Serviceable biography of the legendary player who, writes debut author Poole, was the “one man who could be considered the founding father of our football culture.”
Make that our big-media, big-money sports culture generally. Red Grange, renowned beginning in the 1920s for breakaway, full-field runs that gave his version of the game the appearance of rugby, was football’s Babe Ruth. He may have been slightly cleaner-living and certainly more photogenic, but he was also just as deeply implicated in the transformation of a backlot, democratic game into a machine that could make considerable fortunes for a few lucky players and owners. Matched with an unscrupulous manager, Grange was soon at the pinnacle of the system; by 1928, Poole reckons, he was earning more than $3.4 million per year “in an era when athletes were not highly compensated.” Confronted with owners who wouldn’t see things his way, he also cooked up a wildcat league that, for various reasons, wound up diminishing his reputation while strengthening the regular league “because more skilled professional players were now available, making the NFL game fundamentally faster and better played.” Cause and effect here and elsewhere is a little sketchy, and Poole’s prose is a bit clunky (“Red could not have hidden his pain, his thoughts about the inevitable, the future. Red needed a knee specialist. He needed rest.”). But the valuable part of the narrative is a story that many sports fans will not know, or at least know only in outline—namely, the increasing blurring of sports figure and cultural celebrity in the Depression era, especially once Hollywood began to recruit sports stars to turn up in all sorts of B-list productions. That blurring, after all, is what defines sports figures today, and Grange was an indisputable pioneer.
Indifferently written, but a useful character study of a figure often overlooked today.