Eagles Insider

Eagles mourn the passing of Leroy Keyes, their 1st-round pick in 1969

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Leroy Keyes, the Eagles’ 1st-round pick in 1969 and a long-time fixture in the Philadelphia school system, died Thursday at his home in West Lafayette, Indiana.

He was 74.

According to the Associated Press, Keyes had been in poor health recently and had suffered a recurrence of cancer.

Keyes worked as a desegregation specialist in the Philadelphia school system for 16 years after his playing days were over before spending 17 years in various coaching and administration capacities at Purdue, his alma mater.

“This morning we lost a great friend and football brother, Leroy Keyes,” 1981 Purdue grad and long-time NFL quarterback Mark Herrmann tweeted. “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!’”


It was at Purdue that Keyes worked alongside Calvin Williams, the Eagles’ 5th-round pick in 1990 out of Purdue and an Eagles receiver for seven years. Williams has worked for over a decade in athletic administration at Purdue.

"When you talk about the greatest era of Purdue football, that's what he was,” Williams said in a story on the Eagles’ website.

“He was tremendous, a two-way player. Leroy was a big man - he was 6-3. I can't imagine being a 6-3 defensive back back then and as a wide receiver having to go up against that type of athlete. He was a daunting figure on film and a big presence in life, just always jovial, always had good things to say about anybody and everybody. We lost a big piece of Purdue history this morning."


Keyes rushed for over 2,000 yards and 29 touchdowns and caught 80 more passes for over 1,000 yards and seven more TDs at Purdue in the late 1960s.

He finished third in the 1967 Heisman Trophy voting behind Gary Beban and O.J. Simpson and second in the 1968 balloting behind only Simpson. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

The Eagles drafted Keyes as a running back, and he rushed for 361 yards and three touchdowns with 29 catches for 276 yards as a rookie. His 637 scrimmage yards were 6th-most among all rookie running backs in 1969 and remain the 9th-most ever by an Eagles rookie.

But he tore his Achilles during the offseason and had just two carries in 1970. He converted to safety in the offseason and in 1971, his first year on defense, Keyes picked off six passes, tied for 9th-most in the NFL. He added two interceptions in 1972.

“I’m just glad to be playing football,” Keyes told the Inquirer’s Gordon Forbes late in the 1971 season. “Offense is always there, but if I can make a name for myself on defense as a strong safety, I’ll be happy.”

Keyes one of only three NFL players since 1969 with at least 500 scrimmage yards and five or more INTs. The others are Deion Sanders and one-time Eagles head coach Ray Rhodes, who began his career as a receiver and converted to cornerback.

Keyes finished his NFL career in 1973 playing for Hank Stram’s Chiefs.

Keyes is survived by his wife Monica and their children Raymond, Jacqueline, Courtland and Colin.