Olympic 4×100 sprinter Jeff Demps, who previously played running back at Florida, is on the verge of signing with a NFL team. Among the teams rumored to be interested are the Jets and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If he makes a NFL roster, Demps will join a distinguished list of former Olympians, many of whom ran the same event as Demps, though most played wide receiver. Here are some of the most notable Olympians to play in the NFL.
11. Jim Hines (1968 & Miami Dolphins). Jim Hines makes this list because he was the first man to officially break the 10 second barrier in the 100 meter dash in winning Gold in Mexico City. The Dolphins were looking for the next Bob Hayes (see below), but Hines did not have the same receiver skill. He garnered the nickname “Oops” for his pass catching ability.
10. Tommie Smith (1968 & Cincinnati Bengals). Tommie Smith won Gold in the 200 M in Mexico City, and is of course most famous for the raised black glove while on the medal stand. Like Hines, he was not a receiver, though the Bengals tried to take advantage of his speed. He finished his career averaging 41 yards a reception. It was on one catch.
9. Lam Jones (1976 & New York Jets). Most of these track stars were drafted late or signed as free agents. The Jets used the 2nd overall pick on Lam Jones, who had participated in the 1976 Montreal Olympics as an 18-year old, winning Gold as a member of the 4×100 team and also running in the 100 meters. He had only one season with 500 or more receiving yards with the J-E-T-S.
8. Glenn Davis (1956 & 1960, Detroit Lions). Glenn Davis won the 400 meter hurdles in two consecutive Olympics, something only Edwin Moses and Angelo Taylor have also done. He was a big enough deal to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated before the Olympics in 1960. Not to be confused with the famous Glenn Davis who played at Army a generation earlier, this Glenn Davis signed with the Lions in 1960 and had 10 career catches.
7. Sam Graddy (1984 & Denver Broncos/Los Angeles Raiders). Sam Graddy was the Silver medalist behind Carl Lewis in 1984, and was also on the 4×100 team that won Gold. He went on to play four seasons with Denver and the Raiders, with the highlight being an 80-yard touchdown catch against Houston in 1991.
6. Ron Brown (1984 & Los Angeles Rams). Ron Brown was also a member of the 4×100 team in 1984. He signed with the Rams and was selected as an All-Pro kick returner in 1985, when he led the league with 3 kickoff returns for touchdown.
5. James Jett (1992 & Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders). Speed, baby! The appropriately named James Jett was a member of the 4×100 meter relay team that won Gold in Barcelona. He then signed as an undrafted free agent wide receiver after having also played at West Virginia in college. He led the league in yards per catch at a whopping 23.4 as a rookie, and would go on to 4,417 receiving yards operating as the deep threat opposite Tim Brown.
4. Willie Gault (1980 & Chicago Bears). We’ll include Gault on this list since politics robbed him of his chance to compete at the Olympics. He won gold in the 4×100 relay at the “Boycott Games” instead, but none of those Eastern European teams would have surpassed a team that included one of the fastest men to play in the NFL in the 1980’s. Willie Gault would play for eleven seasons, finishing with a 19.9 yards per reception average for his career.
3. Ollie Matson (1952 & Chicago Cardinals). Ollie Matson was one of the greatest athletes to play in the NFL before the AFL-NFL merger. He won 400 meter bronze and silver in 4×400 meter race at the 1952 Games. After starring as a back at University of San Francisco, he was drafted 3rd overall by the Cardinals. He was selected first team all pro five times, and finished with over 5,000 rushing yards and 3,000 receiving yards. To show how much the game has changed, he would carry the ball out of the backfield, but still averaged almost 15 yards a catch when he came out of the backfield as a receiver.
2. Bob Hayes (1964 & Dallas Cowboys). “Bullet” Bob Hayes won Gold in both the 100 meters and 4 x 100 meters at age 21, then signed with the Dallas Cowboys the next year. He went on to lead the league in receiving touchdowns in each of his first two seasons, and averaged 20.0 yards per reception for his career. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame posthumously in 2009.
1. Jim Thorpe (1912 & a bunch of teams that no longer exist). Jim Thorpe won the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Games, though his amateur status was an issue after the fact. Thorpe was the greatest athlete of the early 20th Century. By the time the NFL came into existence, he was 33, but still played in seven different seasons, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the inaugural class in 1963.
[photo via US Presswire]