Elroy Hirsch Passes Away at 80 Madison, Wis.
Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, the colorful and popular football star and former Wisconsin Athletic Director passed away from natural causes Wednesday morning. The 80-year-old Hirsch, a native of Wausau, Wis., was a state athletic icon.
"There has never been a more loved and admired ambassador for Badger sports than Elroy Hirsch," says Director of Athletics Pat Richter. "His charismatic and charming personality brought smiles to so many Badger fans. Anyone who came in contact with him enjoyed a special treat. He loved life, loved people and loved the Badgers. His passing is a huge loss to the Badger family, and our sympathies go to his family at this difficult time."
Hirsch enrolled at UW-Madison after a distinguished prep career in which he was an honored athlete in football and basketball at Wausau High School. Hirsch, in fact, was a 1988 inductee into the National High School Sports Hall of Fame.
He played for the 1942 Badgers as a triple-threat halfback. That club was 8-1-1, including a 17-7 win over No. 1-ranked Ohio State (Hirsch threw one touchdown pass and accounted for more than 200 yards of total offense vs. the Buckeyes), and finished the season ranked third nationally by the Associated Press. Hirsch rushed for 786 yards, passed for 226 yards and had 390 yards receiving on the way to third-team All-America honors from Look magazine.
With World War II raging at that time, Hirsch entered the Marine Corps and was transferred to the University of Michigan where he continued his distinguished athletic career. Hirsch became the only athlete in Wolverine history to letter in four sports (football, basketball, track and baseball) at the school. The 1943 Michigan football team for which he played was third in the final A.P. poll.
It was at Michigan in 1944 that Hirsch turned in one of his greatest athletic achievements. Participating in the Big Ten Outdoor Track Championships at Illinois, he broad jumped 22-5 ¾ inches during the preliminary round. He then left the track meet and after a car trip of 150 miles to Bloomington, Ind., pitched the second game of a doubleheader (tossing a four-hitter in a 12-1 win). His broad jump mark, incidentally, held up for third place at the conference meet.
Hirsch played in the 1946 Chicago Tribune College Football All-Star Game and was named Most Valuable Player after scoring two long touchdowns in a 16-0 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
At the conclusion of his exemplary college career, Hirsch was a 1945 NFL first-round draft choice of Cleveland. He began his pro career as a running back with the Chicago Rockets (1946-48) of the All-America Conference and later starred with the Rams (1949-57).
Hirsch was a key part of the Rams' revolutionary "three-end offense" and finished his pro football career with 387 receptions for 7,029 yards and 60 touchdowns. He set an NFL season record with 1,495 receiving yards (66 catches and 17 TDs) in 1951 as the Rams won the league championship. The pro game's first true flanker, Hirsch is a member of the NFL's All-Time All-Star team and is credited - along with 1950-era stars like Otto Graham, Sam Huff and Gino Marchetti - for helping change the game from one of two-way players to one with offensive and defensive specialists.
After his playing days, Hirsch joined the Union Oil Company as director of sports and special events. He then returned to the Rams as general manager (succeeding Pete Rozelle) and later as assistant to the team president.
Hirsch, perhaps, made his greatest contributions to his home state when he returned to the UW as Director of Athletics beginning on Feb. 28, 1969. Over the next 18 years, Hirsch presided over an era of growth, change and success in Wisconsin sports. He was a tireless promoter of Badger sports and will be remembered as its greatest cheerleader. Hirsch is credited with injecting life into a debt-ridden athletic department and improving university morale in a time of despair.
When he came aboard as director, the Badgers were $200,000 in debt and ticket revenues were dwindling as the football team was coming off 20 winless games (0-19-1) over two seasons. Hirsch's celebrity status and desire to sell the program to all reaches of the state paid dividends.
During his administration, the department expanded its sports offerings from 12 men's sports to 25 men's and women's programs. The Badgers captured numerous Big Ten team titles during his time and won national championships in men's hockey, men's and women's crew, and men's and women's cross country. Hirsch, noting "that 85 percent of the department's income is from football" helped raise attendance at home games from 43,000 in 1968 to more than 70,000 per game in only four years.
Hirsch officially left his Athletic Director duties in 1987 but remained very active as an ambassador for Badger Athletics.
Another of Hirsch's careers was as a talented actor. He made three movies: "Zero Hour", "Unchained" and the famed "Crazylegs" (released in 1953), in which he played himself.
His nickname, "Crazylegs," was invented by Chicago sportswriter Francis Powers, who was covering Wisconsin's game vs. Great Lakes in 1942. As Hirsch was running 61 yards for a touchdown, Powers described the run as "his crazy legs were gyrating in six different directions all at the same time." The "Crazylegs" legend was born.
The UW retired Hirsch's No. 40 and also named him to the school's all-time football team in 1969. Hirsch was a member of the Athletic Department / National W Club inaugural Hall of Fame class (1990), and he's also been inducted into the state of Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame (1965), the National Football League Hall of Fame (1968), the National Football Hall of Fame (1974) and the Madison Sports Hall of Fame (1977).
The "Crazylegs" moniker and its namesake, in recent times, have been celebrated annually in the spring with the Crazylegs Run in Madison. The incredibly popular run/walk attracts more than 10,000 participants for one of the Athletic Department's biggest fundraisers. Hirsch has been the official race starter from the beginning. The 23rd annual Crazylegs Run will be held in Madison on April 24, 2004.
Hirsch was born on June 17, 1923. He is survived by his wife Ruth, son Winn and daughter Patty Malmquist.