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Elroy 'Crazy Legs' Hirsch; Rams player had running style

MADISON, Wis. -- Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, an NFL Hall of Famer who earned his nickname for an erratic on-field running style, died Wednesday of natural causes at an assisted living facility. He was 80.

Mr. Hirsch was a halfback and receiver for the NFL's Los Angeles Rams from 1949 to 1957. Before that, he played for the Chicago Rockets of the All-America Football Conference. It was as a running back for the University of Wisconsin, however, that Mr. Hirsch earned his nickname. After running 62 yards for a touchdown one afternoon at Soldiers Field, he was described by a sportswriter as running like a "demented duck," whose "crazy legs were gyrating in six different directions all at the same time."

From that day on, Mr. Hirsch was known as "Crazy Legs."

"It was better than being called Elroy," Mr. Hirsch said many times.

He became one of the NFL's most exciting players, a key part of the Rams's revolutionary "three-end" offense in 1949.

His best season was 1951, when he led the NFL with 66 catches, 1,495 yards receiving, and 17 touchdowns. Catching passes from Hall of Fame quarterbacks Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin, Mr. Hirsch had an average touchdown reception of 47.8 yards.

He was named Pro Player of the Year as the Rams defeated the Cleveland Browns, 24-17, to win the NFL championship.

"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."

Mr. Hirsch's nickname remains one of the most recognizable in football. The Wausau native was inducted into four other halls -- college football's Hall of Fame in 1974, two in his home state, and the University of Michigan's Hall of Honor.

Mr. Hirsch started his college career in Wisconsin, where he played for one season in 1942. He was assigned to Michigan in 1943 while serving in the Marine Corps. He became the school's only athlete to win letters in four major sports in the same year -- football, basketball, baseball, and track.

He once competed in the Big Ten outdoor track championship in Champaign, Ill., in the morning before making the 170-mile trip to Bloomington, Ind., to pitch the second game of a doubleheader. Mr. Hirsch was third in the broad jump, and his win over Indiana clinched the conference title for the baseball team.

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

In 1969, Mr. Hirsch became athletic director at Wisconsin, where the football team had gone winless in 20 previous games. But he helped raise home attendance from 43,000 in 1968 -- the year he went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- to more than 70,000 per game in just four years.

Before he retired in 1987, the department doubled the number of sports it offered and the Badgers won national titles in hockey, men's, and women's crew, and men's and women's cross country.

Mr. Hirsch also had a brief career in the movies. In 1953, he played himself in the film biography "Crazylegs, All American." He starred in the movie "Unchained" in 1955 and "Zero Hour" in 1957.

Material from the Los Angeles Times was used in this obituary.

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