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Johnny Mack Brown. With Mae West, on movie set. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111083).

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Brown, Johnny Mack (01 September 1904–14 November 1974), college football player and film actor, was born John Mack Brown in Dothan, Alabama, the son of John Henry Brown and Hattie McGillary. Brown’s father owned a small retail shoe store in Dothan that brought the family only a small income. Johnny had to go to work at an early age selling newspapers. He spent much of his youth fishing, hunting, and playing football and other sports with his five brothers. Brown attended Dothan High School, where he earned letters in track, baseball, and football and was an all-state football player. In 1923 Brown earned a scholarship to play football all four years at the University of Alabama....

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Gifford, Frank (16 Aug. 1930–9 Aug. 2015), professional football player and broadcaster, was born Frank Newton Gifford in Santa Monica, California, the youngest of three children of Weldon Wayne Gifford, an oil and shipyards worker, and Lola Mae (Hawkins) Gifford.

Frank was a shy boy whose lisp made him self-conscious. His family moved through Depression-era trailer camps, hunting work. Football bolstered his confidence, and the sport became his lifelong identity. He was co-captain of the Bakersfield High School Drillers, who became San Joaquin Valley football champions in ...

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Red Grange. Red Grange [second from right], signing a movie contract, with his manager, Charles C. Pyle, standing alongside. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105233).

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Grange, Red (13 June 1903–28 January 1991), football player, coach, and broadcaster, was born Harold Edward Grange in Forksville, Pennsylvania, the son of Lyle Grange, a lumber camp foreman, and Sadie Sherman. When Grange’s mother died in 1908, his father moved the family, which included Red’s older sisters and his three-year-old brother, to Wheaton, Illinois, where the elder Grange had grown up. Years later, Red, as he was nicknamed because of his auburn hair, recalled that “at first I missed Forksville terribly,” but as time passed he realized that Wheaton “offered a more civilized way of life.”...

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Harmon, Tom (28 September 1919–15 March 1990), football player and sportscaster, was born Thomas Dudley Harmon in Rensselaer, Indiana, the son of Louis A. Harmon, a steel mill policeman, and Rose Marie Guinn. Harmon grew up in Gary, Indiana, where, under the coaching of Doug Kerr at Horace Mann High School, he earned fourteen varsity letters in four sports, started three years for the football team, was the leading national interscholastic football scorer with 150 points in a season, and won state track and field championships. Coach Kerr steered Harmon toward the University of Michigan, where Kerr had played, and where he took the high school’s backfield each spring for a clinic....