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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,260

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This is the grave of John David Crow.

Born in 1935 in Marion, Louisiana, Crow grew up in the tiny town of Springhill up near the Arkansas border. I am sure that he held the usual beliefs about race that almost any white man would have held who grew up in that place and time, but I can’t find any real evidence on the point either way. He graduated from high school in 1954 and went to play for Texas A&M in College Station. This was at the time when Bear Bryant coached the Aggies, before going to Alabama.

Crow was a two-way player and a tough one. He became a hero to A&M football. In fact, he remains The Hero to the present. A&M is a weird place. For one, it has its quasi-fascist ROTC program that trains future first lieutenants for the service academy graduates to boss around. But even outside of that, football is more than a way of life. It’s a religion. I say this even compared to other fan bases I’ve been associated with, such as Tennessee. It’s a religion in Knoxville too, but this is another level in College Station. Every religion needs its gods and that is what Crow is for Aggies fans, even to the present.

If you look at Crow’s work statistically at A&M, it’s not that impressive, but the context is just so, so different than college football today. In 1957, Crow’s team started 8-0 and were ranked first in the country. But then the word came that Bryant would probably be leaving for Alabama and the team just tanked after that, completely devoid of leadership. It lost its last three games. But Crow still won the Heisman, beating out the lineman and future Webster dad Alex Karras. It’s an interesting decision that I don’t quite understand. Crow only played seven out of the eleven games, having missed the first four due to injury. He was a do it all kind of guy, but 562 yards rushing and six touchdowns, plus throwing for five touchdowns, catching two more, and picking off six passes while playing defensive back doesn’t exactly scream Heisman. I don’t doubt that he was a very good college football player. But again, not only do the stats not really translate to the present, but neither does the way the Heisman was decided. I mean, the idea of a lineman coming in second is just impossible. It’s just QB hype show now, with the occasional running back or maybe receiver getting serious consideration. I don’t doubt that Caleb Williams is a great QB, but the idea that Jalen Carter of Georgia didn’t sniff New York is ridiculous, as he might be the best player in the country.

In any case, Crow was the second pick in the 1958 NFL Draft, by the Chicago Cardinals, a pathetic franchise that continues to almost always fail to the present (and very much in this present). He was OK as a first year player, a functional running back. He was better in his second year, getting a Pro Bowl selection with nearly 1,000 total yards. The Cardinals moved to St. Louis in 1960 and Crow had his best season, with over 1,000 rushing yards. He had another Pro Bowl that year and got some MVP votes. But he declined fairly significantly after that. Injuries definitely played a role here as they so often do in the NFL.

In 1965, Crow was traded to the San Francisco 49ers and he had a good year, getting votes for Comeback Player of the Year after again surpassing 1,000 yards from the line of scrimmage, almost evenly split between rushing and receiving. He went back to the Pro Bowl that year, for the fourth and final time. He played three more seasons for the Niners, moving to tight end in 1968, before retiring. He was a good, not great player. But I probably underrate him a bit, as he was on the NFL 1960s All Decade Team and in fact is the rare player on those teams to have never made the Hall of Fame. About 80 percent of the people on that team are in the HOF, but not Crow. I imagine the Veterans Committee will get to him one of these days, as this perhaps the most important consideration when players come up before that committee and a lot of those 60s guys have been inducted in the last decade or so by the Veterans Committee, including Alex Karras in 2020.

Immediately, Bryant brought Crow to Alabama as running backs coach. They were good friends as well as being coaches together. He worked there from 1969 to 1971. The San Diego Chargers hired him as their RB coach for the 1972 season and he did that for two years before he got a promotion to offensive coordinator in 1974. He was fired after that year.

In 1975, Crow became athletic director at Northeast Louisiana University, which today is Louisiana-Monroe, a bad D-1 program. He hired himself as head football coach. It didn’t go all that well. He coached until 1980 and went 20-34-1. He quit after that year.

But Crow was still a hero in College Station. Jackie Sherrill ran that program as his own personal fiefdom during these years and he decided to bring the hero home as “assistant athletic director” which probably mostly consisted of being John David Crow and meeting with fans and donors as such. Crow also did a lot of the non-football work, which no one at A&M cared about. When Sherrill was forced out for being massively corrupt in 1988, Crow was hired as the new AD. He fired Shelby Metcalf, the long time Aggies hoops coach, in 1990, after Metcalf publicly said that Crow was a stupid man. He was almost certainly right about that and the two had long hated each other anyway. In any case, A&M fans were always going to be on Team Crow.

Crow continued the corruption of Sherrill, with the program getting busted again and again for paying players (morally of course this is fine, but it was against the rules and nearly every program in the state of Texas got busted for this multiple times in the 80s and early 90s. He had to resign in 1993 and his official reason for doing so was to invest in a greyhound track. Hmmm….In any case, he was still around and worked as a fundraiser for the program in the early 2000s.

Crow died in Bryan, Texas in 2015. He was 79 years old.

John David Crow is buried in Memorial Cemetery of College Station, College Station, Texas.

If you would like this series to visit other members of the NFL All-Decade Team of the 1960s, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. The running back Jim Taylor is in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the defensive end Doug Atkins is in Humboldt, Tennessee. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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