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This Week in College Football History: 1924

It was the Roaring 20's-the Golden Age of college football. Luminaries of the sport cemented their legacy in college football lore on the same day in history.

The date: October 18, 1924

10.18.1924: A Date Which Lives in College Football Glory

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame took the train to Upper Manhattan and Coogan’s Bluff to take on the mighty Cadets of Army at the iconic Polo Grounds.

This was a rivalry that began in 1913, with Notre Dame sporting a 39-8-4 series record. Between 1919 and 1947, Notre Dame posted 20 wins against the Cadets. Three games ended in 0-0 ties.

Army kicked off the 1924 season winning their first two games by a combined score of 37-0. In fact, Army had not lost since a 31-10 loss to Yale in November of the 1923 season.

Notre Dame was a dominating football program of the time, led by head coach Knute Rockne. Rockne was synonymous with college football; he was the Nick Saban of the early 20th century. He had gone into the heartland of America and recruited an offensive foursome that would be the most immortalized of the era: Harry Stuhldreher, Jim Crowley, Elmer Layden, and Don Miller.

Against the Cadets, Layden and Crowley each scored to give the Irish 13–0 lead. Late in the game, Army finally found the end zone to get on the scoreboard.

Final score: Notre Dame 13 — Army 7

Grantland Rice, the preeminent sportswriter of the time, wrote about the game and anointed the Notre Dame backfield with a biblical moniker:

“Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again.

“In dramatic lore, they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction, and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley, and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.”

Notre Dame finished the 1924 season undefeated (10-0), including a 27-10 victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and won the National Championship. Under Rockne's leadership, the Fighting Irish won two more national titles and posted a record of 105 wins, 12 losses, and 5 ties.

Rockne was beloved by his players and the fans and was considered a national hero. In 1931, Rockne died in a plane crash while traveling to Los Angeles. President Herbert Hoover declared Rockne's death "a national loss." Thousands of mourners attended Rockne's funeral, one that was broadcast worldwide.

You Can’t Tackle a Galloping Ghost

The Fighting Illini of Illinois took the field of their newly built Memorial Stadium in Champagne against the Michigan Wolverines in front of 67,000 fans. Memorial Stadium was dedicated to the alumni of Illinois who lost their lives in the First World War.

The Michigan-Illinois rivalry had begun in 1898, that first game won by the Wolverines 12-6. Prior to the 1924 game, the Illini had beaten Michigan only twice (in 10 games).

Michigan was coming off an undefeated season (8–0) in 1923. That season, the Wolverines pitched five shutouts, including four in a row to start the season, outscoring those opponents 99–0. They allowed only 12 points scored against them all season.

In 1924, Michigan picked up where they left off in ’23 by shutting out their first two opponents 62–0. In fact, the Michigan defense had allowed just three touchdowns in the previous two seasons combined.

#77 in their program, #1 in their hearts, the Illini were led by a shifty back from Wheaton, Illinois named Harold Grange. His friends called him “Red.”

Sportswriters called him “The Galloping Ghost.”

Grange was a standout athlete and won sixteen letters in four sports in high school. He was “recruited” by Illinois head coach Bob Zuppke. Credited with inventing the huddle, Zuppke despised the process of recruiting, but he hated pro football even more.

On October 18, 1924, Grange put on a performance for the ages. Illinois received the opening kickoff. Before most of the ticket holders had found their seats, Grange galloped his way through the Michigan defense 95 yards to paydirt to give the Illini an early lead.

Grange scored three more touchdowns, including scoring runs of 67 yards and 56 yards, to raise his total to four touchdowns scored…in the first 12 minutes.

The Ghost later accounted for two more touchdowns, including a TD pass.

Grange totaled 409 yards of offense and accounted for six touchdowns, arguably the greatest performance by one player in college football history, as Illinois celebrated a 39-14 victory over the vaunted Michigan Wolverines. It was the most points allowed by a Michigan team since allowing 34 to Minnesota in 1919.

That season, Grange earned consensus All-American honors and was named the MVP of the Big Ten Conference. Grange’s #77 jersey is one of only two jersey numbers retired at the University of Illinois.

He proved that even the mighty Michigan Wolverines could not tackle a ghost.

During Red’s senior year, he had come to a “gentlemen’s agreement to play professional football, for a salary of $100,000. But that agreement was kept a closely guarded secret until after his final game of the ’25 season vs. Ohio State, so as not to jeopardize Grange’s college eligibility.

A Ghost on the Midway

Once his final game was over, he announced to the press that he was turning pro. Zuppke was hurt by Grange’s decision. Grange then took the train to Chicago to begin his pro football career with the Bears, a member of an early version of the NFL.

To help popularize pro football with fans, the Bears set out on a barnstorming tour of 19 games in 67 days. During that tour, Grange scored 18 touchdowns. He also suffered 10 concussions and two shoulder injuries. But Grange was making $30,000…per game, so he kept playing. But in 1927, he suffered a knee injury.

Grange left the Bears and took the money he made from football, movies, and commercial endorsements and invested in a rival league to the upstart NFL with his manager C.C. Pyle. But the new league folded after just one season in New York, and Grange was flat broke.

Grange reunited with the Bears and played for another six years, helping lead Chicago to the 1933 NFL Championship. In 1935, Grange retired from football and found a new career in sports broadcasting. In 1963, Grange was inducted as a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Red Grange, the Galloping Ghost from Wheaton, passed away in 1991 at the age of 87.

In front of Memorial Stadium, on the Illinois campus, a 12-foot-tall bronze statue of Red Grange now stands as a monument for Illinois football glory and college football greatness.


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