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Grange gallops into status of legends

In one day against Michigan, the Illini's star cements his spot in the public consciousness.

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 27, 1999


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Michigan shut out five of its eight opponents in 1924, giving up 54 points in the entire college football season. Thirty-nine of those points were scored by Illinois on Oct. 18 when the Illini dedicated their new stadium.

And 30 of those 39 points were scored by Red Grange.

Those 30 points came on five touchdown runs. He also passed for a touchdown.

Coach Bob Zuppke rested Grange in the fourth quarter -- after the Galloping Ghost had amassed 402 total yards.

You can't place all the success of the National Football League at Grange's feet. But those feet helped popularize the pro game in an era when college campuses were football's strongholds. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Grange was football's Babe Ruth, its Jack Dempsey, its Bill Tilden, a 24-karat star in the Golden Age of Sports.

The day against Michigan was special even before the kickoff. It was the day the Illini dedicated Memorial Stadium.

The kickoff wasn't bad, either. It landed in Grange's hands at the Illinois 5-yard line. Ninety-five kickoff-return yards later Grange was in the Michigan end zone.

The next time he carried the ball, he ran 67 yards for a TD.

The third carry, 56 yards for his third touchdown.

The fourth touchdown came on his sixth carry, 44 yards on a reverse.

In 12 minutes he had run for 265 yards and four TDs, then he sat out the rest of the first half.

He returned in the third quarter to run 13 yards for his fifth touchdown, then passed for No. 6 to Marion Leonard in the fourth quarter.

Legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg called it "the most spectacular single-handed performance ever delivered in a major game."

Easterners often had a tendency then to belittle Midwestern teams. So the next year the Illini visited unbeaten, untied Pennsylvania and made believers out of a crowd of 70,000.

Grange scored from 56 yards the first time he got the ball, then returned a kickoff for a score and added two more TDs after that. Illinois won 24-2; Grange scored every point.

Grange's No. 77 was retired after his three All-America seasons. He joined Illinois alumnus George Halas' Chicago Bears when the NFL was in its infancy and struggling for legitimacy.

A $5,000 contract was considered generous then. Grange signed for $100,000 plus a percentage of the gate.

A crowd of 10,000 was considered good in those days. The barnstorming Bears broke attendance records everywhere they played, including 66,000 in New York's Polo Grounds when they played the Giants.

Grange, as much as anyone, was responsible for the early success -- and perhaps the survival -- of the NFL.


-- Information from the University of Illinois media guide was used in this report.

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