From the Publisher
"The valuable part of the narrative is a story that many sports fans will not know, or at least know only in outline—namely, the increasing blurring of sports figure and cultural celebrity in the Depression era, especially once Hollywood began to recruit sports stars to turn up in all sorts of B-list productions. That blurring, after all, is what defines sports figures today, and Grange was an indisputable pioneer . . . A useful character study of a figure often overlooked today." Kirkus Reviews
"Puts Grange's great career in the context of its colorful time... Pays worthy tribute to a legend." Booklist, ALA
"Poole is eminently readable, and the accent on Pyle is a real bonus." Library Journal
"A lively, well-written biography of this towering figure. Grange revolutionized the game on the field and his business manager, C.C. Pyle, revolutionized it off it." -- Orange County Register
"...reveals how the game is played on the field, and how it resonates in the wider world." The Washington Post
"[Poole] recounts the rise and tragic fall of the first national star of the gridiron. Poole also lays bare the complex relationship between a prominent athlete and the nation's first real sports agent." -- (Chicago) Sun-Times News Group
"Poole gives us the first major biography of Grange." -- Time Out Chicago
"Football wasn't truly football until the coming of Red Grange" -- Chicago Magazine
Poole's biography of seminal 1920s football legend Red Grange draws inevitable comparison to John M. Carroll's fine Red Grange and the Rise of Modern Football(1999). Carroll's book was more academically oriented and allotted more attention to Grange's postfootball life. Poole takes more of a journalistic approach and devotes special focus to Grange's manager, duplicitous showman C.C. Pyle, in depicting Grange and the world gone by in which he starred. Poole is eminently readable, and the accent on Pyle is a real bonus. Even libraries with Carroll's work should welcome this new biography of a giant in American sports and pop culture.
Serviceable biography of the legendary player who, writes debut author Poole, was the "one man who could be considered the founding father of our football culture."Make that our big-media, big-money sports culture generally. Red Grange, renowned beginning in the 1920s for breakaway, full-field runs that gave his version of the game the appearance of rugby, was football's Babe Ruth. He may have been slightly cleaner-living and certainly more photogenic, but he was also just as deeply implicated in the transformation of a backlot, democratic game into a machine that could make considerable fortunes for a few lucky players and owners. Matched with an unscrupulous manager, Grange was soon at the pinnacle of the system; by 1928, Poole reckons, he was earning more than $3.4 million per year "in an era when athletes were not highly compensated." Confronted with owners who wouldn't see things his way, he also cooked up a wildcat league that, for various reasons, wound up diminishing his reputation while strengthening the regular league "because more skilled professional players were now available, making the NFL game fundamentally faster and better played." Cause and effect here and elsewhere is a little sketchy, and Poole's prose is a bit clunky ("Red could not have hidden his pain, his thoughts about the inevitable, the future. Red needed a knee specialist. He needed rest."). But the valuable part of the narrative is a story that many sports fans will not know, or at least know only in outline-namely, the increasing blurring of sports figure and cultural celebrity in the Depression era, especially once Hollywood began to recruit sports stars to turn up in all sorts of B-list productions. Thatblurring, after all, is what defines sports figures today, and Grange was an indisputable pioneer. Indifferently written, but a useful character study of a figure often overlooked today. Agent: Michelle Tessler/Tessler Literary Agency
Read an Excerpt
The bears were exchanging the brutal Midwest winter for palm trees. The second leg, the southern swing, of the barnstorming tour had begun. Thirty players, managers, coaches, trainers, and hangers-on were in the Floridian, escaping a raging snowstorm. Wanting to make amends, Charlie had scheduled fewer games, provided two sets of jerseys, and booked first-class accommodations on the Pullman. Despite the more livable conditions, Red was still ignoring the signs from his most important asset, his body. He convinced himself he was ready to go again; the ten days’ rest, along with daily treatments under powerful heat lamps, had softened Red’s arm. The warmer climes would cure him, too, he hoped. Realistically, he needed at least three months to heal. No one was discouraging him from playing. Certainly not George Halas, who was actually making money for once and could feel the momentum of the public shift every time Red Grange stepped on the field alongside his Bears. And Charlie guaranteed that the second part of the barnstorming tour would be like a vacation.
And it was in this way, the buzz saw of Red’s popularity pushing them, that Red and Charlie went forward.
The first stop would be Coral Gables, Florida, where they would play on December 25, 1925. Charlie had tried to get even more games. They were supposed to have a few contests in the South — Georgia, Alabama, maybe even Cuba — but no one in those states or the island nation could come up with the money. Promoters were always coming to Charlie and promising that they would give him a percentage of the gate, but Charlie wanted his cash up front. He was very particular on this matter. The newspapermen made note of it and started calling Charlie "Cold Cash" Pyle, or "Cash ’n’ Carry" Pyle, a moniker that he loved. "Little do they know," Charlie told Liberty magazine, "how they flatter me." Well, the Coral Gables people did come up with some money, so "Red Grange’s Chicago Bears" would have a relaxing three-thousand-mile trip south where they would play on Christmas, then go to Tampa and Jacksonville (if those two communities came up with the cold cash), and then swing over to New Orleans, up to Los Angeles, Frisco, Portland, and Seattle. Along with some additional acolytes and Clem, the porter, who would serve the Bears the entire journey, Halas and Pyle signed some more players. They were trying to make the second leg less of a torture fest, and Red’s presence was attracting existing pros as well as college stars. They brought in Roy Lyman, Nebraska tackle, who had played with the Cleveland and Philadelphia pro teams; Richard "Dutch" Vick, former Michigan quarterback and more recently a member of the Detroit Panther eleven; and Harold "Swede" Erickson, former Washington and Jefferson back and a dandy passer who starred with the Chicago Cardinals. Michigan’s Paul Goebel, a six-foot-five All-American, captain of the 1922 Wolverines, was charged with blowing open the ends for Grange. "He came across as somewhat austere and intimidating but he was a true gentle giant," recalled his granddaughter Meg Goebel. Goebel was an excellent teammate — Michigan great Bennie Oosterbaan said "he always thought twice before doing anything for himself " — and the tall Teuton could buckle the knees of the opposition. In the first leg of the tour, Goebel played for Columbus and he had been so dominant that the Bears avoided his side of the line the entire game. Years later the blue-eyed Paul, who had served in World War I, would reenlist for World War II, earning the Bronze Star.
In Coral Gables, Grange experienced the insanity of the 1920s land rush. "Don’t go to Florida," he would later warn friends, "even if you are invited on an excursion with all expenses paid and free money in your pocket." The Midwest seemed to be descending en masse on the Florida swamps. The Bears went to the field where they could smell the bare earth and freshly sawed planks. But where were the stands? Within forty-eight hours, workers constructed the bleachers for twenty-five thousand seats of a makeshift stadium. Pyle priced 50-yard-line box seats at $19.80, and he had plenty of takers.
The players’ heavy boots, once wet from tramping in the mud, were now light and cracking, their uniform sweaters clean. Paul Goebel played his typical he-man game, destroying the opposing end and letting Grange get off his flying runs. The Galloping Ghost’s touchdown came in the second period, when, after a 33-yard sprint around end, he was given the ball on the 2-yard line and in two attempts went through center for the score. Grange played three full periods, and in the closing moments he gave the crowd another thriller, racing 45 yards, and had eluded the Coral Gables barrier when Red Barron, former Georgia Tech star, pulled him down. The Bears beat the Coral Gables Collegians 7–0.
Red seemed to be back in form; at least there were moments when people were offered a glimpse of his excellence. But underneath it all his athletic ability wasn’t the same. It was an experiment gone wrong. Red always had great vision on the field. He could detect the future movements of all the players. He still had the vision but he wasn’t always reacting quite as quickly because he had played eleven pro games in thirty days. Before the barnstorming tour he had played a seven-game college schedule. Red had played eighteen games over a three-month period. He played offense and defense, and he took the brunt of the cheap shots. He still had eight games to go.
On New Year’s Day the Bears faced off in Tampa against Jim Thorpe, one of America’s greatest athletes. Thorpe, a Sac and Fox Indian, was an Olympic gold medalist in the pentathlon and decathlon, played major league baseball, and starred in college and professional football, perhaps his greatest sport. Thorpe’s trainwreck speed once mowed over Dwight Eisenhower, inflicting the future president with a knee injury.
Thorpe was one of the founding fathers of professional football, its first attraction, and the league’s inaugural president. He had even been in the Canton Hupmobile showroom in 1920 when the league was formed and helped give the league some credibility. But Thorpe was unfairly tainted. He had violated his amateur status by playing minor league baseball to earn a little pocket money and as a result had to surrender his track medals from the 1912 Olympic Games. Thorpe was a draw, but he was an Indian and all that that meant to the wider American public, and Thorpe never had a C. C. Pyle in his corner. About Thorpe the Pittsburgh Dispatch once reported: "This person Thorpe was a host in himself. Tall and sinewy, as quick as a flash and as powerful as a turbine engine, he appeared to be impervious to injury." Thorpe still had a regal presence from the faraway stands and on the field he was a relentless trash talker — "Let’s give ’em a show, let ol’ Jim run" — and if a tackler didn’t let him by he would drive his hip and shoulder into him, often knocking men cold, once demolishing Knute Rockne in a charity game. But Thorpe was almost forty and on the downside. Age and drink were hobbling him, and he was getting cut from every legitimate team he tried out for. Jim, probably the greatest athlete of all time, was becoming a novelty act. Grange would never have Thorpe’s world-class speed and he was tired. But on one of Grange’s touchdown runs, he bowled over the cirrhotic Thorpe. It was now Grange’s world.