Pro Football Olympians

Pro Football Olympians

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Three members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame primed their successful pro football careers with Olympic triumphs. The most famous may be Jim Thorpe, a member of the Hall of Fame’s Charter Class of 1963, who won Olympic gold medals in the Decathlon and Pentathlon in the 1912 Olympic Games held in Stockholm, Sweden. During the Games’ closing ceremony when Thorpe was presented his gold medals, King Gustav V of Sweden commented to the champion, "You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world." Thorpe’s response was a simple, “Thanks, King.”

Thorpe’s Olympic victories elevated him into one of the most iconic and popular symbols of the 20th Century. Pro football benefitted greatly from Thorpe’s popularity when he signed with the Canton Bulldogs in 1915. Then, the newly formed National Football League (then known as the American Professional Football Association) tabbed Thorpe as the league’s first president in 1920. Thorpe’s presence gave the young league instant credibility.


Dallas Cowboys receiver “Bullet” Bob Hayes, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2009, is the only man in professional sports history to earn an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl ring.  Hayes’ gold medal-winning performance in the 100 meters competition at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan earned him the title as "World's Fastest Human."  His time of 10.05 seconds tied the World Record at the distance and set a new Olympic record. Hayes also delivered a vital performance at the competition as the anchor of U.S. team’s 400-meter relay team which took home the gold after a world-record performance of 39.06 seconds.

Hayes went on to terrorize defensive backs in the NFL. As a rookie in 1965 he led the Dallas Cowboys with 46 receptions for 1,003 yards and 12 TDs. His effort earned him a Pro Bowl nod. Hayes accumulated 7,414 yards and 71 touchdowns during his 11-year career. His touchdown catch total remains a Cowboys' club record.

Running Back Ollie Matson, who led the nation in rushing and touchdowns as a senior at the University of San Francisco in 1951, was the third overall selection of the Chicago Cardinals in the 1952 NFL Draft. But before Matson embarked on his Hall of Fame career, he prepared for his Pro Bowl rookie campaign by competing in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Matson won a silver medal in the 1,600-meter relay and a bronze in the 400 meters.

After Matson’s sensational rookie season, military service during the Korean War interrupted his playing career. After a year of duty, Matson returned to the Cardinals and was an All-NFL performer for several years. He is a member of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 1972.

Here is a list of notable professional football players who competed in the Olympics:

Jim Thorpe, 1912 Summer Olympic Games, Stockholm Sweden – Track and Field – Two Gold Medals (Pentathlon, Decathlon)

Pro Career: HB – 1915-1917, 1919-1920, 1926 Canton Bulldogs, 1921 Cleveland Indians, 1922-1923 Oorang Indians, 1924 Rock Island Independents, 1925 New York Giants, 1928 Chicago Cardinals


Ollie Matson, 1952 Summer Olympic Games, Helsinki, Finland – Track and Field – One Silver Medal (4x400 Relay), One Bronze Medal  (400 Meters)

Pro Career: HB – 1952, 1954-1958 Chicago Cardinals, 1959-1962 Los Angeles Rams, 1963 Detroit Lions, 1964-1966 Philadelphia Eagles


Glenn Davis, 1956 Summer Olympic Games, Melbourne, Australia; 1960 Summer Olympics, Rome, Italy – Track and Field –  Three Gold Medals (400 Meter Hurdles in 1956; 400 Meter Hurdles and 4x400 Relay in 1960)

Pro Career: WR – 1960-1961 Detroit Lions


Bob Hayes, 1964 Summer Olympic Games, Tokyo, Japan  – Track and Field – Two Gold Medals (100 Meters, 4x100 Relay)

Pro Career: WR – 1965-1974 Dallas Cowboys, 1975 San Francisco 49ers


Michael Carter, 1984 Summer Olympic Games, Los Angeles California – Track and Field – One Silver Medal (Shot Put)

Pro Career: DT – 1984-1992 San Francisco 49ers


Sam Graddy, 1984 Summer Olympic Games, Los Angeles, California – Track and Field – One Gold Medal (4x100 Relay), One Silver Medal (100 Meters)

Pro Career: WR – 1987-88 Denver Broncos, 1990-92 Los Angeles Raiders


Herschel Walker, 1992 Winter Olympic Games, Albertville, France – Bobsled

Pro Career: RB – 1986-89, 1996-97, Dallas Cowboys, 1989-1991 Minnesota Vikings, 1992-93 Philadelphia Eagles


Michael Bates, 1992 Summer Olympic Games, Barcelona, Spain – Track and Field – One Bronze Medal (200 Meters)

Pro Career:  RB/KR – 1993-94 Seattle Seahawks; 1996-2000, 2002 Carolina Panthers, 2001 Washington Redskins, 2002 N.Y. Jets, 2003 Dallas Cowboys


James Jett, 1992 Summer Olympic Games, Barcelona, Spain – Track and Field – One Gold Medal (4x100 Relay)

Pro Career:  WR – 1993-2002 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders

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