new opportunities. Immediately the Cardinals as well as the other five teams scheduled to play the Bears were informed that their previously agreed to terms were no longer applicable. With Grange as a draw and the resulting added attendance, the Bears and Pyle wanted and got a bigger cut of the proceeds. But let’s face it, their opponents really didn’t mind. They too reaped the benefits of the Superstar’s presence. Halas, Sternaman and Pyle also notified two of the scheduled opponents – the Frankford Yellow Jackets and the Providence Steam Roller – they’d have to find larger venues to host their games. And they did.
As for the Thanksgiving Day game, it drew a sellout crowd of 36,000 fans, the largest gathering for an NFL game to date. For his part, Grange rushed for 36 yards, had 56 yards on punt returns and intercepted a Cardinals pass near the Bears goal line thus stopping their most serious scoring threat. The game ended in a 0-0 tie. Now, I did say that this was the most “significant” Thanksgiving Day Game, not necessarily the most exciting. More importantly than his play that day, Grange’s debut was the start of a 10-game whirlwind end to the 1925 season. In addition to the already scheduled six NFL opponents, Pyle managed to squeeze in more paydays with four additional exhibition games.
A police escort was neccesary to get Grange through the crowd following his pro debut with the Bears on Thanksgiving.
The most important game of the Grange odyssey, however, and one of the most important in NFL history, occurred on December 6. That’s when the Grange-led Bears played the New York Giants. You see, the Giants were finishing out their inaugural NFL season buried in red ink. However, the 70,000 fans that filled New York’s Polo Grounds just to get a glimpse of the living-legend Grange, provided gate receipts enough to turn Giants owner Tim Mara’s red ink black. It also convinced the somewhat reluctant owner to stay the course and not abandon his pro football venture, something he’d been considering. One New York newspaper reported that Grange’s “growing fame drew almost one hundred reporters, from papers as far West as St. Louis, to the Polo Grounds to cover his playing and send out the news to millions.”
So, let’s recap. The signing of Grange provided the Bears and the NFL with a marquee player; generated publicity like the NFL had never experienced; drove up attendance; generated big gate receipts for struggling teams, and solidified a franchise in the most important of all markets, New York City. Not too shabby.
Oh, and the fun didn’t end with the conclusion of the Bears 1925 regular season. After a two-week rest and recovery period, Grange and the Bears were back on the road as the stars of barnstorming exhibition tour created by Pyle. The tour began on Christmas Day in Coral Gables, Florida, followed by games in Tampa, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco and ended with two-game swing in Portland and Seattle. And, in case you didn’t notice every one of those cities with the exception of Portland and Los Angeles, are now members of the NFL. And even that looks to be changing soon.
NFL President Joe Carr, during his report to the owners following the 1925 season stated that “Thousands upon thousands of people were attracted to their first game of professional football through a curiosity to see Grange in action, and many became profound advocates.” Pretty significant, I’d say. And it all began on Thanksgiving Day, 1925.
Super Bowl Rematch Update
Each week in my blog, I update the results of the Super Bowl rematches taken place throughout the season leading up to Super Bowl 50. Here they are through Week 10.
|WEEK||DATE||TEAMS||SB MEETING||SB Rematch Results|
|1||Sept. 13||Miami at Washington||SB VII - Miami 14, Washington 7; XVII - Washington 27, Miami 17||Miami, 17 at Washington, 10|
|2||Sept. 21||New York Jets at Indianapolis||SB III - New York Jets 16, Baltimore 7||New York Jets, 20 at Indianapolis, 7|
|3||Sept. 27||Pittsburgh at St. Louis||SB XIV - Pittsburgh 31, Los Angeles 19||Pittsburgh, 12 at St. Louis Rams, 6|
|3||Sept. 28||Kansas City at Green Bay||SB I - Green Bay 35, Kansas City 10||Kansas City, 28 at Green Bay, 38|
|4||Oct. 4||New York Giants at Buffalo||SB XXV - New York Giants 20, Buffalo 19||New York Giants, 24 at Buffalo, 10|
|6||Oct. 18||Baltimore at San Francisco||SB XLVII - Baltimore 34, San Francisco 31||Baltimore, 20 at San Francisco, 25|
|6||Oct. 18||Arizona at Pittsburgh||SB XLIII - Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23||Arizona, 13 at Pittsburgh, 25|
|6||Oct. 18||Kansas City at Minnesota||SB IV - Kansas City 23, Minnesota 7||Kansas City, 10 at Minnesota, 16|
|7||Oct. 25||New Orleans at Indianapolis||SB XLIV - New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17||New Orleans, 27 at Indianapolis, 21|
|8||Nov. 1||Green Bay at Denver||SB XXXII - Denver 31, Green Bay 24||Green Bay, 10 at Denver, 29|
|10||Nov. 15||Minnesota at Oakland||SB XI - Oakland 32, Minnesota 14||Minnesota, 30 at Oakland, 14|
|10||Nov. 15||New England at New York Giants||SB XLII - New York Giants 17, New England 14; XLVI - New York Giants 21, New England 17||New England, 27 at New York Giants, 26|
|11||Nov. 22||Dallas at Miami||SB VI - Dallas 24, Miami 3||Cowboys, 24 at Miami, 14|
|12||Nov. 29||Pittsburgh at Seattle||SB XL - Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10||TBD|
|13||Dec. 6||Philadelphia at New England||SB XXXIX - New England 24, Philadelphia 21||TBD|
|15||Dec. 20||Buffalo at Washington||SB XXVI - Washington 37, Buffalo 24||TBD|
|15||Dec. 20||Green Bay at Oakland||SB II - Green Bay 33, Oakland 14||TBD|
|15||Dec. 20||Cincinnati at San Francisco||SB XVI - San Francisco 26, Cincinnati 21; XXIII - San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16||TBD|
|16||Dec. 27||Dallas at Buffalo||SB XXVII - Dallas 52, Buffalo 17; XXVIII - Dallas 30, Buffalo 13||TBD|
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