to Articles Menu
Book Report: How You Played the Game
posted on AmericanChronicle.com, Monday, March 28, 2011
In the 1999 book, How You Played the Game,
author William A. Harper explores the life and times of Grantland Rice, one of
the first true sports writers of the early part of the 20th century. Rice is
known as the Dean of American Sports Writers and carved a niche for himself in
the field of sports reporting, something that no one had really done before. He
lived and wrote during a time known as the Golden Age of Sports, mainly the
1920īs. It was a time that included the liked of Babe Ruth, Knute Rockne, Jack
Dempsey, Ty Cobb, Red Grange and Jim Thorpe, just to name a few.
Grantland Rice, who was known as Granny to his friends, grew up in Nashville,
Tennessee. After high school, he attended the Wallace University School in 1896,
which was a college prep school. A year later he entered Vanderbilt University
where he majored in Greek and Latin, but he also studied poetry. While in
college he played baseball, football, basketball and was on the track team. Rice
was a good athlete, but not a great one. Even so, he was named captain of the
baseball team his senior year and played short stop.
After graduating from Vanderbilt in 1901, Rice signed with a semi-pro baseball
team and spent the summer barnstorming across the south. His family was not too
happy about his baseball playing career and they insisted that he come home and
get a "real" job. He became a reporter with the Nashville Dailey News, a brand
new newspaper that had just started up in the city. He was a sports and general
reporter with a $5.00 a week salary. Rice loved covering sports but not other
news. When it came to covering politics, he convinced a reporter from a rival
newspaper in town, the Nashville Banner, to write political articles for him. In
turn, Rice wrote sports articles for the Banner reporter, who didn't like to
In 1902, Rice took a new job in Georgia with the Atlanta Journal newspaper. He
again covered sports and was also assigned as the theater critic. Rice had no
interest in covering the theater so he encouraged a friend of his, Don Marquis,
to go along and write the theater reviews for him. Marquis went on to become a
famous playwright thanks to the start he got by going to the theater with
Atlanta, as in Nashville, the main sport that Rice covered was baseball. He was
becoming quite well know and began receiving telegrams from several people he
did not even know telling him about an up and coming minor league baseball
player by the name of Ty Cobb. Rice began writing about Cobb and his coverage
eventually led to Cobb being signed by the Detroit Tigers. Many years later,
Cobb confessed to Rice that he himself had sent Rice the telegrams using several
false names in order to increase his exposure in the newspapers.
Rice covered all kinds of sports in Atlanta from bicycle racing, which was very
popular at the time, to baseball and college football. He covered the Georgia
Tech football team, which, at the time, was coached by John Heisman.
In 1905, he convinced his boss at the Atlanta Journal to send him to cover the
first sanctioned World Series between the Philadelphia Athletics of the American
League and New York Giants of the National League. Until then, his coverage had
only been local or regional in scope. This would be his first national sporting
When he retuned to Atlanta after the World Series, he received a job offer from
the Cleveland News, another brand new newspaper. They offered Rice $50.00 per
week to be their sports editor and he accepted. Rice was so respected as a
sports reporter in Atlanta that the rival newspaper, the Atlanta News, published
a 250 word editorial in tribute to him before he left for Cleveland.
In the spring of 1906, Rice traveled with the Cleveland baseball team to Atlanta
for spring training. While there, he married his girlfriend, Katherine Hollis,
on April 11.
Grantland Rice often used poetry as part of his articles. It came very easy to
him and helped him express the events he was reporting on. When the Cleveland
baseball team finished the season with a dismal record in 1906, Rice was
inspired to write a sequel to the famous 1888 Ernest Thayer poem, "Casey at the
Bat." Rice penned the poem, "Casey's Revenge" which became almost as popular as
After a year in Cleveland, Grantland and Kate were homesick for the South. As
fate would have it, yet another new newspaper was starting up in Nashville and
Rice was offered $70.00 per week to be the sports editor of the new Nashville
Tennessean. He took the job and the Rice family, which now included a daughter,
Florence, moved to Tennessee. His sports column at the Tennessean was called
Being the only person in the Sports department, Rice worked 12-18 hour days,
seven days a week putting the sports section together. However, he still found
time to coach the Vanderbilt baseball team during the 1908 season.
In the fall of 1908, Rice not only traveled to Ann Arbor to cover the Vanderbilt
football game against Michigan, but he was also the head linesman on the
officiating crew. This was not all that unusual in the early 1900īs and Rice was
widely considered to be a very fair referee.
When the Vanderbilt Alumni Association asked Grantland Rice to write a poem to
inspire present and future alumni, he penned his poetic masterpiece called,
"Alumnus Football." While you may not recognize the title, you will surely
recognize the final lines of the poem, which have been paraphrased in sports
reporting ever since;
"For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
He writes-not that you won or lost-but how you played the game."
After four years at the Nashville Tennessean, Rice was offered a job at the New
York Evening Mail in December 1910. The pay was not quite as good, only $50.00
per week, but he would be strictly a sports writer and columnist and would not
be involved with actually putting the paper together, so he would have more
quality time with his family. Rice took the job.
The Evening Mail was one of seven newspapers in New York that each put out two
editions everyday. It was not one of the top newspapers, but it was, after all,
in New York City.
One of the first people that Rice met upon arriving at the Evening Mail was a
fellow sportswriter and cartoonist named Rube Goldberg. Goldberg would become
famous over the years for his humorous drawings depicting elaborate and complex
ways to accomplish simple tasks.
Rice's column at the Evening Mail had several different names the first few
years. He finally settled on calling it The Sportlight. In his first official
Sportlight column on October 31, 1911, Rice reprinted his "Alumnus Football"
poem, exposing it to a whole new audience outside of Tennessee. In 1912, he also
began writing freelance articles for Collier's magazine.
By 1915, he was so well known in New York that he was offered a job at a rival
newspaper, the New York Tribune, for $280 per week. Rice accepted the offer and
took his Sportlight column with him.
Rice's Sportlight column at the New York Tribune was syndicated around the
country, which brought him national attention.
Outside of the sports world that Rice was so engrossed in, the war to end all
wars (a.k.a. World War I) was raging in Europe. Many athletes were being drafted
into military service or joining outright to do their part. Rice knew that there
were bigger things in life than covering sports so in December 1917, at the age
of 37, he too enlisted in the Army. He started out his military life at the
bottom, as a private, just like everyone else. It wasn't long before he earned a
commission as a second lieutenant and was assigned to an artillery unit.
In April 1918, he shipped out with his unit to France. In June, his unit was
ordered to the front lines, but soon after they arrived, Rice received a
reassignment to Paris to work on the Stars and Stripes, a daily newspaper for
the troops that had just started publishing in February. He was not happy about
Eventually, Rice got himself reassigned
back to his artillery unit. The war ended in November 1918 and Rice returned to
the States in February 1919. Before he headed off to war, Rice had set aside
$75,000, a pretty tidy nest egg in those days, and entrusted it to a friend who
was a lawyer. The money was to be used to support his wife and daughter if he
did not return from the war. But while he was away, his friend tried investing
the money to increase it and lost it all in the process. His friend committed
suicide as Rice was returning to the States.
In the spring of 1919, Rice met Babe Ruth for the first time and the two
immediately became friends. That fall, Rice was in the press box covering the
infamous 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati
Reds. That was the series when eight White Sox players, including Shoeless Joe
Jackson, were accused and eventually indicted in federal court of accepting
money from gamblers to lose the series.
President Warren G. Harding was an avid reader of Rice's Sportlight column.
Harding extended an invitation to Rice to play a round of golf with him and the
two hit the links in April 1921.
The 1922 World Series between the New York Yankees and the New York Giants was
the first to be broadcast live on the radio. Who better to handle the
play-by-play that Grantland Rice? It was the one and only time in his career
that Rice ever called a game. It was broadcast on radio station WJZ which had a
300 mile range.
Rice was also in the press box at the opening of the newly constructed Yankee
Stadium in 1923. It was known as "The House That Ruth Built," and Ruth did not
disappoint his fans when he hit two home runs for the Yankees during the game.
The 1923 World Series was once again played in New York between the Yankees and
the Giants and Rice was once again in the press box covering the series. But he
skipped Game 4 in order to cover a college football game at Ebbets Field between
Notre Dame and Army. However, Rice could not manage to get into the press box
and had to settle for a sideline pass for the game. On one play, all four
members of the Notre Dame backfield ran wide on an end run. They literally ran
over Rice, knocking him to the ground. He described the incident by saying,
"They're like a wild horse stampede." The following year, Rice's description of
the Notre Dame backfield would become a part of sports history forever.
On October 18, 1924, Rice was in the press box for the Army-Notre Dame Game. He
sat at his typewriter and typed the words that would forever catapult him and
the team into legendary status;
"Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In
dramatic lore they are know as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These
are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden.
They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting
Army football team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds yesterday
afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down on the bewildering panorama spread on
the green plain below."
Rice had actually used The Four Horsemen moniker in articles before, but it
never stuck in the mind of the public until this time. He first used it in 1922
when talking about the upcoming World Series and used the phrase, The Four
Horsemen of Autumn. He used it again just weeks before the Notre Dame game when
he described the best four players on the American polo team as The Four
Horsemen of Polo.
The very same day as the Notre Dame-Army game, Harold "Red" Grange scored four
touchdowns in the opening minutes of a game between the Fighting Illini and the
visiting Michigan Wolverines. Though Rice was not there to witness the game
first hand, he began referring to Grange as a Galloping Ghost of the Gridiron.
Two games, two iconic nicknames that stand to this day, all thanks to one man,
When Walter Camp, the Father of American Football, died in March of 1924, Rice
took over for him in selecting the annual college football All-American team.
Camp originated the tradition in 1889 and had been doing it all on his own ever
since. But when Rice took on the task, he organized a team of sports writers
from around the country to help him out. Rice continued producing the annual
list for the next 21 years, through 1946.
The newspaper that he had been writing for, the New York Tribune, merged with
the New York Herald in 1924 to become the New York Herald Tribune. In early
1930, Rice left the Herald Tribune and went to work for the North American
Newspaper Alliance. He was no longer tied to any one newspaper and was free to
cover whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted in his Sportlight column. His words
were now published in 95 newspapers around the country with a total of 10
He also branched out into radio in March of 1930 and had his own half hour show
on NBC sponsored by Coca-Cola. He was also producing a series of short
Sportlight films that were shown in theaters. The film series won two Academy
Awards during its 15 years of production.
Grantland Rice covered every spot imaginable in his day, baseball, football,
golf, horseracing, the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1936 Olympics in
In 1948, he was featured on a new radio show called, "This is Your Life." Hosted
by Ralph Edwards, the format of the show was to bring unsuspecting celebrity
guests on and then reuniting them with people from their past. The show featured
appearances by The Four Horsemen, Jim Thorpe and coach Amos Alonzo Stagg.
After the stock market crashed in the fall of 1929, which in turn led the
country into the Great Depression, sports writing became more serious. It was a
reflection of what was going on in the world at the time, economic hardship at
home and the rise of fascist Germany in Europe. But Rice continued on the same
as he always has, with an enthusiasm and genuine love of all sports and the
athletes who played. It was Rice who first convinced his editor to allow him to
cover golf while he was working at the New York evening News when no other
newspapers were paying any attention to it. He saw the potential in the up and
coming sport not only for spectators but as a participatory game for everyone.
In 1949, Rice wrote a letter to the head of the U.S. Olympic Committee asking if
there was anything that could be done to get Jim Thorpe's Olympic medals
returned. They had been stripped from him after the 1912 games in Stockholm,
Sweden after it was learned that he had once been paid while playing baseball.
The response from the USOC was an emphatic no.
Rice had written and published several book in his time. One a collection of his
newspaper poetry and another was on golf. He also collaborated with Georgia Tech
head coach John Heisman and published a 63-page booklet called "Understanding
Football." It sold for 50 cents.
Grantland Rice died on July 13, 1954 at the age of 74. One of his last articles
that ever appeared in print was in the first issue of a new magazine that
debuted in August of 1954 called Sports Illustrated. It was an article on golf.
This quiet southern gentleman with a gift for painting pictures with his words
was the perfect person to cover the Golden Age of Sports. His Sportlight column
was read my millions of people across the country including the President of the
United States. During his lifetime he rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest
icons in sports history, and in the process, he became in icon in his own right,
outshining many of his contemporaries including Damon Runyon, Ring Lardner and
Since 1954, the Grantland Rice Trophy has been awarded to the college football
national champion, as selected by the Football Writers Association of America.
Grantland Rice Trophy. Football Writers Association of America
to Articles Menu