State Your Case: What makes the career of John David Crow so intriguing

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Clark Judge

Maybe some of you haven’t heard of John David Crow. OK, maybe most of you haven’t.

Too bad.

The guy was a star football player who was so accomplished the St. Louis Globe-Democrat once reported that Cleveland twice tried to acquire the running back in a straight-player deal. According to the paper, the trade never happened because the Cardinals weren’t interested.

The player the Browns reportedly offered? Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown.

“I wouldn’t trade either,” Detroit Lions' running back Nick Pietrosante told the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal then. “They’re too valuable in their particular types of offenses. Brown is the best runner. Crow is a great all-around player.”

I don’t know if the story was accurate, but somebody must have believed it was credible. Which means somebody must also have believed that John David Crow was one magnificent football player.

And he was.

The 1957 Heisman Trophy winner at Texas A&M, Crow was the only player under Bear Bryant to win the coveted award. Chosen as the second pick in the 1958 NFL draft by the Chicago Cardinals, he went on to play 11 distinguished seasons with the Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers, serving as team captains with both clubs.

No, he wasn’t Jim Brown. But he was good enough to be named to four Pro Bowls, three All-Pro teams and the league’s 1960s’ all-decade team.

“John David Crow was the finest player I ever coached,” Bryant said after he retired. “Watching film on him was like watching a grown man play with boys.”

Crow was a complete football player. He could run. He could catch. He could throw. He could block. And he could tackle. In fact, Bryant praised him for never missing a tackle in his three years as a safety at Texas A&M, where he intercepted five passes his senior season.

A bruising running back, Crow in 1960 ran for 1,071 yards, averaged 5.9 yards a carry and amassed a league-best 1,533 yards from scrimmage when the league played a 12-game season. Two years later, he produced a personal-best 17 TDs – and that was after a broken leg in 1961 limited him to eight games.

Five times he was in the NFL's top 10 in yards per touch, and twice (1960 and 1965) he was in the top three. He was also in the league's top 10 in yards per catch (18.5 in 1960 and 17.6 in 1965), which is rare for a running back.

He was a halfback. He was a fullback. He was a tight end. And when he retired following the 1968 season, he was just about everything. He’d run for 4,963 yards in his career, caught 258 passes for another 3,699 yards and scored 73 times. He also threw five TD passes and averaged 23 yards on his 33 career completions.

No, John David Crow wasn’t Jim Brown. But he was good enough to be considered one of the best four running backs of the 1960s. The other three – Paul Hornung, Leroy Kelly and Gale Sayers – are in Canton.

And John David Crow? He’s the only member of the 1960s’ offensive backfield – quarterback, running back or fullback – not to be inducted.

Look, I’m under no illusions here. I know that isn’t going to happen. Crow died in 2015 at 79 and is not on anyone’s radar for Canton. But I would at least like to hear his case discussed … if only to learn why Hall-of-Famer Chuck Bednarik didn’t flinch when told of the reported Brown-for-Crow offer.

“They’re almost equally hard to tackle,” he told the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal. “Crow can run almost … and I say, ‘almost’ … as hard as Brown. He’s a terrific passer and a better blocker. I like Crow more because of his versatility.”

Well, we all like Brown more because he was a better football player. Maybe the best ever. But hard as it is to believe, Bednarik wasn’t alone when he voiced his opinion – which is why I want to hear more about John David Crow.

So let’s hear it.

Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF

Comments (4)
brian wolf
brian wolf

Unlike Brown, who was a runner par excellence, Crow could block well to and was unselfish.

It doesn't surprise me about the trade rumor because P Brown and J Brown were not communicating well, which was Paul Brown's fault.

Crow got hurt more later on, which is why his running yardage totals were low, but what a receiver !

His pass catching ability was excellent, and he was basically a big receiver, who ran out of the backfield.

I would have no problem with him in the Hall, despite losing teams but when he played, the Cardinals and 49ers had exciting offensive teams.
If Hornung can get in, why not Crow ?

No. 1-3

I'd say that Crow was one of the 4 best HALFbacks of the 60s, a worthwhile distinction since some of the greatest feature running backs were still fullbacks then, but I wouldn't oppose his HoF induction. Nice job digging up some of those stats.


Nice story on a player that many under 50 dont know about..if he had played on better teams he may have been remembered differently.

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