Stop Grange, and we win. That was the thinking of new Nebraska coach Ernest Bearg going into the 1925 opener against his former employer, Illinois, and its electrifying halfback, Harold Red Grange.
Easier said than done, but on this October day on the Illinis rain-soaked home field, Beargs plan was executed beautifully. NU had a future Hall-of-Famer of its own, tackle Ed Weir, and the senior captain led a charge which over and over again halted the Galloping Ghost before he could get started.
Stop Grange they did, and win they did. The final: Nebraska 14, Illinois 0.
Grange, starting his third and final season for Illinois, never got close to the end zone, and he couldnt uncork any of his usual newsreel-worthy open-field jaunts. He finished with a little more than three yards per carry.
The Associated Press reported: Grange, unable to pierce the magnificent Nebraska defense and thwarted in his efforts to circle the ends, was taken out of the game a few seconds after the start of the fourth period broken and crushed. As the noted player, covered with mud from head to foot, walked to the sidelines, tears gathered in his eyes and he fell into the waiting arms of his comrades.
Asked how he had done it, Weir stated simply: I just saw which way he was running, and I ran after him and tackled him. Tackle Lon Stiner, center Harold Hutchinson and end Joe Weir also were credited with key roles in shutting down the Iceman, who was running behind a relatively green line.
On the games opening possession, NU failed to muster a first down, and Grange returned Ed Weirs punt 15 yards to set up the Illini at their own 35. But three plays later, Cornhusker fullback Frank Dailey intercepted a Grange pass and raced into the end zone, sidestepping Grange along the way, to give Nebraska a 7-0 lead.
The middle two quarters saw neither team able to mount much of a scoring threat. One exception was a Nebraska possession that penetrated the Illinois 30 but ended with a dropkick by John Jug Brown that went wide.
In the fourth period, after Grange had departed, NU guard Walter Scholz intercepted an Illinois pass to put the Huskers in business around the Illini 40. On the next play, halfback John Choppy Rhodes broke free off right tackle and kept going until he was forced out of bounds inside the 5. Two plays later, Rhodes got the touchdown on a 2-yard run.
It was Captain Weirs deadly tackling that accounted for many of Granges abrupt stops.
It was a signal victory for the Nebraska eleven. — The 1926 Cornhusker
Thousands turned out to see Red Grange, but in the Nebraska line was another gentleman, known in his hometown as Ed Weir
and though it might sound presumptuous to say that Mr. Grange had met his match, it can be said safely that when Mr. Grange had gone five yards he had made his run. — Grantland Rice
The captains new supporting cast
blocked weakly in front of the Orange and Blue ace and he was invariably left wide open to the clutches of a mass of determined Huskers at the scrimmage line. — Urbana Daily Courier
The red of Nebraska was mightier than the Red of Illinois. — Daily Illini (1, 2)
Weir smashed through the Illinois interference, spilling the players in every direction, and brought Grange down with gains of two or three yards.
The Nebraska line charged furiously and quickly, getting away faster than Illinois backfield players, and brought them to earth almost before they could get under way. — The Associated Press
It was Rhodes twisting, half crawling, always fighting manner that gave the Huskers most of their yardage. — Edward C. Derr, United Press
The widely-heralded Red Grange
failed utterly in his efforts to advance the oval against a hard fighting aggregation of Cornhuskers who tackled fiercely and quite frequently dumped the Illinois marvel to the turf back of his scrimmage line. — Cy Sherman, Lincoln Star
Nebraska pulled a bread-knife out of its jersey and poked at the red jugular of Illinois — Harold Grange. Thumped, tumbled, jostled, sat upon, he was taken out of the game in the fourth quarter largely through the efforts of Captain Edward Weir. — Time magazine *
* Ed was not short for Edward. Weirs full name was Samuel Edwin Weir.
One myth about this game is that it was the only time in his Illinois career that Grange was held without a touchdown, but that simply is not true. He and the Illini were blanked again at home three weeks later by Michigan, 3-0. Also, Grange in 1924 had been held scoreless in the Illinis 9-6 win in Lincoln, although he did throw a touchdown pass. The 1923 game was a different story, though, as Grange scored three touchdowns in his college debut, a 24-7 win over Nebraska.
It was a marquee game that drew many of the top sportswriters of the day.
Before the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, perhaps there was a Time jinx. Red Grange was on the cover of the newsmagazines current issue, and inside was a lengthy article about him and the coming 1925 season. Though the season hadnt yet begun, Grange already was being courted by the pros and at seasons end would immediately join the Chicago Bears, playing in their final two games and then going on a grueling barnstorming tour that put professional football on the map.
How many yards did Grange get? The keeping of statistics was more haphazard then, so take your pick: The Associated Press said he carried 19 times for 62 yards and had one pass completion for 18 yards. A recent Grange biography says he got 57 yards rushing. An Omaha World-Herald account gave an implausible minus-40 yards. (Similarly, Frank Daileys interception return for the opening touchdown is variously listed at 55, 45, 40, 35 and 33 yards.) You can try to sort it all out yourself by tracking the plays in these two detailed accounts from the Daily Illini and the Urbana Daily Courier,
but a lot of it just doesnt add up.
According to the above newspaper accounts, Illinois had five turnovers in all: three interceptions (two thrown by Grange) and two fumbles. Nebraska suffered two turnovers, both at the hands of Illinois halfback Raymond Gallivan, who picked off a pass by John Jug Brown and recovered a fumble by John Choppy Rhodes.
The teams combined for more than 20 punts; at the time, punting was common on third, second or even first down.
In another indication of how the game has changed, Granges decision to try a pass from Illinois own territory in the first quarter was considered a major tactical blunder, criticized by Illinois coach Bob Zuppke and even referee Walter Eckersall.
Ed and Joe Weirs father drove 800 miles to see the game.
It was the 21st birthday of John Jug Brown, who kicked both of Nebraskas PATs.
Weir and Grange both are charter members of the College Football Hall of Fame. They were born three months apart in 1903, were enshrined in the hall in 1951 and died within four months of each other in 1991. Another Hall-of-Famer for the Illini, junior guard Bernie Shively, sat out the game as he nursed an injury. Illinois longtime head coach, Bob Zuppke, also is in the Hall of Fame.