From Publishers Weekly
A year after Gary Andrew Poole's full-scale Red Grange biography (The Galloping Ghost), Sports Illustrated reporter Anderson (The All-Americans) focuses on Grange's decision, at the height of his popularity as a college football star, to drop out of school and sign with the Chicago Bears in 1925—who, to capitalize on his fame, lined up 10 games in 18 days so fans in seven cities could see him in action (and that was just the first leg of their national tour). It's a great story, but Anderson has trouble staying out of its way; he continually oversells in an effort to persuade readers for whom Grange is an unfamiliar name that he was as big as Babe Ruth or Jack Dempsey. The effort is unnecessary: the significance of Grange's status as a wholesome star athlete entering the unseemly world of the fledgling NFL speaks for itself, as does the amazing success of his manager's efforts to cash in on Grange's fame. (Between the Bears and various endorsement deals, they made roughly $500,000 in two months—over $6 million in today's dollars.) At times, the account feels like a solid magazine piece that's been stretched thin, reducing a genuinely transformative moment in sports history to an episodic highlight reel. (Dec. 29)
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In November 1925, a deal was struck between George Halas, the owner of the Chicago Bears and the galvanizing force behind the National Football League (NFL), and C. C. Pyle, a promoter who represented Red Grange, college football’s sensational running back from the University of Illinois. Grange, primarily known to fans from radio broadcasts and movie newsreels, had captured the imagination of the country with speed and elusiveness, which earned him the moniker of the Galloping Ghost. The subsequent exhibition tour, showcasing Grange, crisscrossed the country for about three months, and in Halas’ words, established pro football as a national sport. Sports Illustrated writer Anderson does an excellent job of setting the scene with backstory on the struggles Halas experienced to that point in promoting pro football and on Grange’s heretofore unparalleled star power in the college game. Although Grange’s pro career never matched his college heroics, Anderson makes the case that his drawing power on one exhibition tour was what launched the multimillion-dollar monolith we now know as the NFL. A fascinating story of media manipulation and a revealing look at the early history of pro football. --Wes Lukowsky
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