“The Team Of Nobodies From Nowhere”

Few players in gridiron history have ever dominated a single game the way that Red Grange did in the 1924 Illinois – Michigan game.

After returning the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, Grange ran for three more scores by the end of the first quarter. And after a merciful Coach Zuppke sat him down for most of the rest of the contest, Grange got up from the bench in the second half and added two more touchdowns just to rub it in. All this against a Michigan team that hadn’t been beaten in three full years.

So you can imagine the sigh of relief that the 1927 Michigan eleven heaved upon knowing the terror known as “The Wheaton Iceman” was safely tucked away in the NFL. Now playing for George Halas’s Chicago Bears, Red spent his autumn afternoons torturing Giants and Packers rather than Wildcats and Wolverines. Meanwhile, Michigan had resumed its winning ways, having lost but three games in the last three years and having blanked its first three opponents entering this matchup of unbeatens.

The bookies rated the game a tossup, having balanced Michigan’s record against the Illini’s win over previously-unbeaten Northwestern just a week earlier. Even though it was relatively early in the season, these were the two leading contenders for the Western Conference honors, and it was not too soon to say that the national championship might also be on the line.

But when the 67,000 spectators had barely settled into their seats, the Illini quickly showed that though Red Grange may have graduated, his younger brother Garland was just as opportunistic if not as explosive. Crashing through a phalanx of Michigan blockers, Grange stripped Wolverine halfback Bill Puckelwartz of the ball on his own seven yard line. Within a few seconds the Illini fullback Bud Timm had taken it in for the touchdown that would prove the winning margin, as the Illini eventually reigned supreme by a final score of 14-0.

The 1927 Illini were known in the newspapers as “The Starless Team”, and in a moment of political incorrectness were described by Red Grange himself as “The Team Of Nobodies From Nowhere”. But when the dust had settled and the speakeasy crowd had finished their shouting matches over their flasks of bootleg gin, it was agreed that they were the finest team in the land – even if the only Grange on the team was a kid brother named Garland.

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