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Grantland Rice

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Grantland Rice (November 1, 1880July 13, 1954) was an early 20th century American sportswriter.

Rice was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and subsequently attended Montgomery Bell Academy and Vanderbilt University in Nashville. After taking early jobs with the Atlanta Journal and the Cleveland News he later became a sportswriter for the Nashville Tennessean. Afterwards he obtained a series of prestigious jobs with major newspapers in the northeastern U.S. He is best known as being the successor to Walter Camp in the selection of college football All-America teams beginning in 1925, and for being the writer who dubbed the great backfield of the University of Notre Dame team of 1924 the "Four Horsemen" of Notre Dame, a Biblical reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, in a famous account published in the New York Herald Tribune on October 18 that describes the Notre Dame vs. Army game played at the Polo Grounds:

Outlined against a blue-gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known 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 team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.

The passage added great import to the event described and elevated it to a level far beyond that of a mere football game. This passage, although famous, is far from atypical, as Rice's writing tended to be of an "inspirational" or "heroic" style, raising games to the level of ancient combat and their heroes to the status of demigods. This would likely be widely ridiculed were it to be attempted today, but the readers of his time seem to have been mostly enamored of it. He became even better known after his columns were nationally syndicated beginning in 1930, and became known as the "Dean of American Sports Writers". He and his writing are among the reasons that the 1920s in the United States are sometimes referred to as the "Golden Age of Sports".

According to author Mark Inabinett in his 1994 work, Grantland Rice and His Heroes: The Sportswriter as Mythmaker in the 1920s, Rice very consciously set out to make heroes of sports figures who impressed him, most notably Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, Bobby Jones, Bill Tilden, Red Grange, and Knute Rockne. Unlike many writers of his era, Rice defended the right of football players such as Grange, and tennis players such as Tilden, to make a living as professionals, but he also decried the warping influence of big money in sports, once writing in his column,

Money to the left of them and money to the right
Money everywhere they turn from morning to the night
Only two things count at all from mountain to the sea
Part of it's percentage, and the rest is guarantee¹

A sportswriting scholarship named for Rice and fellow Vanderbilt alumnus and former Rice colleague Fred Russell is awarded each year to an entering Vanderbilt freshman who intends to pursue a career in sportswriting. The accomplished list of past winners includes author and humorist Roy Blount, Jr.; Skip Bayless of ESPN; Dave Sheinin of The Washington Post; and Tyler Kepner of The New York Times.

Rice authored a book of poetry, "Songs of the Stalwart" published in 1917 by D. Appleton and Company of New York.


"For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks - not that you won or lost -
But how you played the Game."

(from the poem "Alumnus Football")


¹"The Sportlight", New York Herald Tribune, August 10, 1927, p. 21


Inabinett, Mark, Grantland Rice and His Heroes: The Sportswriter as Mythmaker in the 1920s. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994 (ISBN 0-87049-848-7)

Pop Culture Edit

In The Legend of Bagger Vance he was played by Lane Smith. In "Bobby Jones: A Stroke of Genius" (2004) he was played by Allen O'Reilly.

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