Leroy Keyes, gold standard of Purdue football, dies at 74

Purdue college football players Mike Phipps, left, and Leroy Keys, second from left, are congratulated by Purdue alumni astronauts Neil Armstrong, second from right, and Eugene Cernan, right, following Purdue's victory over Texas A&M in Dallas, in this Sept. 24, 1967, file photo. Purdue football star Leroy Keyes, a two-time All-American and one of the greatest players in school history, has died. He was 74. Keyes' family said he died at his home in Indiana Thursday morning, April 15, 2021, surrounded by his wife and children. (AP Photo/Ferd Kaufman)
Purdue college football players Mike Phipps, left, and Leroy Keys, second from left, are congratulated by Purdue alumni astronauts Neil Armstrong, second from right, and Eugene Cernan, right, following Purdue's victory over Texas A&M in Dallas, in this Sept. 24, 1967, file photo. Purdue football star Leroy Keyes, a two-time All-American and one of the greatest players in school history, has died. He was 74. Keyes' family said he died at his home in Indiana Thursday morning, April 15, 2021, surrounded by his wife and children. (AP Photo/Ferd Kaufman) (AP1967)

Leroy Keyes, a two-time consensus All-American running back and one of the greatest football players in Purdue history, died Thursday. He was 74.

He died at his home in West Lafayette, Indiana, surrounded by his wife and children, the family said in a statement.

Keyes had been in poor health recently, suffering from congestive heart failure and a cancer recurrence. He previously had prostate cancer.

Keyes was third in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1967 and was the runner-up to O.J. Simpson in 1968. But he wasn't just a star at Purdue — he was an icon who excelled as a running back, defensive back, kickoff returner and handled kickoff duties.

“This morning we lost a great friend and football brother, Leroy Keyes," former Boilermakers and NFL 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!”

After finishing his career as the school's career leader in touchdowns (37), points (222) and all-purpose yards (3,757), the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Keyes with the third pick overall in 1969. Injuries forced him out of the NFL after just five seasons. He then spent 16 years as a desegregation specialist for the Philadelphia school district.

Back at Purdue, though, Keyes became the man all future Boilermakers stars would be measured against.

In 1987, as the program celebrated its 100th season, Keyes was selected as the Boilermakers' greatest player. Some of his records stood for decades. Others still do.