by Bryan Dietzler
This is a question that so many people ask time and again. Who is the best player in NFL history? With 100 years’ worth of players available to choose from, this becomes difficult. There were so many great players that have and continue to fill the ranks of the NFL. Who was the one that meant the most to the league? Who had that winning spirit and not only won but helped the league out as well?
Most people who know me know me as being a fan of the Chicago Bears but I want to let you know that I am not being biased when I tell you which former player I think is the greatest to ever play the game. A lot of thought went into this and after all the thinking, reading, researching and work, I decided that former Chicago Bears’ great Red Grange is the best player in professional football history.
Perhaps “best” is not the right word to describe Grange. The words “interesting” or perhaps “most-valuable” could be better used to describe what Grange had done for football. I know that many fans out there don’t realize the impact that Grange had on the Bears and the NFL so here is a little history lesson about Grange and his history in the league.
The NFL was a fledgling organization in the 1920s. People were not turning out in the masses then that they turn out for games today. The league was on the brink of extinction and Chicago Bears owner George Halas realized this. He had to do something to help get the league in front of more people drumming up more interest and revenue in the process. But what could he do? What was it that would help turn the fortunes of the league around and bring more people to it?
In college, Grange was the biggest star of the day. The University of Illinois product, also known as the Galloping Ghost, was the best player in the nation and everyone knew it. He was an all-star and he helped make college football, which was already popular, even more, popular in the eyes of America.
C.C. Pyle was a man who was out to make a little money and he saw something in Grange that could not only help himself out but help the NFL out as well. He got together with George Halas and Edward Sternaman and organized what would be known as a “barnstorming tour” which would take the Bears across the country having them play teams from different areas. Pyle and Grange would get half of the gate income while the Bears would get the other half.
How could you lose?
After he completed his senior season, Grange went on to officially sign with the Chicago Bears. This was not without some contention however as other teams made their bid but he stuck it out and went with the Bears. His decision was not taken lightly especially by those in college football. They didn’t like professional football. They didn’t care that much for the fact that it wasn’t as good as college football and was pay for play.
The contract that Grange signed with the Bears ended up earning him $100,000 which was a lot for that time especially when players were making much less (some players made under $100 a game).
The barnstorming tour would begin with Grange’s first game, this one against the Chicago Cardinals. The teams would battle to a scoreless tie but Grange rushed for 92 yards and had an interception. He continued playing against teams like the Frankford Yellow Jackets and the Providence Steam Rollers. Along the way, he shined putting up strong numbers helping the Bears win several games.
You would figure, with so many games packed into such a short period that injuries would be a problem and as it turned out they were. Grange had a few injuries that caused him not to play up to his stellar standards and even upset some people playing injured. Of course, playing injured hurt his performance and people did not like to see a “less than 100 percent” Grange. So, he took a lot of flack for it.
Grange was the biggest reason that the fans were flocking to these games and when your star gets hurt, you might take a hit. Grange was lost in their game against a group from Pittsburgh as he suffered a serious injury to his arm. The Bears were forced to cancel their final game of that tour due to all of the injuries. Grange missed the next game as well. Additional games were played and Grange missed those games. The Bears lost them (which showed just how important Grange was to the team and their chances of winning).
The team got a little smarter when it came to its next tour. They decided to take a week’s break in between each game to help their players rest and recover.
Grange, once again, led the way and saw some ups and downs in the next portion of the barnstorming tour. But it didn’t matter whether he did well or not, the purpose of the barnstorming tour was being met.
Professional football had been shown to America and America was loving it.
The tour had a huge impact on professional football. By getting it out there in front of so many people and having them see what professional football was all about, they had accomplished their goals. Sure, there had been some ups and downs but they had accomplished the goal. They got professional football in front of the country and keeping it going.
Without the tour and Grange, the NFL might not exist as it does today.
Thanks to Granges’ being well known, the country turned out in droves to see the newly formed NFL play. He (and it) helped saved professional football.
Without Grange, we might be talking about something different today. Therefore, Grange is truly the greatest or perhaps the most interesting player in NFL history.