There have 235 players (267 total enshrinees including coaches and contributors) whove been elected ot the Pro Football Hall of Fame since we first opened our doors in 1963. Only three of those players – Ollie Matson, Jim Thorpe, and Bob Hayes – also competed in the Olympic Games.
They not only competed, but all three medaled. Thorpe earned gold in both the Decathlon and the Pentathlon during the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden; Matson captured bronze in the 400 meters and silver in the 1600 meter relay in 1952 at Helsinki, Finland; and Hayes took gold in the 100 meters and 400 meter relay during the 1964 games in Tokyo, Japan.
Olympian on the GridironIt has been a little over a week since Matson passed away. While his prowess for 14 seasons on the football field has been highlighted with good reason, his athletic ability was not confined to just the gridiron.
After three seasons at the University of San Francisco where he scored 41 rushing touchdowns and ran for over 3,000 yards, Matson had established himself as one of the top football players in America. By 1952, Ollie entered the NFL draft and was chosen as the third pick overall in the first round by the Chicago Cardinals. He, however, had already sat out all the All-Star games that off-season in order to protect his amateur status and had no intention of reporting to the Cardinals until after the `52 Olympic Games.
His hope was to be added to the United States Olympic track squad and that goal was obtained when he was selected to participate in the 400-meter race and the 1,600-meter relay. Looking back on his experience Matson explained, “At Helsinki, my main advantage was strength. The Olympics test your ability to hold up over a three-day period. By the time the final came around, I still had my strength and my nine-foot stride.”
The 400-meter final was a highly competitive event with two Jamaicans George Rhoden and Herb McKenley finishing first and second, respectively. Down the home stretch a third Jamaican Arthur Wint, who had been the pre-Games favorite for this race, was held off by Matson. Ollie captured the bronze with a time 46.8 seconds. Matson later ran the lead leg of the 1,600-meter relay as the USA team captured the silver medal in placing second behind Jamaica’s world record performance.
The closing ceremonies were the following day, but Matson didn’t have time to stick around and enjoy his accomplishments. He boarded a flight and was on his way to Chicago for the Chicago All-Star Game where he’d be playing defense against the Los Angeles Rams’ Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch.
After Matson returned to the States his focus returned to football much to the delight of his Cardinals coach Joe Kuharich, who also coached him at the University of San Francisco. He later presented Ollie for induction into the Pro Fooltball Hall of Fame (see below).
He is the best all-around player I’ve ever seen or coached,” explained Kuharich. “Just consider his talents. No one can match his speed. Yet his power is as sharp as that of any plunging fullback. He is not Mr. Outside or Mr. Inside. He is Mr. Allsides and Mr. Everywhere. Add to this his blocking, his pass protection and terrific defensive work and you have something that’s never been duplicated in a generation.”
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