ED HEALEY (1920-1927: Rock Island Independents, Chicago Bears)
We had never met, but as I came through the gate and entered the South Bend air-terminal building I guessed from his size that the big man in the straw hat was Ed Healey. When Chicago Bears Owner George Halas, in 1922, purchased Healey's contract from the Rock Island Independents for $100, Healey became—so far as is known—the first pro football player to be sold. Now, in steel-framed glasses and a dark suit, his appearance was that of a successful man, a retired banker. We drove in his cream-colored Continental to the South Bend Club, where, in the card room, we were served lunch by his favorite waiter, Albert. Then we proceeded north across the line intoMichigan and swung off the road into Riverbrook Farm. It was not a large farm, and when Ed Healey decided that his retirement, so to speak, should be one of activity, he let the help go in order to reduce the farming operation to what he could handle alone. We talked in a knotty-pine study whose walls were liberally appointed with remembrances of the past. Healey sat by an open window that looked out on a backyard running down through sycamores and walnuts and locusts to the St. Joseph River. A fine June breeze came up from the river and, like the movement of the breeze itself, vivid memories of an era long ended flowed across Ed Healey's mind. He had played the tackle position. Standing 6'1�" and 220 pounds, he earned a reputation in the 1920s for toughness—a reputation that carried him into the Hall of Fame. "He was as good a tackle as I've ever seen," Red Grange told me at another stop in my travels through pro football's past. "He was an absolutely vicious football player."
With reference to my fashioning a successful career in professional football, all that came about, as I witness it now, by reason of my growing up on a farm and putting on acts such as this: the hogs would get loose and Dad would say, "Now, Ed, we've got to get those hogs back in the pen before we start work today." He would turn me loose and I would come up with a flying tackle and snare that hog, and Father would say, "Eddie, you're a good boy. You're a good boy, Eddie." That's the way he encouraged me. My father taught me never to be afraid to work and to give of myself to the utmost. That led to punishing myself, particularly when it came to athletics. At the time it might have seemed a little burdensome, but it paid dividends later in life. As a matter of fact, here I am at 75 and I'm going all the time.
Our farm was located just outside of Springfield, Mass., and at Classical High in Springfield I was big enough that the coach asked me to come out for football, so I addressed Dad one day and said, "Dad, I've been asked to go out for football. How about it?" Father said that it would be with his approval. So I started to play football, and it came sort of natural for me. Fear was most remote in my makeup. I mean, I loved bodily contact. I just thrived on it. I ate it up. If you have the stuff inside you then you should be ignited by reason of being plugged by somebody.
In time I attended Dartmouth College. Now I should explain that Dad not only had the farm but also had a number of teams that conveyed traprock used for building roads. He had teamsters working for him who had come fromIreland. They were all tough Turks—I always called them Turks—and they were a grand group of men. But they loved the spirits, and sometimes somebody had to finish their work for them, which usually befell to me. When I got this offer to play for Dartmouth I said to Father, "Dad, really I'm getting kind of tired of this business that you're in, being exposed to these booze hounds that run into these saloons." And he said, "Well, Eddie, I've never had an education, and I want you to have one. I'm glad you're going to Dartmouth. It's up there where you won't be troubled with a lot of women, and you'll like the kind of things that they have there. You'll like the hunting and trapping and fishing." I loved Dartmouth.
After Dartmouth and a year in the war I landed in Omaha. My primary object was to get West into the open spaces, into the kind of country that I thought I might enjoy. I obtained employment loading beef into railroad cars. It was a comedown for a college man, yes, but let me say this to you—there wasn't very much to be had. It was 1920 and there was a recession on, there surely was. One day I ran into Ed (Buck) Shaw, who had been the captain of the University of Nebraska football team. He said to me, "You tell me you're from Dartmouth?" I said, "Yes, I am," and then he referred to a copy of the Spalding Guide that he was carrying. It had my picture in it. So he said, "I see they organized a pro league over at Canton, Ohio." I said, "Well, where is the nearest team?" and he told me it was in Rock Island, Ill., which was about 400 miles across Iowa, the state of tall corn. So on a Friday night I hopped the train and went over there. I announced to the Rock Island club that I was a Dartmouth football player, and they referred to the Spalding Guide and said, well, we're looking for men like you. I signed up and played for them two years.
In '22 the Rock Island Independents sold me to the Chicago Bears following a game that I remember as clearly as if it were just played today. Just listen carefully. We had a great team! We had lost just once. And on the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving we played the Bears at Wrigley Field.
Now understand, in Chicago the officialdom was such that on occasion it made it a little difficult for the outsider to win. On this day the game was really a tight one. In fact, it was going along 0-0. George Halas, who along with Dutch Sternaman owned the Bears and played for them, was at right end, the opponent for myself, who was the left tackle. Halas had a habit of grabbing ahold of my jersey, see? My sleeve. That would throw me a little off balance. It would twist me just enough so that my head wasn't going where I was going.
So I said to Halas on a couple of occasions, "You know, George, I've often heard that you were getting old awfully young." I didn't enjoy being the victim with reference to this holding, so I forewarned him of what I intended to do about it. Likewise it was necessary for me to forewarn the head linesman, whose name was Roy. I said, "Now, Roy, I understand to start with that you're on the payroll of the Bears. I know that your eyesight must be failing you, because this man Halas is holding me on occasion and it is completely destroying all the things that I'm designed to do." I said, "Roy, in the event that Halas holds me again I am going to commit mayhem."
Now bear in mind, please, that we had a squad of about 15 or 16 men. Neither Duke Slater, our right tackle, nor I had a substitute on the bench. So I said, "Roy, you can't put me out of the game, because we don't have another tackle. And I can't really afford to be put out of this ball game because of your failure to call Halas' holding. I have notified him, and now I am about to commit mayhem."
Well, the condition of the field was muddy and slippery—a very unsafe field. Halas pulled his little trick once more, and I come across with a right, because his head was going to my right. Fortunately for him he slipped, and my fist went whizzing straight into the terra firma, which was soft and mucky. My fist was buried. When I pulled it out it was with an effort like a suction pump. But I'm telling you, I felt very, very happy that I had not connected. Had I connected I might have dismantled Halas. This was on a Sunday, and on the following Tuesday, I believe it was, I was told to report to the Bears. George Halas had bought me for $100.
I was the first professional football player to have his contract sold, but at the time I knew nothing about that. I mean, I was totally not cognizant of the fact that I was actually the Bears' property. But I went to Chicago as instructed and talked with Halas and Sternaman in their "private" office, which was the lobby of the Planters Hotel. They offered to pay me $75 a game. I said, "I wouldn't sit on your bench for $75 a game." So after a discussion of remuneration, which lasted two hours, they agreed, and rightfully so, to pay me 100 bucks a game. Two days later I played 60 minutes on Thanksgiving Day against the Chicago Cardinals and learned a lot about Chicago and the atmosphere that existed there.
In that game Halas raced downfield on a punt to tackle Paddy Driscoll, the Cardinal star, but Halas wasn't holding on to him very well. Driscoll was one of my dear friends—I had a lot of friends on the Cardinal team—but I was going in to give him an affectionate enclosure, don't you know. I was going to make him secure. And then, holy cow! Out from the Cardinal bench poured a group of men with rods on! They were going out there to protect their idol, Paddy Driscoll.
As you may recall, the vogue at that time was that all the gangsters in the world were functioning in Chicago. And they were. Immediately I stopped in my tracks. I stood there in amazement. All I could think of was that a couple of days before I'd signed up for 100 bucks, and now I was liable to be killed. I said, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph! For a hundred bucks?" Luckily, George Halas hung on and completed the tackle of Paddy Driscoll by himself.
Well, I performed for the Bears from 1922 through 1927, and did you know that one year we played eight games in 12 days? As I recall, we won five of the eight, but it was a schedule fit for neither man nor beast. It came about as a result of the club signing none other than the Redhead—Red Grange.
On a Saturday prior to Thanksgiving 1925 Red performed in his last game for Illinois, his alma mater. He played against Ohio State at Columbus, then took the sleeper to Chicago and the next day joined the Bears. And then, with Grange as the main attraction, we set out on a trip and exploded the Eastern Coast, playing by day and hopping to the next city by overnight sleeper. Of course, we did not always play up to our capability, because the human body can stand just so much. But the Redhead broke away in Philadelphia on a Saturday. He broke away inNew York on Sunday. I could tell you where he broke away in any of those games. With Red Grange, a gentleman and a scholar, we exploded not only the Eastern Coast but likewise the Western Coast and the South with the introduction of professional football, and about the middle of February we got back to Chicago. Now I must tell you a story that involved none other than Mr. C. C. Pyle, Red Grange and company. C. C. Pyle was the Redhead's business manager, and during the lengthy trip he apparently had been impressed with the performance that I had exhibited, both on the field and off. George Halas, you see, had turned over to me the keeping of the men in tow. Like the others, I, too, enjoyed the frivolity of our travels, but you must have somebody who evidences leadership, who takes charge. So I was that man, and apparently C. C. Pyle was impressed. He addressed a letter to me, inviting me to the Morrison Hotel in Chicago.
He had a room engaged for me there, and when I arrived I found that likewise as Pyle's guests at the hotel were such personalities as Suzanne Lenglen, the great tennis player, Joie Ray, the great runner, Red Grange, the great performer on the field. And not to leave out a member of the female sex, C. C. Pyle, who had been married and divorced three or four times, had in another room someone that did not answer to the name of Mrs. Pyle.
The prime purpose of my being there, I found out, was that C. C. Pyle had a big offer for me. He was forming a football team to be known as the New York Yankees that would open in the fall of 1926, with Grange as the attraction. [In fact, Pyle was setting up a whole outlaw league against the NFL.] Pyle propositioned me to not only coach the club but select and manage the playing personnel. I listened very attentively.
He offered me $10,000 to change the scene of my activity. Ten thousand dollars! That was more than I was making altogether from Mr. Halas and from another employer, Mr. George A. France of the France Stone Company, which by now employed me in the quarry business in the state of Indiana, And, mind you, I had gotten a total of about $150 a game for 30 ball games that season, which figures out to $4,500, doesn't it? Furthermore, pro football by this time was a week-long proposition, although Halas would give me a few days off from practice to attend to my other job, when necessary. I was the only player he would exempt from practice. He could rest assured I would keep myself physically capable.
So having listened to evidence of a magnanimous parting of money on the part of Mr. Pyle, I said, "Charlie"—that was his name, Charlie—I said, "Charlie, I'll give you an answer on that today."
"Oh, you don't have to answer me today," he said. And I said, "Well, this is shocking. I've never really been up against anything where I had to make a decision with reference to leaving people I'm established with." So I immediately made my departure and went across the street to the Conway Building. Halas and Sternaman had graduated from the lobby of the Planters to a real office.
I told them the true story and nothing else but. Mind you, both had become dear friends of mine. I said, "There's the situation, boys. There it is, right in a package. Now what am I to do?" Naturally they could not justify any such money as Pyle had offered me, because the attendance didn't justify an expenditure of $10,000 for one individual. Even the great Paddy Driscoll might have commanded only $5,000 or something like that. So, after much deliberation, George S. Halas and Edward C. Sternaman came up with a figure which, as far as I was concerned, was satisfactory not to leave them. So I walked back across the street and told Pyle that he had better look for someone else. And one of the things that prompted me to make such a quick decision was this—I figured that any man that could be married and divorced three times and come up with a woman in another room, I didn't have any business working for him. If I had gone with him to New York, he might have taken care of my situation, and then again, he might not have.
I had no reason to regret my decision. In that connection my thoughts are of poor Ralph Scott. He was our right tackle. Walter Camp had chosen him All-America when he played for Wisconsin, so you have to give him credit for being a pretty good tackle. He came from Montana and was a World War I veteran, shot up a bit. Well, Ralph Scott took that job Pyle was offering. Scotty didn't have any more business being in New York than I did. I mean. New York is a fast town. The last I heard the poor guy was shot. I actually don't know whether he killed himself or somebody killed him, but I do know he never came back from New York.