For the past several decades, sports agents have been the mouthpiece in all things related to their clients.
Whether it is dealing with contracts, endorsements, appearances or clothing deals, agents do the groundwork on behalf of their athletes.
As with any industry, some agents are good at their job and can be counted on to do the best for their clients.
However, there are also the unscrupulous promoters who give the industry a bad name.
Although they are commonplace now, it wasn’t that long ago that agents were viewed as a luxury.
Especially in the early days of the NFL, athletes represented themselves.
Often it was to their detriment as some pro athletes were naive in the matters of business.
One of the earliest known player reps in the NFL was C.C. Pyle.
Pyle spied an opportunity when Red Grange’s eligibility at the University of Illinois was ending in 1925.
Back then, turning pro in football was laughable as the opportunities and pay were better in other industries.
However, Grange was no ordinary athlete.
Happy Birthday Red Grange, Illinois Fighting #Illini. Greatest 12 minutes in history, 262-yds on 4 straight plays, 95-yd KO, runs of 67, 56 & 44 yds vs Mich 10/18/24. College & Pro #HOF. @IlliniFootball @cdwillis83 #Illinois #famILLy22 #CollegeFootball #NCAAFootball @FilmHistoric pic.twitter.com/SVmocOqzcc
— History of College Football (@HistColFootball) June 13, 2021
His skills on the gridiron were largely unmatched and people came from far and wide to see him.
Soon enough, Grange and Pyle were joined at the hip, for better or for worse.
This is the story of Red Grange.
Harold Edward “Red” Grange was born on June 13, 1903 in Forksville, Pennsylvania.
Grange’s father, Lyle, was a lumber foreman and Grange’s mother died when he was five.
For a while, the Granges’ lived with relatives until Lyle found work in Wheaton, Illinois as a police chief.
After moving into a home of their own, Red, his brother Garland and their father settled in together.
The Grange boys mainly looked after themselves as their father worked.
School was a welcome distraction, though Grange didn’t exactly enjoy attending.
“Hated it just like any other kid,” said Grange in “The Galloping Ghost” by Gary Andrew Poole.
Grange did enjoy running and hitting along with anything else athletic-related.
During his time at Wheaton High School, he earned 16 varsity letters in football, track, baseball and basketball.
It was obvious at an early age that Grange was a natural at any sport he tried.
Football was his best sport, however.
When he was a junior, Grange scored no less than 36 touchdowns and led Wheaton to an undefeated season.
As a senior, Grange and Wheaton were heading for another undefeated season when he was knocked out cold during a loss to an Ohio high school.
Grange remained unconscious for two days and had difficulty speaking when he finally awoke.
In his final high school game (the state championship versus Downers Grove) Grange scored 45 points.
That total remains a record to this day.
During his time at Wheaton, Grange scored a total of 75 touchdowns and 532 total points.
Grange also more than held his own as a track and field athlete.
Between 1921 and 1923, Grange won state titles in the high jump, long jump, 100-yard dash, and the 220-yard dash.
Later in life, Grange claimed that he once ran the 100-yard dash in 9.8 seconds, which at the time was just one-fifth of a second from the U.S. and world records.
Life wasn’t all fun and games for Grange.
To help his father make ends meet, Grange took a job as a part-time ice carrier.
— Chicago History ™️ (@Chicago_History) October 19, 2015
The job entailed hauling huge blocks of ice to customers, many times carrying the block up several flights of stairs.
As he became more recognized for his sports exploits, people would see Grange hauling ice and nickname him “Ice Man” and the “Wheaton Ice Man.”
After graduating from high school, Grange didn’t contemplate long where to ply his athletic trade next.
Just down the road from the family house was The University of Illinois.
Grange enrolled in the school and planned to compete in basketball and track.
Fate would have other plans.
Coach Bob Zuppke gets an All-Star
While beginning his first year at Illinois, Grange heard an announcement inviting freshmen to try out for the Illini football team.
Grange dismissed the announcement and continued preparing for the upcoming basketball season.
However, his Zeta Psi fraternity brothers convinced him to try out.
Illini head coach Bob Zuppke was getting ready for the 1923 season and hoping for a better year.
In the previous two seasons, Zuppke’s teams had gone 3-4 and 2-5.
He wasn’t overly aware of Grange’s talents, but Zuppke saw enough of Grange in practice to know he had a star in the making.
Illinois is home to ✌️ of @CFB150's Top 11 players in history. 🐐🐐
— Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) January 14, 2020
Grange announced his college football arrival in his very first game.
Against Nebraska that day, Grange scored three touchdowns, including a 66-yard punt return.
Throughout the season he would prove difficult to tackle and prepare for.
To make matters worse for opponents, Grange played defense as well.
When asked, he tried to downplay the significance of his talent.
“If you have the football and 11 guys are after you, if you’re smart, you’ll run.”
Grange was such a valuable addition to the Illini that the team went undefeated in ‘23, winning the national championship.
Grange was responsible for a total of 726 rushing yards, 36 passing yards and 12 touchdowns.
News of Grange’s running ability began to grow to the point where attendance improved for each Illinois game.
1924 and the Game Against Michigan
In 1924, Grange’s legend grew even more.
On October 18, 1924, the Illini welcomed a tough Michigan squad and the contest was being played at the new Memorial Stadium.
The Wolverines were consistently difficult and frequently played for the national championship.
At that point in the season, Michigan was undefeated and looking to spoil the Illini’s stadium unveiling and add to their victory total.
Instead, they ran into a buzz saw.
Big wins in Lincoln –
— Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) November 21, 2020
As some fans were still making their way to their seats, Michigan kicked off to Grange.
Grange fielded the ball and zig-zagged his way 95 yards for a touchdown.
The stunned crowd roared with approval. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, Grange was far from done.
Over the course of the first quarter alone, he scored on touchdowns of 67, 56 and 44 yards.
By the end of the quarter, Michigan players were already gassed.
The four touchdowns Grange had scored so far were as many as the Wolverines had allowed in the previous two seasons.
In the third quarter, Grange scored again on an 11-yard run.
Then, in the final quarter, he threw a pass that was completed for a 20-yard touchdown.
By the end of the Illini’s 39-14 blowout victory, Grange had scored six touchdowns and was responsible for 402 total yards that included 212 rushing yards, 64 passing and 126 yards in kick returns.
After the game, college football fans throughout the country knew who Grange was.
“There may be a few clear voices in Urbana tomorrow,” a Chicago Tribune reporter predicted. “They will belong to those who could not get into the game.”
Sportswriter Grantland Rice was so moved by Grange’s performance that day against Michigan that he wrote a poem.
“A streak of fire, a breath of flame
Eluding all who reach and clutch;
A gray ghost thrown into the game
That rival hands may never touch;
A rubber bounding, blasting soul
Whose destination is the goal — Red Grange of Illinois!”
Warren Brown, a sportswriter for the Chicago American, continued the accolades about Grange and wrote that his exploits against Michigan were akin to a Galloping Ghost.
The nickname stuck and Grange was referred to by that moniker for years to come.
Red Grange “The Galloping Ghost” pic.twitter.com/JKC3Eg5Xem
— Zach Attack (@FFChalupaBatman) July 21, 2021
In his book Sports Immortals, writer Jerry Liska borrowed Brown’s nickname for Grange when recalling Grange’s time at Illinois.
“The autumn wind still whistles shrilly through cavernous Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois, as if in perpetual tribute to college football’s legendary Galloping Ghost.”
A few days after the Michigan game, a reporter asked Grange if he would eventually like to play professional sports.
At the time, Grange appeared set in his aspirations for the future.
“I hardly think so. At least, I feel now that I would prefer a business life,” said Grange.
Grange ended the year with 743 rushing yards, 433 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions.
1925 and C.C. Pyle
The Illini finished 1924 with a 6-1-1 record.
Hoping to follow Grange to even bigger heights in 1925, the Illini struggled.
The team ended the season with a 5-3 record.
Grange continued to shine despite the team’s setbacks.
In a game against a tough Penn squad, he rushed for a personal record 237 yards.
That total included touchdown runs of 56 and 13 yard runs.
The eventual 24-2 victory left sportswriters grasping for comparisons to Grange’s unparalleled greatness.
“This man Red Grange of Illinois is three or four men rolled into one for football purposes,” wrote Damon Runyon. “He is Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, Al Jolson, Paavo Nurmi and Man o’ War. Put together, they spell Grange.”
During the season finale against Ohio State, Grange and the Illini defeated the Buckeyes 14-9.
Red Grange after playing his last game for Illinois in November 1925. He joined the Chicago #Bears late in the season & traveled the country in 2 tours (1 regular season, 1 postseason). Note his shoulder pads offer protection on the *throwing* side. pic.twitter.com/9WhjqyQ18J
— Dan Daly (@dandalyonsports) July 7, 2021
The following day, Grange stunned many sports fans when he announced that he would be turning pro.
Rumors of Grange’s possible jump to the pros had circulated before the 1925 season, but not many paid close attention to them.
At the time, professional football was looked down upon as a poor man’s version of college football.
No self-respecting athlete would play professional football and be taken seriously.
After all, there was virtually no money in the game and one could make a better living elsewhere.
Grange’s decision to play in the pros, however, would change the opinion many saw of the sport.
As it turns out, before the ‘25 season even began an entrepreneurial character by the name of Charles (C.C. or “cash and carry”) Pyle approached Grange.
Pyle was a self-made businessman who owned a Champaign, Illinois movie theatre and also fancied himself a bit of a promoter.
He had watched Grange’s profile grow for the past two years and he believed he could strike it rich, with Grange’s help.
Pyle knew that Grange was no ordinary athlete.
Where others had failed to make money in the pros, Pyle believed Grange could popularize the sport.
He was able to make his way to Grange and offered the football star an opportunity.
“How would you like to make one hundred thousand dollars, maybe even a million?” asked Pyle.
Grange was impressed with Pyle’s sales pitch and agreed.
Wary of anyone else catching on, Pyle asked Grange to keep the deal private, until after the 1925 college football season.
While Grange was playing out what would be his last year, Pyle was secretly making deals behind the scenes.
A number of pro teams met with Pyle and offered him large sums of cash for Grange’s services.
Pyle eventually met with George Halas and the Chicago Bears.
Halas wanted to keep Grange in state and agreed to an unheard of sum.
He would pay Grange $100,000 per season plus a share of the gate receipts if Grange would sign with the Bears.
In 1925, former Illini Red Grange signed with the Chicago Bears for $100k, embarked upon a 19-game 67-day tour & ignited national interest in the then-fledgling NFL
Thanks to Sunday Night Football for the flashback pic.twitter.com/q4VVV9QihW
— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) September 10, 2018
The standard pay for professional football players at the time was between $25-$100 per game.
So it was that, when Grange announced he was turning pro, countless football icons of the day, including Amos Alonzo Stagg, Michigan coach Fielding Yost and Zuppke himself lamented the decision.
“I’d be glad to see Grange do anything else except play professional football,” said Yost.
Zuppke repeatedly hounded Grange to reconsider to the point where the two didn’t speak to each other again for years.
Although, despite his disagreements with Grange, Zuppke did hold Grange in high regard.
“I will never have another Grange, but neither will anyone else,” said Zuppke. “They can argue all they like about the greatest football player who ever lived, but I was satisfied I had him when I had Red Grange.”
Although Grange was happy with his decision, he knew it wasn’t a popular one.
“I’d have been more popular with the colleges if I had joined Capone’s mob in Chicago rather than the Bears,” he said.
Grange and Pyle hit the Ground Running
Pyle didn’t waste any time putting together deals for Grange now that he was officially a pro.
In 1925 alone, Pyle negotiated a movie deal for Grange.
“And today it was discovered that Harold Grange had developed $300,000 worth of dramatic artistry quite unknown to himself while presiding over a pair of spirited ice wagon geldings and delivering strictly fresh country ice in that unsuspecting cradle of thespian genius, Wheaton, Ill,” wrote the Chicago Tribune.
Because of the deal, Grange eventually appeared in two silent films, “One Minute to Play” in 1926 and “A Racing Romeo” in 1927.
Pyle had also negotiated a barnstorming tour with Grange and the Bears.
Red Grange, the “Galloping Ghost”, was a halfback at U of Illinois then the Chicago Bears in the 1920s and 30s. Grange is a college and Pro Football Hall of Famer pic.twitter.com/VuCwT9qKuf
— Sports Days Past (@SportsDaysPast) September 11, 2019
Capitalizing on Grange’s fame, the Bears played 19 games in two months.
The first ten games alone were played over an 18 day period.
At one point in the tour, the team was in Washington D.C. and stopped by the White House to visit then President Calvin Coolidge.
Perhaps somewhat ignorant of who his guests were, when Coolidge was introduced to Grange and the Bears, the president made a rather embarrassing statement.
“Glad to meet you. I always did like animal acts.”
The Bears continued their tour of the East and Midwest, then went to Los Angeles and Seattle and into the deep South including Florida and New Orleans.
Most games were filled with thousands of fans all wanting to see a glimpse of the Galloping Ghost.
By the time the tour ended in January 1926, Grange had played in almost 30 college and professional football games in one year.
He went home to Wheaton to rest his bruised and battered body with a brand new Lincoln and a $500 raccoon coat.
Sideline Swag, 1925 v. 1973
Red Grange and Joe Namath pic.twitter.com/WRIDOuDFAq
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) August 11, 2020
Grange Moves on to New York
The success of the barnstorming tour thrust professional football into the limelight.
With Grange as its talisman, Pyle and others in the game saw opportunity for vast growth.
If they could keep trotting out the likes of Grange and attract a crowd on a regular basis, they just might have something.
Believing they had some leverage on Halas and his business partners, Pyle and Grange approached Halas in 1926 and offered to buy the Bears.
They were rebuffed and that led Pyle and Grange to begin seeking their own team.
Not only did they start their own franchise, the two jump started a new professional league.
Pyle and Grange set up shop in New York City and formed the New York Yankees as well as the nine-team American Football League.
With Grange as the primary threat, the Yankees went 9-5 in 1926.
Red Grange attending Chicago White Sox / St. Louis Browns game at Comiskey Park on April 13, 1926. Grange (third from left) had left Chicago Bears to form a rival league, AFL, playing for New York Yankees in 1926-1927. His agent, C. C. Pyle, next to him. (Chicago Daily News.) pic.twitter.com/LyFCHR5xdZ
— Old Ballparks (@OldBallparks) March 16, 2019
After the season, the team went on a ten-game barnstorming tour of California and Texas.
Along the way, the players got into some shenanigans including being arrested for intoxication and disturbing the peace.
The AFL was shuttered after only one season and the Yankees were added to the fledgling NFL.
Meanwhile, Pyle continued to set up endorsements for his star client, the better to build the brand and put a little money in his pocket.
Grange later marveled at the number of companies lined up for his services as well as how much he could receive just for his name and likeness.
“Charlie Pyle sat in the drawing room of his hotel suite in New York. Agents stood in a changing group outside his door, and now and again his voice could be heard, calling through the transom with smooth urbanity, ‘Don’t be impatient gentlemen, everybody will be heard in due course.'”
“I gave my approval to a candy bar for a cash royalty of $10,000 and a percentage of all sales,” Grange recalled, “signed the trademark for a sporting goods line for $3,500 down, plus a percentage on the gross, and posed for my picture admiring an outboard motor for $500.”
Grange continued his employment with the Yankees and played the 1927 season.
During the year, he suffered a severe knee injury yet he kept playing.
Grange explained later in life that the injury ended up signaling the end of his dominance as an athlete.
“After it happened, I was just another halfback,” Grange commented.
To make matters worse, at the conclusion of the ‘27 season, Grange and his mates went on another barnstorming tour.
Grange’s lack of effectiveness was visible for all to see.
A number of fans who watched the games during the tour complained.
The Grange they were watching was not the Grange that was heralded in the papers for the past several years.
Yet, he didn’t want to let anyone down and kept trudging out game after game.
“At the young age of twenty-four, I refused to believe that I couldn’t bounce back to my old form. I was positive I could play myself back into shape. But those additional games only served to further aggravate my condition and, when the tour was ended, it became apparent I had done irreparable damage to the knee. For the first time since I was hurt, nearly four months before, I began worrying over the possibility that I might be through as a football player.”
Back to the Bears
Grange was in bad shape by the end of the 1927 barnstorming tour.
In order to heal properly, he did not play in 1928.
His contract with Pyle expired in early 1928 and Grange decided not to renew with him.
As it turned out, Pyle was not the businessman he made himself out to be.
He was frequently overextended in his obligations and money making ideas didn’t always produce the cash he envisioned.
As a result, Pyle owed creditors and was in severe debt.
Grange himself lost money because of Pyle and, eventually, the two parted ways.
In 1929, Grange and Halas had patched things up and Grange returned to the Bears.
He would play for Chicago for six more seasons.
Although injuries had clearly diminished his breathtaking skills, Grange soldiered on.
By the time 1932 arrived Grange was mostly playing as a defensive back.
He knew his time as a running back was at an end during a game against the New York Giants.
As he was reversing field on a pitch, a Giants defensive lineman yelled to one of his teammates.
“Look out! There goes the old man!”
The “old man” still had a little magic left in him.
The Bears made it to the ‘32 NFL title game and Grange caught the game-winning pass for the championship.
The following year Chicago made it back to the championship game and Grange made a touchdown-saving tackle to preserve the Bears second straight title.
— Baseball by BSmile (@BSmile) December 8, 2019
Grange played in 1934 and then retired.
He continued on with the Bears as their backfield coach until 1937.
Halas offered Grange the head coaching position, but he declined.
“…never had any ambition to be a head coach in either the professional or college ranks,” said Grange.
Legacy and Later Life
While Grange was still playing for the Bears, he starred in a 12 part movie series titled “The Galloping Ghost.”
Remarkably, Grange did all his own stunts in the film that included fight scenes and car chases.
“The most strenuous work I have ever done in my life,” he said at the time.
After leaving Chicago in 1937, Grange became a motivational speaker and sports announcer.
He called Bears games for CBS as well as the Sugar Bowl for NBC.
In 1941, Grange married his wife, Margaret.
The couple had no children.
During the 40s’, Grange worked as an insurance broker in Chicago and led the National Girls Baseball League for two years.
Grange was honored numerous times for his playing exploits. In 1963, he was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) January 29, 2021
He was also voted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Among the many other accolades Grange received are: two-time First-team All-Pro, NFL 1920s All-Decade team, 100 greatest Bears of all time, number 77 retired by the Bears and University of Illinois, college national champion and two-time NFL champion, a three-time consensus All-American.
Later in his life, Grange developed Parkinson’s disease.
He died from complications of the disease on January 28, 1991.
He was 87.
Grange is forever remembered as a gentleman who was humble to his core.
He continued working as an ice man even during his playing days and never seemed to understand what all the fuss was about.
“They built my accomplishments way out of proportion. I never got the idea that I was a tremendous big shot. I could carry a football well, but there are a lot of doctors and teachers and engineers who could do their thing better than I.”