Hardeman ran low to the ground and bounced off defenders, said Pepper Rodgers, Hardeman’s quarterback and later Tech’s coach in the 1970s.
“Leon was a great back,” Rodgers said Tuesday by phone from his home in Reston, Va. “He had great balance, he could cut back on a dime. He was a wonderful blocker, and he did it all.”
Naturally, the colorful Rodgers had more memories. Rodgers said that he and Hardeman organized a basketball team from the football roster that went out and played teams around the state. At the end of warm-ups, Hardeman got on his hands and knees near the basket, and Rodgers launched himself off his back to dunk the basketball. This stunt went on, Rodgers said, until Rodgers nearly got his ring got caught in the net and “I almost tore my finger off.”
“I was always a great admirer of Leon,” Rodgers said. “A tremendous person.”
Hardeman was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1954 in the 23rd round (three rounds after they selected Hall of Famer Raymond Berry) but instead he chose to join the U.S. Army, serving as a first lieutenant in Germany. After his military service, he worked for 30 years with Owens-Illinois, a glass bottle manufacturer, retiring as a vice president.
Hardeman is survived by his wife, Margaret, three sons, a stepson, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his first wife and daughter.
Graveside services will be held at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Chattanooga National Cemetery.
A 1952 photo of Georgia Tech’s starting backfield from its SEC and Sugar Bowl champion team that finished 12-0 and was named national champion by the International News Service. From left to right, quarterback Bill Brigman, halfback Billy Teas, fullback Glen Turner and halfback Leon Hardeman. (Georgia Tech Archives)