As we eagerly await Super Bowl 50, it’s important to remember the pioneers that paved the way during the NFL’s tenuous early seasons, and today marks the 25th anniversary of the death of an absolute football icon and one of the most pivotal figures in the competition’s rise, Harold ‘Red’ Grange.
Grange, a halfback, put college football on the map with the University of Illinois. He made nationwide headlines for one performance in 1924, in particular, scoring six touchdowns in Illinois’ 39-14 defeat of Michigan in the first-ever match played at Memorial Stadium.
Grange joined the Chicago Bears in 1925, an acquisition that helped legitimise the National Football League as crowds all of the country flocked to see ‘The Galloping Ghost’ in action.
After a dispute with the Bears, Grange left to form his own rival league, the American Football League, and played with the short-lived New York Yankees. The league lasted just one season and Grange eventually returned to Chicago, leading the franchise to consecutive Championships in 1932-33.
In the ’32 Championship game, he caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Bronko Nagurski, and the following year he made a touchdown-saving, title-winning tackle for the Bears.
Grange, regarded as the greatest player of his era, was an original inductee to both the College Football (1951) and Pro Football (1963) Halls of Fame. He was later named in the NFL’s 50th and 75th Anniversary All-Time Teams. In 1978, he became the first person other than the referee to toss the coin at a Super Bowl.
ESPN named Grange the best college football player of all time in 2008, while the Big Ten Network named him as the Greatest Big Ten Icon three years later.
The beloved ‘Red’ passed away in 1991, aged 87.