(Photos courtesy of San Francisco 49ers)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Running back Roger Craig was the first NFL player to gain 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season, and if you’re saying, “Yeah, well, OK. So what?” Then listen up. There’s only one other player in NFL history to do it, and that’s Marshall Faulk.
And he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Roger Craig is not. In fact, he’s not even close. A four-time Pro Bowler, three-time Super Bowl champ, former All-Pro, former NFL Offensive Player of the Year and member of the 1980s’ all-decade team, he’s about as near to Canton as the Rams are to staying in St. Louis.
That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. It just means it probably won’t.
Yeah, I know, Craig’s been a Hall-of-Fame semifinalist the past seven years, which means he made the cut to 25. But that’s where his Hall-0f-Fame train derails, with Craig never getting into the room as one of the 15 finalists. Let’s be honest, people: His candidacy won’t gain momentum with time.
It will lose it.
But that’s not right. Because Craig deserves more than he’s gotten … and what he deserves is a debate of his merits.
The guy was an integral part of the San Francisco 49ers when there was nobody better. He could run. He could catch. He could block. Heck, he pulled down a league-best 92 passes in 1985, then a record for running backs. He set a franchise record when he ran for 1,502 yards in 1988, Craig’s second season with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. And he was the first player in NFL history to be named to the Pro Bowl as a running back and a fullback.
In short, Roger Craig was a complete player.
So he didn’t rush for 10,000 yards. He ran for 8,189. His value was as someone who could do everything, and when you factor in the 4,911 yards receiving and the 13,143 total all-purpose yardage maybe you’ll understand what I mean.
Outside of Joe Montana, Craig was the best offensive player on one of the game’s best offensive teams for San Francisco’s before the arrival of Jerry Rice. Craig once ranked among the top 20 NFL players in both career rushing and career receiving yardage. That should be good for something, and, so far, it’s good enough to get his name in the paper as a Hall-of-Fame semifinalist.
Yet this was the guy who, in 1985, not only ran for 1,000 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and caught 1,000 yards in passes but who helped lead the 49ers to the first-ever 15-1 season in 1984. He scored a Super Bowl-record three touchdowns against a Miami team that was supposed to be too good to fail and later was the first running back in Super Bowl history to have 100 yards in catches.
Craig was not just indispensable to a great San Francisco 49ers team. He was one of the most dangerous players on the NFL landscape, a versatile back who saved his best for the biggest stage, with 9 TDs in his first 14 playoff starts, and isn’t that how we’re supposed to judge great players?
But it’s not just Craig’s numbers that make his case so compelling. It’s the role he played. He was among the first multi-dimensional backs, someone who could serve as a rusher and/or a receiver. Yeah, OK, so Lenny Moore was a great receiver. So was Charley Taylor. And Frank Gifford. But Moore was a target out of the slot later in his career, and Taylor shifted from running back to wide receiver. So did Gifford.
I’m talking about a back who was a threat to catch passes out of the backfield … someone like, say, Marcus Allen or Faulk or … Roger Craig. When he retired, Craig had more catches than any back in league history, and while he’s been retired for over two decades, he still ranks eighth.
Granted, it was Craig’s fumble that cost San Francisco a shot at a third straight Super Bowl in 1990. I get that. But it happens. Jackie Smith drops a touchdown pass in Super Bowl XIII. Barry Sanders runs for -1 yard in a playoff game vs. Green Bay. Brett Favre throws six interceptions in a playoff loss to St. Louis, including three returned for touchdowns.
As I said, it happens. What doesn’t is Craig reaching the doors of Canton as one of its 15 semifinalists. That should change. So let’s change it.