Daryl Johnston: Roger Craig is right about fullback position


Oct. 5, 1997

ROGER CRAIG 49ERS

(Roger Craig photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers)
(Daryl Johnston photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)

Talk of Fame Network

Daryl Johnston was more than a mainstay on some of Dallas’ Super Bowl teams. He was the fullback who could … and did … do everything, including open holes for Hall-of-Fame running back Emmitt Smith.

But, as a former fullback, he understands the nature of the position and how it’s evolved … or devolved.

In Dallas, there were The Triplets … and Daryl Johnston. He was a perfect fit on great teams, a starter and special teams standout who was critical to the success of the Cowboys. Yet he’s someone who seems to have been forgotten – sort of like, as our Ron Borges pointed out to him, Ringo Starr’s predecessor with the Beatles, drummer Pete Best.

“Pete wasn’t smart enough to realize what was about to happen and walked away,” said Johnston, now a TV analyst for Fox, on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “I was smarter than Pete. I didn’t walk away. Maybe I was the guy who set up Ringo Starr’s drum kit.

“But I probably give that one to Jay Novacek. I thought Jay was a critical part as a fourth member.”

Novacek was a tight end, and his position has only increased in value over the years – with tight ends among today’s leading pass receivers. But fullbacks? You can barely name them today, one reason Hall-of-Fame semifinalist Roger Craig believes his candidacy has been hurt by the years he spent at the position. A star as both a fullback and running back, Craig’s argument is that the years he spent at fullback curtailed his numbers – with numbers an important part of a Hall-of-Fame resume.

Daryl Johnston, the first Pro Bowl fullback, doesn’t disagree.

“I wouldn’t even say (there’s) anonymity with the fullback position,” he said. “I think there’s more of a stigma right now. You go back and look at who’s in the Hall of Fame … and I absolutely understand what Roger Craig is saying when you get that designation. Because it’s a position that’s changed so much from back when it was in its heyday.

“The last guys who were brought into the Hall of Fame as fullbacks were in the golden era of the position: John Henry Johnson, Jim Brown, Marion Motley, Joe Perry, Jim Taylor. And I think a lot of people are surprised to know that Jim brown is in as a fullback. Larry Csonka is probably your last guy who is there as that fullback who was the main ball carrier. Once we got out of the 60s and the mid-70s, as that position started to change … it’s going to be difficult for anybody to get in with the fullback designation.

“Rocky Bleier statistically did things that most fullbacks were not doing in the 70s, but he’s not in there yet. You look at Jim Braxton blocking for O.J. Simpson; Matt Suhey blocking for Walter Payton; the way that Tom Rathman really revolutionized the position in the West Coast offense as the receiver out of the backfield, along with being a blocker and a runner. The Hall of Fame is really one of those things where you’ve got to have a great resume, and statistics are going to be one of the important parts about that.

“You talk about the fact that the Pro Bowl was not even afforded to the fullback position until 1993. That’s one of the big criterion that is there (in Hall-of-Fame consideration). The guys who played in the 80s, 90s and 2000s just aren’t going to have the statistics necessary, and we’ll wait to hear what happens with guys like John L. Williams and Larry Centers and guys like that … who played the position and had some good statistics.

“I just don’t know. Roger Craig was a great player on a great team. It’s probably, ‘No, no, no, I’m not a fullback. I’m a running back-slash-halfback. I don’t need that fullback designation.’ “

Johnston has a point. The last fullback elected to the Hall of Fame was Csonka, and he was inducted in 1987. That’s a stretch of nearly 30 years, and don’t look for a change anytime soon. In some places, the position is barely recognized.

“I’m surprised Rocky Bleier hasn’t gotten more consideration,” said Johnston. “I think he was that last fullback that was in the backfield who really was a dual threat. Obviously, you had Franco Harris there, but Rocky Bleier was effective from the fullback spot.

“It’s a position that seems to be under constant evolution. And we’re to the point now where we’ve evolved so much they don’t really even need it anymore.”

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