September 17, 1999
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -
A statue of Lenny Lyles, a Louisville native who starred as a football runningback and defensive back for the University of Louisville and NFL Baltimore Colts, will be erected in U of L's Cardinal Park.
Lyles will have his U of L jersey retired in halftime ceremonies of the Cardinals' football game against Illinois on Saturday at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Kickoff for the game is 7:08 p.m. EST.
"Lenny was a fantastic athlete and is such a classy person," said U of L Director of Athletics Tom Jurich. "He overcame many obstacles as a pioneering student-athlete in the 1950's and has been a terrific supporter of our program throughout the years. When we were discussing the start of our honored jersey program for our past football greats, Lenny was the first person brought up and a unanimous choice."
Artist Ed Hamilton has been commissioned to produce the life-size bronze statue. Hamilton has produced such statues as Booker T. Washington for Hampton University (his first, in 1983), boxer Joe Louis for the city of Detroit, the "Spirit of Freedom: African-American Civil War Memorial" that was installed in Washington, D.C. in 1998. His most recent work was producing a life-sized statue of Whitney M. Young, Jr. on the Kentucky State University campus.
Cardinal Park Committee Chairman Owsley Frazier provided the $100,000 gift for the project. Frazier was a student at U of L when Lyles played for the Cardinal football team.
"I've long been an admirer of Ed Hamilton's work," said Frazier. "I'm thrilled we are able to put together a trio of greats in Lenny Lyles, Ed Hamilton and Cardinal Park."
The statue of Lyles will be located on the Floyd Street side of Cardinal Park between the track/soccer stadium and the Trager Family Field.
Lyles was a four-year starter for the Cardinals (1954-57) and totaled 2,786 yards on the ground for U of L. He left U of L as its all-time leading rusher but currently stands at No. 3 behind Walter Peacock and Nathan Poole. Lyles was among the first in a rich tradition of African-American student-athletes to at Louisville and in the south.
Lyles totaled a school-record 42 touchdowns in his career including 18 rushing scores in 1957. He remains the Cardinals all-time scoring leader with 300 points in his four-year career.
Known as the "Fastest Man in Football" in 1957, Lyles became the first Cardinal to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season that year (1,207 total). He earned first-team Little All-America honors that season when his 1,207 yards led the nation.
The Cardinals posted a 25-12 mark over his four seasons and travelled to the 1958 Sun Bowl following a 9-1 campaign in '57. U of L defeated Drake 34-20 in the New Year's Day contest, but Lyles was limited to just two carries after leaving the game with an injury in the first quarter.
Following graduation, Lyles was selected in the first round of the 1958 National Football League draft by the Baltimore Colts, where he teamed with former U of L signalcaller Johnny Unitas. Lyles spent two seasons with the Colts before being traded to the San Francisco 49ers in 1959. He returned to the Colts in 1961 and played his final eight seasons in Baltimore.
In his first stint with the Colts, Lyles had the honor of playing the 1958 NFL Championship Game which ended in sudden death overtime with the Colts defeating the New York Giants, 23-17. The game has been called "the greatest NFL game ever played."
A member of the U of L Athletic Hall of Fame, Lyles followed his NFL career with an equally successful career in private business. He is featured in an exhibit in the BellSouth Johnny Unitas Football Museum at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
The honored jerseys which will adorn the northwest facade at the stadium are the first to be honored within the U of L football program. U of L honored Ernie Green (1958-61) a week ago and plans to recognize others this season.
Previously, the number of Cardinal and NFL great Johnny Unitas was retired, and joins the jerseys on the facade. His special accomplishments warranted retiring his number (16), making it unavailable to be worn by future Cardinal players.
The statue of Lyles is another enhancement to the Cardinal Park area, located on the eastern portion of the Belknap Campus between Floyd Street and Interstate-65.
U of L broke ground on the first phase of Cardinal Park on Dec. 9 last year, and the project has been on the fast track since. Sod was laid recently in the Ulmer Field softball stadium, due to be completed in February. The Cards' softball team, one of three new women's sports which begin competition this year at U of L, are practicing on the field while work continues on the stands and surrounding area. Construction continues on the track/soccer stadium and facilities building adjacent to the softball field.
Additional facilities included in the first phase of the project, which will be completed by next summer, include the Trager Family Field, an artificial turf field, Kiel Brothers Courts, outdoor basketball and sand volleyball courts, the Jewish Hospital Cardiopath, a fitness trail which surrounds the Cardinal Park site, and the Fightmaster Playground, which will accommodate all children, including those with physical disabilities. A natatorium and fieldhouse are also planned as part of the next phases of the $48 million Cardinal Park sports complex.