Roger Craig: "I kind of set the trend" for today's backs


Roger Craig photo courtesy of S.F. 49ers
Roger Craig photo courtesy of S.F. 49ers

(Roger Craig photos courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers)

Talk of Fame Network

Former San Francisco running back Roger Craig is a Hall-of-Fame semifinalist, which isn’t exactly news. This is the seventh time Craig has made the final 25. But he’s graduated to the final 15 only once, and that was in 2010, so there must be something hurting his candidacy to make him a career semifinalist.

And Craig thinks he knows what it is.

You see, Craig was a Pro Bowl choice as both a fullback and running back in his career, and, as he told The Talk of Fame Network on our latest broadcast, he believes having the fullback position attached to his name probably weakens his support. Reason: The Hall’s voters aren’t warm to fullbacks, with Larry Csonka the last elected to Canton.

And that was 1987.

“I was so versatile,” he said, “and I was doing things that fullbacks normally don’t do. They labeled me as a running back, but I did a lot of blocking. I blocked for Wendell Tyler a couple of times when he got over 1,000 yards. I was his lead blocker. And I protected (Joe) Montana a lot back there.

“And in all of the Super Bowls I kinda stepped it up. In my first super bowl I scored three touchdowns. The first player in the history of the Super Bowl to do that. And the following year (1985) I come back, and I create history again by going 1,000 (yards rushing) and 1,000 (yards receiving), and I led all receivers in the league. I had 92 catches. I was the only running back to do that.

“There are a lot of things I did that made an impact but that people kind of forget about because of the (Jerry) Rices and the Montanas and, of course, later on, Steve Young. But I made an impact early in my years in the 80s and making the all-decade team. I think I’m the only one not in the Hall of Fame.”

Not exactly …but close. Craig and tackles Jimbo Covert, Bill Fralic and Joe Jacoby are the 1980s’ all-decade players on offense not in Canton, while there are 10 defenders absent – including starter Kenny Easley.

Nevertheless, Craig has a point. He was the first player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 1,000 yards in passes in the same season. He was the first back to lead the league in receptions. And he was the first player in Super Bowl history to score three times in a game. He was a two-time all-Pro, a three-time Super Bowl winner and former NFL Offensive Player of the Year.

The only line missing to the resume is Pro Football Hall of Fame, and we asked Craig to make his case. He had no trouble.

“Being an all-purpose running back I kind of revolutionized (the position), as far as coming out of the backfield … as far as catching the ball and running the ball,” he said. “It’s so relevant today because every team needs a guy like me; (someone with) my style of play. Think of the Tom Bradys, the Drew Breeses, the Aaron Rodgers, the Peyton Mannings … they need guys who can catch the ball out of the backfield in their system.

“So this is why I think I belong in there. I kind of set the trend; was more or less a trailblazer. Now there were guys before me that were all-purpose guys -- like Chuck Foreman. Even Franco Harris caught a lot of passes. Lenny Moore was another one.

“As far as the West Coast system … that’s where teams really, really need running backs who can catch the ball. Tom Brady’s done very well with it, with running backs who can catch the ball coming out of the backfield -- which is big in their system.

“I would say being the first player to rush for 1,000 yards and receive for 1,000 yards and then move to a different position … I played fullback my first five years. So those years I was blocking a lot. I wasn’t really racking up a lot of yards. I was racking up yards … getting 1,000 and 1,000. Those years I could’ve gotten some good yards if I was just a running back to solidify 10,000 and 11,000 and 12,000 yards rushing.

“I caught a lot of passes. I caught nearly 600 passes (he has 566). So basically I have almost 5,000 yards in receiving yards (he has 4,911) . So it’s like somebody’s got to give me a break here and say, ‘This guy was a big part of the West Coast offense, (who) revolutionized the all-purpose guys to where they are today. And then, as far as making 10 consecutive playoffs; I never missed the playoffs. Ever. I don’t know what it feels like to be on a losing team.”

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