Athletics & Recreation
Heading into a junior varsity football game in 1937, Huntington’s coach asked the Wabash coach if he could bring along an eighth-grader. The Wabash coach, figuring the Huntington team was so desperate for talent that they had to dig that far for players, confidently said “Bring all the eighth-graders you want.” Thirteen-year-old Rex Grossman scored five touchdowns in that game, an opening act to one of the most successful football careers of any Huntington County player and foreshadowing a three-generation football legacy.
He was born in Huntington on February 5, 1924, to Urban and Lona Grossman. His father had inherited the family’s feed barn business, but in 1929, Urban died in an accident. Lona was left with three children under the age of six.
Young Rex, nicknamed “Moe,” was a natural in football, baseball, basketball, track and swimming. By the time he entered Huntington High School, Grossman had grown to six feet tall and more than 200 pounds. He had also developed an intense and competitive nature. While he played multiple sports, Grossman excelled at football. The fullback combined size and speed, making for a tough ballcarrier to bring down. Teaming with shifty halfback Ray Overmire, the two were dubbed the “Touchdown Twins.”
In 1940, the Vikings averaged 41 points a game. For the season, Grossman posted 143 points and Overmire 150 points as the pair finished first and second in the state in scoring. Their exploits even earned them mention in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” national newspaper column. An injury his senior year shortened Grossman’s final season, but he played well enough to earn All-State honors for a second straight year. He also made his mark in basketball as an all-conference guard who helped the Vikings earn back-to-back regional championships.
Grossman went on to play football and basketball at Indiana University, where he found immediate success on the freshman teams. He left school in 1943 for the Army and received a Purple Heart for his service in Europe during World War II. Returning to IU following the war, Grossman rejoined the Hoosiers for the 1946 football season. He played quarterback, fullback, linebacker and kicker over two seasons. He passed up his final collegiate season to join the professional ranks.
Grossman was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League, but chose to sign with the Baltimore Colts of the All-American Football Conference. In his rookie season, Grossman shined as a kicker. He led the league with 10 field goals, including a league-best 51-yarder. Over his first two seasons, he converted on 64 extra points without a miss.
The Colts joined the more-established NFL in 1950. Grossman was released by the team in the middle of the season, and finished the year with the Detroit Lions. The Lions traded Grossman to the Cleveland Browns, where he lost out in a kicking competition to future Hall-of-Famer Lou Groza.
He returned to Bloomington with his wife Nancy to start his own business as a contractor building homes and commercial buildings, many of which are still standing. Grossman, who helped to establish the first youth football league in Bloomington, was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame in 1976. He was honored by Indiana University in 1979 with the Z.G. Clevenger Award for his lifetime of service to the school.
The Grossmans’ three children, Rex Daniel (known as Dan), Frank (known as Dobby) and Jill carried on their father’s tradition by all becoming top athletes. Jill made her name as a nationally-ranked junior swimmer. Both sons were taught by their father how to hold the football and throw it to get the best spin. They were each All-American quarterbacks at Bloomington High School.
Dan followed his father to IU, where he played quarterback and linebacker. Dobby became the starting quarterback at South Carolina, then transferred to IU for his senior season.
In days before most games were televised, Grossman would follow Dobby’s games by calling a hotel in Columbia, South Carolina, and having someone hold up the telephone to a radio so he could listen to his son’s game.
Dan taught his son, Rex III, to throw the football the same way he had learned from his father. The younger Rex broke high school passing records of his father and uncle, then went to the University of Florida, where he was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 2001. In 2007, he quarterbacked the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl.
Grossman never got to see his namesake grandson play. He died on June 13, 1980, and Rex III was born in August of that year. Nonetheless, the third-generation quarterback considered his grandfather an influence on his career through the lessons and legacy passed down through the Grossman family.