The football world lost legendary two-way player LeRoy Keyes on Thursday. He was 74.
He died at his home in West Lafayette, Indiana surrounded by his wife and family, per FOX59 in Indiana. No immediate cause of death was given, but Keyes had been in poor health due to congestive heart failure and a prostate cancer recurrence.
Keyes earned his stripes as an All-American at Purdue University before striving for NFL fame. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted him with the third overall pick in 1969. He spent four seasons in Philadelphia (1969-72) and one in Kansas City (1973).
A triple-threat on the field, Keyes played running back, cornerback, and safety. He also chipped in as a return specialist and received the appropriate moniker of “The Golden Mr. Do-Everything.” He recorded a career-high six interceptions and recovered three fumbles for the Eagles in 1971.
The 6-foot-3, 208-pounder finished his college career with 2,090 yards and 1,204 receiving yards. He was the runner-up to O.J. Simpson in Heisman Trophy voting in 1968 when he rushed for 1,003 yards and 14 touchdowns. Keyes was named the school’s all-time greatest player after setting records for touchdowns (37), points (222), and all-purpose yards (3,757).
“This morning we lost a great friend and football brother, Leroy Keyes,” former Purdue quarterback Mark Herrmann wrote on Twitter. “He was a true Boilermaker legend, loved by all. We will miss his contagious smile and warm laugh. He joins a legion of Purdue fans and friends in heaven who can once again chant “Give the ball to Leroy!”
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Desegregation Specialist for School District
Keyes worked as a desegregation specialist for the Philadelphia School District for 16 years after his playing career ended.
He explained the impetus for his post-NFL work to Purdue Alumnus magazine in 2020. Keyes detailed his participation in a sit-in that led to his arrest, much to his family’s dissatisfaction.
I participated in a couple of sit-ins. Students at the time were upset with the Vietnam War and a lack of minority faculty on our campus. I was arrested at one protest, and a photo of me went across the wire. My uncle called and said he didn’t send me to Purdue to be a protester.
Sometimes, you have to take a stand if you think something is wrong. I grew up in Newport News, Virginia. I knew what segregation was about. The students appreciated that one of the top football players would sit in on a demonstration with them.
Keyes was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990 and named to Purdue’s Mount Rushmore of all-time greats in 2014. That distinguished list includes Keyes, Drew Brees, Bob Griese, Rod Woodson. Rest In Peace.
“When you talk about the greatest era of Purdue football, that’s what he was,” said former Eagles receiver Calvin Williams, a Purdue alumnus, via the Eagles website. “He was tremendous, a two-way player.”