In 2006, Rex Grossman was quarterbacking the Chicago Bears to an appearance in the Super Bowl. He was well-known in Indiana for his record-setting career at Bloomington South High School. He had gone on to the University of Florida, where he continued to break records, finishing second in the Heisman Trophy balloting. He then declared for the NFL Draft, where he was a first-round choice of the Bears.
But the Grossman name had a well-known football connection in Huntington dating back 60 years earlier.
Rex Grossman’s grandfather, the original Rex Grossman, had been a football star for Huntington High School in the early 1940s, played for Indiana University, and is still the only player from Huntington to play in the NFL.
His son, Rex Grossman II, who goes by his middle name of Dan, also played football at IU. He became an eye surgeon in Bloomington, where he started a family that included Rex Grossman III, the third generation gridiron star who was about to play in the Super Bowl.
I had known about the Grossman connection for a few years, after hearing tales from several people, including Ivan “Kaiser” Wilhelm, a local legend for his athletic accomplishments in the late 1940s and later as a coach and educator.
The story of the three Rex Grossman was one of those I had on my radar. When the Bears started their playoff run, the time seemed as good as any to put it together.
I figured I would have a hard time reaching the youngest Grossman for comment for the story. The Bears were in the middle of the playoffs, when access is even tighter than the regular season. I did put in a request with the team, but that went nowhere.
The eldest Rex Grossman, the one born in Huntington, had died in 1980. But Dan Grossman was still living and had his eye practice in Bloomington. I was able to reach him and pitched the idea for the story. He was more than willing to be the main interview for the story.
I had hoped to also go through Dan to get ahold of Rex for a quote or two, but even Dan had a tough time reaching his son at playoff time. Dan gave me great comments on his father and his son. He even gave me the quote that brought the while story together, about how his father had taught him how to throw a football, and he had done the same with young Rex. That completed the thread from Huntington to Bloomington to Chicago.
I was able to find some old photos from the 1941 Huntington High School yearbook, and added some background info from Kaiser Wilhelm. I had head shots of each of the three Rexes, and it was easy to see the family resemblance. I even came up with an action shot of grandfather Rex throwing the ball that closely matched the young Rex in a passing motion.
This was one of those stories that was fun to write and came together pretty quickly. It wasn’t award-winning journalism, but I got a lot of feedback on it from people who didn’t know the connection, or knew about the Viking teams that grandpa Rex played on.