In 1925, one of college football’s biggest stars did the unthinkable. Harold “Red” Grange, described by the famous sportswriter Damon Runyan as “three or four men rolled into one for football purposes,” decided to leave college early in order to play in the National Football League.
While no fan today would begrudge an All-American athlete for going pro without his diploma, things were different for Grange. The NFL was only a few years old, and his decision to take the money in the pros before finishing his degree at the University of Illinois was a controversial one. It was especially reviled by Robert Zuppke, his coach at Illinois.
As the story goes, Grange broke the news to Zuppke before promising to return to finish his degree. “If I have anything to do with it you won’t come back here,” Zuppke replied, furious that a respectable college man would drop out and try to make a living off playing a game. “But Coach,” Grange said. “You make money off of football. Why can’t I make money off of football?”