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The following excerpt appears in Football: Great Writing About the National Sport, a collection edited by Edited by John Schulian. Click here for our interview with the author.
Courtesy of The Library of America.
The Ghost of the Gridiron
By W. C. Heinz
When I was ten years old I paid ten cents to see Red Grange run with a football. That was the year when, one afternoon a week, after school was out for the day, they used to show us movies in the auditorium, and we would all troop up there clutching our dimes, nickels or pennies in our fists.
The movies were, I suppose, carefully selected for their educational value. They must have shown us, as the weeks went by, films of the Everglades, of Yosemite, of the Gettysburg battlefield, of Washington, D.C., but I remember only the one about Grange.
I remember, in fact, only one shot. Grange, the football cradled in one arm, started down the field toward us. As we sat there in the dim, flickering light of the movie projector, he grew larger and larger. I can still see the rows and rows of us, with our thin little necks and bony heads, all looking up at the screen and Grange, enormous now, rushing right at us, and I shall never forget it. That was thirty-three years ago.
“I haven’t any idea what film that might have been,” Grange was saying now. “My last year at Illinois was all confusion. I had no privacy. Newsreel men were staying at the fraternity house for two or three days at a time.”
He paused. The thought of it seemed to bring pain to his face, even at this late date.
“I wasn’t able to study or anything,” he said. “I thought, and I still do, that they built me up out of all proportion.”
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