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The First Star: Red Grange and the Barnstorming Tour That Launched the NFL [Livre audio] [Anglais] [CD]

Lars Anderson , Petros Papadakis


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Description de l'ouvrage

1 janvier 2010
In The First Star, acclaimed sports writer Lars Anderson recounts the thrilling story of Harold "Red" Grange, the Galloping Ghost of the gridiron, and the wild barnstorming tour that earned professional football a place in the American sporting firmament.

Red Grange's on-field exploits at the University of Illinois, so vividly depicted in print by the likes of Grantland Rice and Damon Runyan, had already earned him a stature equal to that of Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, and other titans of American sports' golden age. Then, in November 1925, Grange made the fateful decision to parlay his fame in pro ball, at the time regarded as inferior to the "purer" college game.

Grange signed on with the dapper theater impresario and promoter C. C. Pyle, who had courted him with the promise of instant wealth and fame. Teaming with George Halas, the hard-nosed entrepreneurial boss of the cash-strapped Chicago Bears NFL franchise, Pyle and Grange crafted an audacious plan: a series of seventeen matches against pro teams and college "all-star" squads–an entire season's worth of games crammed into six punishing weeks that would forever change sports in America.

With an unerring eye, Anderson evocatively captures the full scope of this frenetic Jazz Age spectacle. Night after night, the Bears squared off against a galaxy of legends–Jim Thorpe, George "Wildcat" Wilson, the "Four Horsemen of Notre Dame": Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller, and Layden–while entertaining immense crowds. Grange's name alone could cause makeshift stadiums to rise overnight, as occurred in Coral Gables, Florida, for a Bears game against a squad of college stars. Facing constant physical punishment and nonstop attention from autograph hounds, gamblers, showgirls, and headhunting defensive backs, Grange nevertheless thrilled audiences with epic scoring runs and late-game heroics.

Grange's tour alone did not account for the rise of the NFL, but in bringing star power to fans nationwide, Grange set the pro game on a course for dominance. A real-life story chock-full of timeless athletic feats and overnight fortunes, of speakeasies and public spectacles, The First Star is both an engrossing sports yarn and a meticulous cultural narrative of America in the age of Gatsby.
--Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .

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Extrait

Chapter One


An ambitious plan


 Carrying a polished walking stick, he strode through the chill of the Chicago night, moving under the bright lights of the Madison Street marquee of the Morrison Hotel. He pushed through the lobby doors, a Lucky Strike cigarette dangling from his thin lips, and passed the marble front desk and richly paneled walls that rose twenty-eight feet. The plush high-rise hotel was the center of Chicago's business and social life, housing the Boston Oyster House restaurant and Terrace Garden dinner theater. Now, on the evening of November 22, 1925, this forty-five-year-old man had his own business to take care of.

He reached the elevator. After making sure he wasn't being followed, he stepped inside. He wore a black overcoat, a double-breasted charcoal-gray suit, spats, a silk tie with a diamond pin, and a fine derby hat. With his dapper outfit reflecting in the mirrors of the elevator's three walls, he told the red-capped operator that he needed to go to the seventeenth floor. The sparkling golden doors shut.

The man had a thin, neatly manicured mustache. His dark but graying hair, which was immaculately trimmed nearly every day, was slicked back with pomade. He cut the figure of a smooth, fast-talking salesman, which he was. As the elevator rose through the skeleton of the forty-five-story hotel, he puffed on his Lucky and stood by the mirrored wall in silent contemplation. His mind was afire with possibilities, because he believed he was on the cusp of making history, of negotiating a deal that would change forever the landscape of professional football in America.

The elevator doors slid open, and Charles C. Pyle stepped forward, a rippling line of smoke rising from the red-orange ember of his cigarette. He looked to his left, to his right. No reporters. Walking down the thickly carpeted hallway, he stopped in front of room number 1739, where he'd been told the clandestine meeting would take place. He rapped his fist on the door. Moments later it swung open. Pyle walked inside, his chest thrust forward as usual, and extended his hand to the man he was meeting for the first time.

Outside the windows of the newly opened hotel, darkness fell and a bitterly cold winter's night enveloped the city. Pyle shed his overcoat and settled into a high-backed chair at a table, and took measure of the man that sat opposite him: George Stanley Halas, the head coach and owner of the Chicago Bears, a National Football League franchise that was on the verge of bankruptcy, just like nearly every other team in the NFL. Pyle, the son of a preacher, was blessed with a golden smile and a silver tongue. He could talk to anybody about anything—and he also could convince anybody to do most anything. For a few minutes, the two made small talk.

Lighting another Lucky and drawing long on it, Pyle finally launched into the subject he had come to discuss: money. Pyle, the first agent in football history, wanted to broker a deal for his client, a football player who had just dropped out of the University of Illinois and who days earlier Pyle had boldly promised to make the richest young athlete in America. Not only that, but Pyle had guaranteed that he could turn him into someone as famous as baseball's Babe Ruth, as beloved as the thoroughbred Man o' War, as iconic as pugilist Jack Dempsey. The young man's name was Harold E. "Red" Grange, and Pyle had an ambitious plan for him: He was going to make him the NFL's first star.

Like all originals in business, the underworld, and sports, Grange already had a nickname: the Galloping Ghost. It was a lyrical, apt sobriquet, because it instantly conveyed what made him so special on the football field—how, from his halfback position, he ran with a never-before-seen mixture of speed and power and elusiveness; how he seemed to see holes in the line before they actually opened; how he threw thunderbolts with his stiff arm at defenders who tried to take him down; how his hips swiveled in a flourish to sidestep and juke defenders and leave them lying on the ground along his zigzag trail; how he made them feel as if they were trying to corral a phantom.

Grange, age twenty-two, even looked somewhat ghostlike. Standing five foot nine and weighing 170 pounds, Grange had deep-set, haunting gray eyes. It was as if a shadow were always falling over his eyes, yet when he gazed at you, those same eyes projected such a liquid intensity—a narrow beam of brightness—that it made people feel like he was looking through them, not at them. He was classically handsome: His nose was straight and powerful; his lips were full, a little like those of a poster girl but slightly downturned in a continual frown; and his jaw was square and rock solid, like that of a Roman centurion. Everything about Grange—from his angular features to his granite-sturdy build that had been sculpted by hauling one-hundred-pound blocks of ice in his youth—suggested fitness and hard work.

Short film clips of Grange's games at the University of Illinois were frequently shown in movie houses across the country before the feature show. There on the big screens, in black and white, moving at sixteen to eighteen frames a second, audiences saw the feats of Ruth, Dempsey, and Man o' War. But in the closing days of 1925—the high point of the golden age of sports in America—it was Grange who especially held moviegoers and sports fans spellbound.

By '25, nearly three-fourths of Americans went to movie houses at least once a week, and what played on the big screen greatly shaped popular culture. Sitting in the cool darkness of "picture palaces"—as the most grandiose theaters were called—moviegoers from New York to Los Angeles marveled at Grange's exploits. Watching him perform up on the flickering screen, audiences were mesmerized by his improbably fluid shifts and feints, by his jazzlike improvisation on the field, by his absurdly long touchdown runs. The fluttering clips even made Grange look more spectacular than he was in real life, because their herky-jerky nature created the illusion that he moved faster than he really was; the illusion that maybe he actually was a ghost.

Grange particularly captured the hearts and hopes of fans in the lower classes of society and those who had been away overseas. Thousands of immigrants who came to America in the 1890s and those who had endured the battles of world war were now flocking in droves to the fields of sport. The economy was booming, jobs were plentiful, and people who had struggled to make ends meet just a few years earlier now had "extra" money for the first time. Transportation was affordable. Model Ts rolled off the Ford assembly line at a rate of one every ten seconds and cost only $290. People had more leisure time, too, as most Americans no longer had to work seven days a week. Boxing was immensely popular with ethnic fighters generating pride among new ?Irish-?Americans, German-Americans, Italian-Americans, and Jewish Americans. Baseball also flourished. Tickets were cheap, and many of its stars, like Ruth, looked and acted like nine-to-five guys getting dirt underneath their fingernails while making a living.

But many in the lower and middle classes had viewed football—both the college and pro games—differently. In the early 1920s, college football was considered by the lower classes to be a snooty game played by rich kids from the East Coast in front of rich girls waving pom-poms. It was a sport dominated by the likes of Harvard and Yale and Penn, and sports fans across the middle and lower classes of America struggled to identify with any of the players on those elite teams. But soon that dynamic would change. Soon one of their own would rise and charge the imaginations of farmers and factory workers and foot patrolmen all across the country.


Professional football in 1925 was a game largely managed by low-level hustlers looking to make a quick dollar, and it attracted little public interest. Its franchises were located mostly in out-of-the-way towns like Pottsville, Providence, Rock Island, and Green Bay. On a good day, an NFL game would draw a few hundred people; on a bad day, only a few dozen curious spectators gathered along fence lines or in rickety bleachers.

The league had been created five years earlier during a meeting in August 1920. Called by Jim Thorpe, who was the league's first president, the meeting of sixteen men took place in Ralph Hay's Jordan and Hupmobile showroom, a car dealership in Canton, Ohio. When they emerged from the showroom, the American Professional Football Association had been formed. Two years later, at the prompting of Halas, it was renamed the National Football League. This was a misnomer, because the league had no teams west of Chicago or south of Washington, DC, but Halas wanted a more regal-sounding name in order to give the league additional legitimacy.

In the league's first few seasons, more than twenty franchises folded. Most players held full-time jobs outside of football and had trouble fitting in time to practice. A few who had special and rare skills, like kickers or speedy halfbacks, offered their services to the highest bidder and floated among teams, sometimes earning as much as $100 a game. But others were paid far less—and less frequently too—and often failed to show up for the weekend contests. Even coaches sometimes were absent at kickoff, and nearly all the contests had the unorganized feel of a pickup game at the local park or on a pasturelike field. Not surprisingly, the press largely ignored the fledgling league. Sometimes there was a paragraph or two of coverage on page three of the sports section, but often there was no mention of NFL action. That all changed, though, in the fall of 1925 when Grange became the first college player to quit school early in the hopes of turning pro.

Pyle and Halas negotiated through the night, floating offers and counteroffers at each other in ping-pong fashion. Halas needed Grange, the college game's b... --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .

Revue de presse

"The birth of pro football as an American fascination is brought to life vividly and definitively by Lars Anderson. It is hard to decide which is more impressive, his painstaking research into the inner lives of Red Grange, George Halas and CC Pyle, or his deft touch with the page-turning narrative. Oh, let's call it a tie."—John Eisenberg, author of That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst team in the NFL and Set It on the Path to Glory


"Thanks to careful research and clear prose, The First Star offers a stirring glimpse at a definitive moment—and three memorable men—from the history of American sport." —Gay Talese
  --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .

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Amazon.com: 4.5 étoiles sur 5  6 commentaires
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Definitely a page turner 6 janvier 2010
Par Polymath - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
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.
5.0 étoiles sur 5 fast easy and entertaining read 26 février 2014
Par ry guy - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
As a student of the university of Illinois, I am grateful to the professor for assigning this book. If you are a fan of football, history, and a rising of an empire, this is a must read.
5.0 étoiles sur 5 First Star 4 septembre 2013
Par Keith Cooley - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
It was the most informative books I have ever read. I learned so much about Red Grange and the early years of NFL. Recommend it to anyone who is either a sports or history buff.
5.0 étoiles sur 5 MUST READ 15 août 2011
Par Anish - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Had to get this book for my Sports Management class in college and the professor used this book to show how Red Grange kick started the NFL. This is a great book and a collectors item for an U of I alumni.
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Lots of color - needed a good fact checker 6 juin 2011
Par Michael J. Moran - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
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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