Don't let facts tarnish the Red Grange myth Pro career was less than a runaway hit


February 03, 1991|By VITO STELLINO

It's often difficult to separate myth from reality in pro football's distant past.

Red Grange proved that.

When he died last week, most of the obituaries noted that he helped popularize pro football in a tour he made with the Chicago Bears in 1925 after his senior season at the University of Illinois.

The facts are somewhat different.

A book published last fall by Washington writers Dan Daly and Bob O'Donnell titled, "The Pro Football Chronicle," pointed out the reality of the tour doesn't quite match the the myth, and that Grange's pro career wasn't as storied as his college career.

Although Grange drew 65,000 at the Polo Grounds in New York and 75,000 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the book points out that the rest of the tour (there were actually two tours, one of eight games and another of nine) wasn't a rousing success. He drew only about 5,000 fans in Washington, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and New Orleans.

He also took a beating on the tour, scoring only seven touchdowns in the 17 games (four in one game against a hastily organized team in St. Louis) and was booed in some cities.

In Washington, he gained 11 yards in eight carries. The promoter lost money, prompting The Washington Post to report the game "settled for all time the moot question as to whether the Capital City fans will support professional football."

In Los Angeles, he was out-rushed by an All-American named George "Wildcat" Wilson, 118-33.

The Pittsburgh Press reported, "Grange Fails to Provide a Single Thrill."

This was the man who made pro football?

What he and George Halas, the coach of the Bears, made was a lot of money capitalizing on his name because they had contract guarantees.

The next year, when Halas wouldn't meet his demands, Grange helped found his own league. It folded after a year and he returned to the National Football League in 1927, suffered a knee injury and never was the same as a runner.

To compare him to a modern player, he was like Herschel Walker signing with the United States Football League in 1983. Walker got a lot of money and publicity, but couldn't stop the league from folding.

Pro football struggled for almost two decades after Grange departed.

What eventually made pro football was not Grange, but television.

But there's no point in even trying to puncture the myth. It's too embedded into the American sports psyche to disprove now. Anyway, it's a better story than the reality.

Bill Walsh decided he didn't want to compete with his own legend.

Despite an unbelievable offer from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- one report was that it was worth $2 million a year -- Walsh turned it down last week to stay in broadcasting with NBC, which also decided to let him run a quarterback camp in the off-season. The network refused to let him run it last year.

The major factor, though, was Walsh's feeling that he has nothing left to prove. If he were to be successful, it would be expected. If he weren't, he'd have to live with the suggestion that he couldn't do it without Joe Montana.

Walsh's decision to bypass the Bucs left them scrambling for a coach. Among the candidates are former Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, New York Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, Miami Dolphins assistant coach Gary Stevens and Richard Williamson, who finished out the season as the Bucs' head coach after Ray Perkins was fired.

Ryan hasn't changed a bit since being fired by the Eagles. After being interviewed by Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse, he called it an "excellent" interview.

"I'm sure I'm a strong candidate," he said.

Ryan also promised he won't change his style.

"If he hires me, I'm going to have the final word on everything, just like I did in Philadelphia," he said.

Culverhouse may well decide he doesn't want Ryan to have the final word.

If Ryan doesn't get the job, he'd have to settle for an assistant coach's job this year.

He's not a candidate in Cleveland, where Belichick and Mike White, the Los Angeles Raiders' assistant, are the top two choices.

White was considered the favorite last week in Cleveland, but the Giants' defensive performance in the Super Bowl gave Belichick a boost.

The Bucs and Browns are expected to make final decisions this week.


There will be a two-week break between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl next year.

Don't be surprised, though, if the league cuts it to one week after the 1992 season.

Not only will the league be going to an 18-week season that year with two byes for each team, but there's also a feeling the two-week break may have contributed to some of the blowouts in the past because teams had too much time to get caught up in the hype.

The league has played the Super Bowl three times with only a one-week break and all three were fairly close games: the Kansas City Chiefs' 23-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV, the Washington Redskins' 27-17 victory over the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII and the Giants' 20-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills last week.

The league showed last week it doesn't need two weeks to stage the game. The biggest problem last Sunday was simply getting all the fans in the stadium because of the worries about security. The security finally had to be relaxed when it became obvious the fans might be standing outside in lines at the opening kickoff.

Since there were no threats made against the game and no terrorist attacks anywhere in the United States, much less at a sporting event, it's now obvious the NFL got a bit carried away with the security at the game.

The big loser may have been the Tampa Chamber of Commerce because all the hype about security didn't do much for the city's image.

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