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The First Star: Red Grange and the Barnstorming Tour That Launched the NFL Hardcover – December 29, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (December 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400067294
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400067299
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,165,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Polymath on January 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I have read several books on Red Grange and early pro football, as well as reading New York and Chicago newspapers (on mircofilm) from that era. The Red Grange saga is a quite compelling part of those times. Thus when I saw this book, I immediately purchased it. I finished the book that evening. It was easy reading, with a bit of old fashioned gee-whiz. It is not a complete biography of Grange, only briefly touching on his life after football.

Between the (roughly equal) portions on the pro and college aspects of Grange's career, I found the college aspect slightly more interesting and useful. For example, the author presents an apparently complete play-by-play of the first twelve minutes of the 1924 Michigan game, and gave me real insight into the drama surrounding the 1925 Penn game.

The book contains a lot about George Halas and especially C. C. Pyle, and how they and Grange hooked up. I believe he does err in calling the famous Chicago Bears at New York Giants game on December 6 an "exibition", as all NFL standings I have seen in various official reference books include that game (as well as the other Bears games against NFL opponents after Grange joined the team) in the final league standings. Also, during my newspaper reading I found a NY Giants season schedule in the NY Times prior to the start of the 1925 season that already included the Bears game in NY on Dec 6 (NY Times, Sep 10, 1925, p 20, col 8, according to my notes).

Though in 1925 Grange indeed drew large crowds in the five NFL games he actually appeared in, my own view, based on my study, is that one should be a bit skeptical of the received knowledge that Grange and his tour "saved" the NFL. The author does not take any kind of critical look at this received knowledge; in fact, he constantly asserts its truth, which is why I rate the book only four stars instead of five.
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By Peter on April 21, 2015
Format: Hardcover
This was an interesting read about a bygone era and a football star who is probably fairly forgotten today.

In the 1920's Red Grange was the man when it came to the fledgling NFL. His skill was far beyond the other players and he revolutionised the sport at a time when it was in danger of folding. George Halas of the Chicago Bears paid a fortune to have him in their team and began a barnstorming tour of the states that resulted in a massive amount of publicity for the sport, the team and Red Grange.

The book details the rise and rise of Grange and gives us a look at the man as well.

I think that the book could have gone into a bit more of the latter years of Grange's life, in that we get a look at his upbringing, his college years and that first great NFL year but then the story gets really rushed from there. Would have loved to seen more of his latter years detailed, mainly as you got to know the young man and hoped that his later years were good for him too.

I might actually dispute the title of the book "The First Star", I think that was Jim Thorpe, but I may be wrong.

All in all, a nice read for NFL fans with an interest in history.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I was a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and for an RST (Recreation, Sport and Tourism Management) course, this book was required reading.
I consider myself a huge football fan, particularly college football, but I had never heard of Grange until I was assigned this book. Grange is one of 2 players (the other Dick Butkus) who have their numbers retired at Illinois. Grange is considered a monumental figure in both college and pro football, particularly in the midwest. Red Grange played a huge role in making George Halas who he was, the Chicago Bears and the NFL what they are today.
The book takes you back to the days where many stadiums like Illinois' Memorial Stadium, the Ohio State HorseShoe, and Michigan's Big House were built.
If you are a fan of college football, if you are from the midwest and/or are a Big Ten sports fan, this book is outstanding. If you are a casual sports fan, this book reads like a quick biography of someone from a small town who's talents took him everywhere.
It's been nearly 100 years since Red Grange played for coach Bob Zuppke's Illinois Fighting Illini, but his spirit still resonates and lives large down in Champaign, IL
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm reading the book and enjoying the vivid descriptions and intimate details of the story but it's hard to know what to believe because there are factual errors with well know historical events that even the most cursory research would reveal. Two examples from the first few chapters - Anderson says Jim Thorpe organized the initial meeting that led to the formation of the American Professional Football Association which later became the NFL - simply wrong, it was Ralph Hay in Canton who gets the credit ([...]) Then Anderson gives credit to Ralph Hay for signing Jim Thorpe to play for the Canton Bulldogs in 1915, but Hay did not become owner of the Bulldogs until he bought the team from Jack Cusack in 1918 (see the same reference); Cusack signed Thorpe. And I think Anderson is over the top in his description of Jim Thorpe's drinking issues - read Kate Buford's Native American Son for the better telling of that story. I like the writing style, I enjoy the dramatic narrative, I just wish I could trust it was true.
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