He was born Elroy Leon Hirsch in 1923 in Wausau, Wisconsin, but his fans knew him as Crazylegs.
The Marathon County native first gained attention for his athletic ability at Wausau High School. After enrolling at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the boy adopted by German-Norwegian parents began breaking records and earning honors. Playing halfback, he helped the Badger football team close out the 1942 season ranked third in the country by the AP.
Writing after a Wisconsin game, a Chicago sports reporter described Hirsch’s unusual running style, noting that “his crazy legs were gyrating in six different directions, all at the same time.” In later years, Hirsch admitted that he was happy to be called anything other than Elroy. Crazylegs stuck.
Hirsch enlisted in the Marines in 1943 and was transferred to the University of Michigan for officer training. He achieved a remarkable feat while there, becoming the first student ever to earn letters in four varsity sports in a single year. His then focused his considerable talents on pro football, playing first for the Chicago Rockets and then the Los Angeles Rams. During the 1951 season, he broke National Football League records for total receiving yards, yards per game, and touchdown receptions.
But football wasn’t Hirsch’s only starring role. He caught the acting bug, appearing in three films and an episode of TV’s The Munsters.
His crazy legs were gyrating in six different directions, all at the same time.
After retiring as a player, Hirsch filled management roles for the Rams until he was named director of UW Athletics. He revitalized the program, boosting attendance at football games and nearly doubling the number of sports offered. The Crazylegs Classic, named in his honor, kicked off in 1982; the popular spring run-or-walk event has welcomed more than 300,000 participants and raised more than $3 million for Badger athletic programs.
Hirsch died of natural causes in Madison at age 80.
Thank you, Marathon County, for Crazylegs Hirsch, a gridiron legend whose unorthodox running style led to countless football victories that became a source of pride for Wisconsin.