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Before the Super Bowl, before Monday Night Football, even before the NFL, there was Red Grange. Catapulted into the public eye in 1924 by scoring four touchdowns in twelve minutes for the University of Illinois, the "Galloping Ghost" went on to a trailblazing career as a professional player, star of Hollywood films, and broadcaster. He, Babe Ruth, and Jack Dempsey were among the nation's most heralded figures during the "golden age of sport" of the 1920s, and he was also on the cover of Sports Illustrated when that magazine did a special issue in 1991 on the greatest moments in sports.
John Carroll depicts the career of this soft-spoken pioneer who helped lift pro football about its reputation as "a dirty little business run by rogues and bargain-basement entrepreneurs." A reluctant celebrity and folk hero, Red Grange throughout his life symbolized older, more rural American values. He was an unpretentious self-made individual who made his mark in a society increasingly controlled by machines, vast corporations, and stifling bureaucracies. His story is an essential element in understanding football's central place in American culture.
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Red Grange was one of the certified heroes of an era that produced the anchors to any sporting hall of fame--Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Bill Tilden, Bobby Jones--but Red Grange and the Rise of Modern Football is no simple exercise in hero-worship. A professor of history at Lamar University, John M. Carroll works to put Grange in perspective against the backdrop of an amazing era--the '20s--and tackle the Galloping Ghost's myth. Still, in Grange's case, the myth remains awfully impressive.
A true superstar, Grange was a reluctant idol, letting his actions speak for him. In an era before big athletic scholarships, Grange paid for his education by delivering ice in the summer, a job that made him stronger than most of the defense men he'd regularly bowl over. As a junior at Illinois, Grange secured his legend with an inconceivable performance against Michigan, running for four touchdowns in the first 12 minutes. Before the final gun sounded--Carroll recounts this, and other games in glorious detail--Grange had added a fifth score on the ground, passed for a sixth, racked up a ridiculous 402 rushing yards on the day, and cemented his reputation. Post college, his all-American drawing power and singular brilliance on the field virtually saved the struggling young NFL; Carroll is quite thorough in his examination of the fledgling league and its odor of "a dirty little business run by rogues." Yet, despite all the fame and celebrity, a flirtation with Hollywood, and a respected post-playing career in the radio booth and various businesses, Grange never escaped his heartland unpretentiousness; he always seemed to know who he was and how he got that way. "I could run," he once said, "and that was the basis of any success I ever had." Because he ran so well, of course, that success evolved into a full-blown legend worthy of Carroll's scrupulous and absorbing examination. --Jeff SilvermanAbout the Author:
John M. Carroll is Regents' Professor of History at Lamar University.
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