Oct. 12, 2000
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -
The University of Louisville unveiled a statue of Lenny Lyles, a Louisville native who starred as a track star and as a football runningback and defensive back for U of L and NFL Baltimore Colts, in a ceremony at Cardinal Park Thursday afternoon.
The ceremony was staged at the site of the Lyles statue, located on the Floyd Street side of Cardinal Park between the track/soccer stadium and Trager Stadium.
Artist Ed Hamilton produced 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, and the "Spirit of Freedom: African-American Civil War Memorial" that was installed in Washington, D.C. in 1998. One of his most recent works was a life-sized statue of Whitney M. Young, Jr. on the Kentucky State University campus.
"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."
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 were able to put together a trio of greats in Lenny Lyles, Ed Hamilton and Cardinal Park."
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 attend 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."
Lyles was among the first group of former players to have his jersey honored with the Cardinals. The honored jerseys adorn the northwest facade at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
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 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.