Special event celebrates 'Red' Grange, the Virginia Theatre
CHAMPAIGN — It's "the team from Ann Arbor," Illini head football coach Tim Beckman said. Michigan is a bad word.
And so it was the team from Ann Arbor whom Harold "Red" Grange ran over for six touchdowns — four in the first 12 minutes of the game — in 1924 at Memorial Stadium. The game would propel "the Galloping Ghost" to the forefront of college football, and eventually he would rejuvenate a struggling professional football league.
His legacy was celebrated on Friday, as well as the legacy of the Virginia Theatre. Some audience members were taking their first look at the theater's fresh renovations as it opened the 2013 fall season.
"What a great venue," Beckman said. "No question about it."
Organizers said the night signified the launch of the Illini football season — the team's first game is at home Aug. 31 versus Southern Illinois University — and launches a new era for the Virginia Theatre as it begins its first full season with $7.5 million worth of renovations.
High-ranking University of Illinois officials, including President Robert Easter, Chancellor Phyllis Wise and Athletic Director Mike Thomas, were in attendance on Friday night, as were the football team's senior players and The Marching Illini.
Friday night's feature was "The Galloping Ghost: Red Grange Visits the Virginia," a history of Grange's legacy with the Illini and his connection to the Virginia Theatre, written by author Charlie Finn.
Grange's agent, Charlie Pyle, happened to own the Virginia Theatre, and the theater became a common hangout for Grange.
"He is the name," Beckman said. "He is something that we're all very, very proud of."
WDWS' Jim Turpin hosted the show and called the theater "a true community building."
Friday's show was also a fundraiser for the theater, park district officials said. They have been raising money for upgrades and maintenance yet to come.
The show was the launch to a season park district officials say they are excited about. Grammy-award winning blues guitarist Robert Cray will appear Saturday with guest Cody & The Gateway Drugs, and park district board president Joseph Petry said the district confirmed Friday morning that Vince Gill will perform at the Virginia Theatre in the spring.
As for the football season, Beckman says the team is excited, too.
"I would say anxious; that's a good word to use," Beckman said. "They're tired of hitting orange and blue, that's for sure."