Thursday, December 2, 2021

Remembering Garland Grange: Red Grange's Brother

By Chris Willis, NFL Films
Garland Grange, Chicago Bears, circa 1930

Most football fans know the name of Red Grange. But do they know that he had a younger brother, who not only played football, but followed his older brother playing at Wheaton High School, University of Illinois and in the NFL with the Chicago Bears.

Today we look back at the career of Garland Grange who celebrates a birthday today. 

Garland Arthur Grange was born on December 2, 1906, in Forksville, Pennsylvania just like Red.

The family saw tragedy when Sadie Grange, the mother of Red/Garland passed away at the young age of 31. Lyle Grange then moved his family to Wheaton, Illinois to be closer to his siblings.

Growing up Garland quickly sported flaming red hair, like his father, but not quite like his brother. Red’s hair was more auburn tint than flaming red. Just like Red, Garland picked up a few nicknames, going by “Gardy” and “Pinkey.”

In cowboy outfits, Red Grange (left) and Garland, circa 1914

He would idolize his brother growing up. Because their father worked long hours as the police chief in town, the two siblings looked after each other. While Red was completing his freshmen year things were going fine at the Grange apartment on Front Street. Although their father was on-call twenty-four hours a day the two Grange boys looked after each other. “I did all the cooking at home and, if I have to say so myself, was a darn good cook. My brother Garland did the shopping and we took turns washing and wiping the dishes. We also did the house cleaning ourselves since Dad was generally too busy to help with any of the chores,” wrote Red in his autobiography.

Wheaton High School, Garland graduated in 1924. In the high school yearbook Gardie was quoted as saying, “three things shine- the sun, the moon, my hair.”

As his brother became the most famous football player in the country (circa 1924-1925) Garland followed in his brother’s footsteps. He played end, not halfback, at Wheaton High then continued his gridiron career at the University of Illinois under head coach Bob Zuppke. As a freshman (Red was a Junior in 1924) Garland suffered a bad shoulder injury that kept him out of practice. The following fall (1925) Garland was going to play with his brother for the first time. But his shoulder injury re-occurred during fall practice. He would have surgery on it, keeping him out of, not just the 1925 season but 1926 too.

Garland Grange, Univ. of Illinois, circa 1927

Despite the health issues Garland tried to stay in shape, even helping his brother on his famous ice route in their hometown of Wheaton. A job that keep the siblings together all the time. A recipe for disaster. Red spent more time with his brother during this summer than he had ever done before. Garland had just graduated from high school and would work the ice route with him to prepare for his freshmen year at Illinois. The two made the job fun, acting like typical siblings. In a 1978 interview Red remembers clowning around with his kid brother:

“We use to have some of the greatest arguments, Gardy and I when working on the ice truck. We’re out in the country and I remember this so well, we stopped the truck and turned it off and got out into a field. We had the doggonesdest fight you ever saw. We both are bloody. We clean up, and get back in the truck and go to work. We work all day together the both of us.” 

On ice truck in Wheaton, IL, Red (left) and Garland, circa 1925

Over one summer they did find time to work on their football skills. Zuppke had given Red a few footballs to take home so he could work on his throwing skills. He wanted Red to be more of a threat to pass so the opposition wouldn’t be sure of him when he got the ball. “I started out by winging baseballs to my brother Garland for hours at a time until I developed near-perfect control and the ability to throw on the run. Then I switched to throwing a football. It got so I could pass with a high degree of accuracy at twenty or thirty yards,” recalled Red.

In the fall of 1927 Garland was back at Illinois. He was finally healthy enough to play football, his shoulder now completely healed. He would play his senior year for Zuppke. Peaking physically, Garland now stood at six-foot tall and weighed 173-pounds. Red would be very proud of his younger brother, always instilling confidence and building up his self-esteem. It wasn’t easy being the brother of “Red Grange.” “I don’t see why he shouldn’t be a great football player. He has a swell build, he can run the hundred in 10.1, and he has the finest hands you’d want to see. I know just how big he is, for he wears all my clothes,” laughed Red to the press that fall. “And if anybody ever had intestinal strength Pinkey has. When were kids he used to tackle guys in the neighborhood that I didn’t care to run into. That was when we played on a corner lot across the street. Garland’s hands are his great asset and he can pass mighty accurately. His hands are about the biggest I have ever seen, much bigger than mine. The baseball managers that cry for men with big hands should see Garland’s claws.” 

Wearing jersey number twenty-two Garland helped the Illini to a perfect season, 7-0, and the Big Ten Championship. At this time Garland didn’t know if he was going to play pro football. Soon that changed. After suffering a horrible knee injury Red sat out the 1928 football season, but in 1929 he was recruited back on the field by George Halas to play for his Chicago Bears. Red brought along his younger brother. For three years the two Grange brothers played for the Bears (1929-1931). 

Garland Grange in front of older brother Red, Chicago Bears, circa 1930

Playing mostly at end for the Bears, Garland became a reliable, albeit not spectacular, player.

On October 27th, the two brothers would make family history. In a game against the Minneapolis Red Jackets at Wrigley Field, Red tossed a 16-yard touchdown pass to Garland as the Bears clinched an easy 27-0 victory. It would be the only time they would connect on a scoring pass in their NFL careers. Red once talked about his brother’s personality on the field:

“My brother was an entirely different type of personality on the football field than I. While I was a quiet sort of player who could feel it inside, he could stimulate the entire team with his enthusiasm. He breathed fire and brimstone, and before a game we almost wanted to tie him up for fear he might go out on the field and kill somebody.”

The two brothers seemed to be polar opposites on the field, but best friends off of it.

Garland (left) wears his brother's famous fur coat during 1925-1926 barnstorming tour

In 1931, their last year playing together, the Bears traveled east to play the Giants at the Polo Grounds (Nov. 15th). The attraction of Red and All-Pro fullback Bronko Nagurski brought out a crowd of 20,000, that included New York Mayor Jimmy Walker and former New York Governor Alfred Smith who saw an exciting game with a Grange making the key play of the contest. After trading touchdowns with missed extra points the two teams were tied 6-6 late in the fourth quarter. After a huge interception by the Bears, the clock showed less than one minute to play. The Bears then called a pass play. Carl Brumbaugh fired a short strike to Garland Grange who did the rest sprinting twenty-eight yards for the game winning score. One newspaper headlines wrote: “Red’s Kid Brother Steals Show”

Playing in the shadow of Red was never easy, Garland always took it in stride. In 1932 he left the Chicago Bears to play for the St. Louis Veterans, a non-NFL team, as player-coach. The younger Grange installed the T-Formation and played right end. He would guide the Veterans to a 2-2-1 record. He then would finish the season playing a few games for the Memphis Tigers, another non-NFL team.

Garland would then retire from football. As Red would stay close to the game as a player, coach and broadcaster, Garland would enjoy the game mostly from the sidelines. He would move away from the cold winds of Chicago moving to Miami. He would then get married (Virginia), work in the credit department at Richards Department Store, and roam the sidelines as a game official for many Miami high school football games.

Red with Garland, sitting at desk at Richards Department Store, Miami, circa 1958

On May 28, 1981 in Miami Garland passed away from a heart attack at the age of 74.

In 1937 Bob Zuppke compared the two Grange brothers, saying “Red was exceptionally fast, but he wasn’t quite as speedy on the straightway as his brother, Garland. Gardie didn’t have Red’s elusiveness- no player has ever had it- nor did he have Red’s pickup. He had more dash and fire. Red was a soundless rocket.”

So, on his birthday, we remember Garland Grange.

Garland Grange, Chicago Bears, circa 1930


  1. .....terrific article by the foremost historian on Pro Football in the '20's & '30's....very cool Chris.

  2. Agreed. This was a great read.
    Thank you, Chris!