Red Grange: From College Football Star to Football Card VP
Only days after his career ended, Red Grange became a full blown football card executive (sort of)
In the 1920s, professional football wasn’t the powerhouse it was today. But that would start to change with the insertion of Red Grange into the league.
But before Grange became a pro football legend, he was a star with Illinois in college. And only days after he graduated, he quickly became a star in the pros.
And a football card executive.
Well, sort of. See, Grange became a spokesman of sorts for the Ya-Lo Football Game. The game, meant to mimic the real thing, included a playing field and the plays were determined by a series of cards. As I’ve mentioned before, numerous things point to Grange actually being the generic player depicted on the cards.
But Grange was more than a spokesman. At least, that’s what he was billed as. And only days after his college career ended, Grange got into the football game business.
The news spread rather quickly through an AP release on November 23, 1925 (only two days after Grange’s college football season was over) with numerous papers running the announcement. While the announcements varied slightly from paper to paper, the gist was essentially the same. Articles of Corporation for the company creating the set, the Ya-Lo Corporation, were issued on that date and Grange was listed as a stockholder in the company. Most announcements only stated he would have an ‘official position’ with the company starting on February 1, 1926. That said, announcements a few weeks later would indicate he was a vice president and that title was actually confirmed in the instruction booklets of the game (shown below).
A few things here. The official position wasn’t immediately declared and that is likely because one wasn’t known just yet. Again, keep in mind, Grange’s involvement was only first mentioned a mere two days after his college football career ended. Discussions surely would have begun earlier but it’s likely that the detail of a specific position couldn’t be determined yet with his pro career and so many other ventures looming.
Also, Grange’s exact role may have been vice president but what exactly he did has never been hammered out. Likely, his vice president role was more of one as a spokesman. Think about it – the game was available for sale in December, only about a week after Grange signed on with the company. There wouldn’t have been much time for him to offer much insight on its production. Grange was a veep but, as indicated in the game instructions and in advertisements bearing his image, his real job was to just be there to look purdy. Advertisements even went so far as to state, “Red Grange thought so much of Ya-Lo that he helped organize the Ya-Lo Corporation.” But Grange was not listed as one of the company’s incorporators and, again, his actual role in the business operations would have been minimal.
Second, that stockholder thing makes a lot of sense. While Grange likely would have preferred a boatload of cash, as a start-up business, no such money probably existed. We’ve seen this story before and many card and board games have had these sorts of financing issues.
One great example of that is seen in the Walter Mails game, which I wrote about last year after getting in touch with the granddaughter of the game’s creator, George Groves. After sifting through numerous documents and notes, it was evident that Groves did not have the money to pay the players to appear on his game cards. Instead, he asked them for (and secured) their permission without financial compensation.
The company may not have had the money to offer Grange but one thing they could do was offer him a stake in the company.
But why would Grange settle for no (or, at best, little) financial compensation? After all, just out of college, he could surely use the money, right? Well, actually, Grange was doing just fine financially. No, he wasn’t making money as a collegiate player. But on the same day he joined Ya-Lo, he also signed a professional deal with the Chicago Bears. And Grange was getting paid a lot of money in a short amount of time.
The November 23 edition of the Marysville Journal-Tribune not only cited Grange’s Ya-Lo deal, but also his pro football contract. Grange’s first game was on Thanksgiving Day, only a few days after signing his contract, and he was expected to receive $30,500 for only that game. He was contracted to play several games with the Bears and would soon have deals for a movie and other ventures.
Simply put, Grange didn’t really need the money that badly.
Success of the Game
So how did the game do? Tough to say. But a few things are notable in that regard.
First, at least some stores were doing pretty well selling them. One business in particular called Griffith’s Inn in December 1925 ran an ad in the Marion Star newspaper indicating they just received another supply of the games. The key phrase in the ad was, “Get yours before we sell out again.” Also, while the game was heavily pushed in Grange’s home state of Illinois, it branched out a little, too. Griffith’s Inn was in Ohio and the game is mentioned in advertisements in papers all the way to the east coast.
Second, some newspapers in Illinois created promotions around the game. Boys and girls selling two four-month subscriptions to certain newspapers would receive a copy of the game. Whether the newspaper businesses paid for those games or received them from Ya-Lo on a free basis in exchange for the advertising is unknown. But regardless, that helped Ya-Lo spread the word about the games.
Another indicator that many of the games were distributed is in their survival rate today. The games aren’t altogether plentiful but eBay has had several copies of the game for sale and usually has one or two up at any given time. It’s one of the more common pre-war football board games that you will find.
The game was also available in numerous venues. You might expect it to be sold in only toy stores, but the game was actually available at all kinds of businesses, including hotels, general stores, department stores, drug stores, cigar stores, and even automobile accessory stores.
Additionally, it had some degree of staying power. The Times in Munster, Indiana mentioned a Ya-Lo football tournament that had drawn a lot of interest at the Hammond High School as late as February 1927, more than a year after the game’s initial release. That staying power was also seen as the game had multiple printings. The first printing of the game is known in 1925. A second one was printed in the 1930s and a third version was printed in or around 1940. If the game was a flop, it’s hard to imagine it being sold again in three separate printings.