Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch

Elroy Hirsch was a Hall of Fame receiver who helped revolutionize the pro game. Later, he served as the athletic director at Wisconsin for nearly two decades, lifting the program from turmoil. Yet he always will be remembered for having one of the greatest nicknames in sports: "Crazy Legs." "The nickname does it because I don't think anyone would remember Elroy," Hirsch once said.

Elroy Hirsch died Wednesday January 28th of natural causes at the age of 80 in an assisted living facility in Madison, Wisconsin. Hirsch left behind a rich sports legacy and a legion of admirers. It all was stamped by the distinctive nickname that stuck with him for more than 60 years.

In his report of Wisconsin's game against the Great Lakes Naval Station at Soldier Field in 1942, the Chicago Daily News' Francis Powers wrote: "Hirsch ran like a demented duck. His crazy legs were gyrating in six different directions all at the same time during a 61-yard touchdown run that solidified the win."

The description became a fitting moniker for one of the best athletes ever to come out of Wisconsin. Born June 17, 1923 in Wausau, he played only one season at the University of Wisconsin. In 1942, he rushed for 786 yards in helping the Badgers to an 8-1-1 mark. His Number 40 is one of only 4 numbers the Badgers have retired.

Hirsch then joined the marines in World War II and was sent to the University of Michigan for training. He showed his all-around athletic prowess at Ann Arbor, becoming the only Michigan athlete ever to letter in 4 different sports in one year: basketball, track, baseball and football.

"He was an outgoing, fun-loving, popular guy," said Don Lund, who played football, basketball and baseball with Hirsch at Michigan. "Everything about him as a man and an athlete was outstanding."

Football was his specialty, and after the war, he joined the Chicago Rockets of the All-America Football conference from 1946-1948. Hirsch then moved onto to the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL, where he became the game's first true Wide Reciever.

Along with fellow receiver Tom Fears, Hirsch teamed with quarterbacks Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin for one of the league's great aerial shows. In 1951, he caught 66 passes for 1,495 yards and 17 touchdowns in helping lead the Rams to the title. Van Brocklin said of Hirsch: "Talk about the gent who zigged when he should have zagged. Roy also has a zog and a couple of varieties of zug when he's under full steam."

During a career that ran through 1957, he amassed 7,029 receiving yards and 60 touchdowns. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1968. "Crazy Legs was not only a great Hall of Fame receiver, but also a Hall of Fame teammate," Harland Svare said Wednesday after hearing of his death.

Svare played with Hirsch in 1953-54 and later was coach of the Rams when Hirsch was general manager. "He was already Crazy Legs when he got here, but his style of catching passes was so unique," Svare said. "He used to swing underneath the pass and take it in over his head. It made it very difficult for anyone to defend him."

Elroy Hirsch was one of the most popular players during his day, helping to establish football in Los Angeles. He had such a following that he played himself in a 1953 movie, "Crazy Legs." He also appeared in two other movies. "Elroy Hirsch was a big star in a town of stars," NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in a statement. "He was an electrifying player who brought a lot of glamour to the NFL."

After his football career, Elroy Hirsch achieved notoriety for his 18-year tenure as Wisconsin's athletic director. In 1969, he took over a program that was $200,000 in debt. Much of the cause stemmed from sagging football attendance during the football team's 20-game winless streak.

Hirsch's presence helped revive the department. With the addition of new football coach John Jardine, the program turned around quickly. Even after his retirement in 1987, Hirsch remained a fixture in Wisconsin. His annual Crazy Legs Run attracts more than 10,000 runners, serving as one of the Badgers' best fundraisers.

"There has never been a more loved and admired ambassador for Badgers sports than Elroy Hirsch," Wisconsin athletic director Pat Richter said. "His charismatic and charming personality brought smiles to so many Badger fans. He loved life, loved people, and loved the Badgers."

Hirsch is survived by his wife Ruth, son Winn and daughter Patty Malmquist.

Source: Chicago Tribune

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