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Harold "Red" Grange - Turns Heads By Turning Pro

Famous Sports StarsFootballHarold "Red" Grange Biography - All-around Athlete, Coaxed To The Gridiron, Fateful Michigan Game, Chronology, Goes Out In Style - SELECTED WRITINGS BY GRANGE:

Turns Heads by Turning Pro

Grange shocked many supporters and fans, including Zuppke, when, following the conclusion of the Ohio State game, he announced he would be leaving the University of Illinois and turning pro. The next day he signed a contract with the National Football League's Chicago Bears. While such announcements are commonplace in sports today, in Grange's day they were anything but and his decision generated widespread controversy. The following year, in response to the negative publicity accompanying Grange's move, NFL officials passed a rule prohibiting the signing of a college player until after he had graduated. "In 1925 Grange's decision touched off a national debate," wrote Benjamin Rader in American Sports. "By abandoning his studies for a blatantly commercial career, he openly flaunted the myth of the college athlete as a gentleman-amateur who played merely for the fun of the game and the glory of his school." Grange himself put it more succinctly. "I'd have been more popular with the colleges if I had joined Capone's mob in Chicago rather than the Bears," he said.

Awards and Accomplishments

1923-25 All-American Team
1924 First Chicago Tribune Silver Football Award for Big Ten MVP
1925 Number 77 Illinois jersey retired
1931-32 All-Pro Team
1951 Charter member, College Football Hall of Fame
1963 Charter member, Professional Football Hall of Fame

Related Biography: Sports Agent Charles C. Pyle

While Red Grange's announcement that he would turn pro surprised many in the sports world, the move was actually some time in the making. The man behind Grange's deal with the fledgling National Football League's Chicago Bears was Charles C. "Cash and Carry" Pyle, a Champaign, Illinois theater owner and promoter. While Grange did not break any collegiate rules, Pyle began negotiating with the Chicago Bears while Grange continued to make headlines at the University of Illinois. By the day of his fateful announcement, the deal was ready to be inked.

Grange's entry into the NFL moved Pyle into the big time, too. Pyle was instrumental in scheduling the Bears' numerous exhibition games and, as Grange's agent, he secured his client several endorsement deals and even two movie roles. After Grange's debut season in the NFL, Pyle and his client defected, forming their own, short-lived American Football League.

While working with Grange, Pyle also brought other unsigned athletes into the professional ranks, including tennis star Suzanne Lenglen. Pyle also launched a 3,485-mile race across the United States which came to be called the Bunion Derby. Peopled by both professionals such as English hundred-miler Arthur Newton and Estonian marathoner Juri Lossman, and eccentrics like a Hindu philosopher who chanted as he jogged and an Italian runner who raced singing arias, the 1928 event ended up a virtual bust, despite Grange's promotional assistance. The second, and last, race in 1929, left Pyle temporarily bankrupt.

When Grange's contract with Pyle expired in 1928 the football star elected not to renew. The split appeared to be amicable, with Grange later remarking that Pyle was "the greatest sports impressario the world has ever known." Grange went on to promote Chicago's Century of Progress Fair and start a radio transcription company. Pyle died in Los Angeles in 1939 at the age of 56. His exploits were documented in a play, C.C. Pyle and the Bunion Derby, written by Tony Award-winner Michael Cristofer and directed by Paul Newman.

Grange was one of the first professional athletes playing a team sport to have an agent. Charles C. "Cash

Harold "Red" Grange

and Carry" Pyle, a Champaign, Illinois, theater owner and promoter, negotiated Grange's deal with the Bears, which landed him $100,000 and a percentage of the revenue from the gate.

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