I talked with him in his home in West Lafayette a week after getting together with his college rival, John Isenbarger. Yes, it’s true. There was a time – briefly – when IU and Purdue battled for a Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl, rather than to get out of the basement.
Keyes was a genuine college superstar. He was a two-time All-American as a running back, but he played defensive back and returned punts and kicks as well. He finished his career at Purdue with more than 2,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards, and finished third and second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy as a junior and senior. Boilermaker fans have voted him onto the university’s “Mt. Rushmore” of football, along with Bob Griese, Rod Woodson and Drew Brees.
Keyes attended Purdue at a volatile time for race relations and he experienced some of the backlash of the Civil Rights movement, as he describes here. He remembers most of his time there fondly, though, and for Purdue fans of that era he was nearly mythical.
His NFL career didn’t work out as expected, which adds to the drama of his story.
Here’s a couple of quick Keyes stories:
He sometimes traveled with the basketball team, because he was the kind of guy people liked to have around. He was sitting on the bench at Minnesota the night Rob Hummel suffered his infamous knee injury. Hummel recalled returning to the bench after getting treated in the locker room and sitting next to Keyes. The game wasn’t going well for Purdue when Keyes got a phone call from someone asking about Hummel’s injury. Keyes gave a quick report and said, “I’ve got to go, we’re getting ready to roll these guys.” And they did. Hummel loved that confident spirit
Another time, Keyes looked at a Purdue basketball team photo in which everyone was putting on a mean mug, trying to look tough. And he said, “Look at you all! You’ve got good jobs, you’ve got pretty wives … can’t you even smile?”
This episode is longer than what aired on the radio, so feel free to ignore the closing segment in which I regret not getting into his pro career. We’ll get around to it.
First aired 2013
Tagged with: Heisman Trophy, Leroy Keyes, Purdue football