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Grange, Red (1903-1991) | Archival Collections at Wheaton College

Name: Grange, Red (1903-1991)

Historical Note:

Harold "Red" Grange was born in the small logging town of Forksville Pennsylvania on June 13, 1903. His first encounter with sports as a small child also resulted in his first sports injury; Harold tried to imitate the local county fair's pole-vaulters but ended up with two broken ribs instead.

Red (nicknamed after his hair color) moved to Wheaton with his family shortly after his mother died of pneumonia when he was only five years old. Red spent the rest of his childhood in Wheaton with his brother and his father, who served as a policeman and eventually chief of Police in Wheaton.

Red worked extremely hard throughout his childhood and adolescence, supplementing his father’s small policeman salary. For years he rose at five in the morning to feed horses and milk cows before heading off to school, only to come home to more chores in the evening. While in high school and college, Red also worked summers hauling and delivering ice, a job that, Red would later say, "kept my legs and wind in great shape." This job would one day earn him the nickname "The Wheaton Iceman." Later on Red would continue to work hard in college, both to earn the good grades he desired and to earn money to pay for school.

Red first became involved in organized sports in fourth grade, playing basketball for his school and the Boy Scouts. He became an outstanding high school athlete at Wheaton’s Central High School, earning varsity letters in four sports. He won several state track championships in sprinting events – a talent that would later become his greatest asset on the football field.

After high school, Red headed off to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, attending college at the insistence of his father. Interestingly, Red didn’t originally intend to play football in college because he didn’t think he was good enough. He only tried out for the team under threat of a "paddling" from his upperclassman fraternity brothers. Initially placed on the freshman practice team, that arrangement didn’t last long for by the time he was a sophomore Red was a full-fledged star.

Harold would go on to become the premiere running back in all of college football, astounding opponents with his speed and ability to elude tacklers (an ability which would earn him the famous nickname "The Galloping Ghost.") Perhaps his greatest performance was in October 1924, when Red scored six touchdowns (four in the first twelve minutes) against the vaunted University of Michigan defense. The following year Grange left college immediately after his last football game, to begin his professional career with the Chicago Bears. He continued to be a major attraction for national audiences, helping the young National and American Football Leagues gain a foothold in popular culture. Red's football exploits revolutionized the popularity of the sport, and he is still recognized as one of the greatest football players ever.

Red retired from football after a ten-year professional career, although he continued his involvement with football as a coach and broadcaster. In 1963 he became one of the first players inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame. Grange, who was married to his wife Margaret for 50 years, died at the age of 87 on January 28, 1991. Wheaton College is proud to preserve the legacy of Red Grange, a local boy who became a national icon.

Note Author: Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections staff

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