John David Crow, the 1957 Heisman Trophy winner who finished his NFL career with the 49ers, died on Wednesday. He was 79.
Crow played 11 NFL seasons and the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee named him as a halfback on the 1960s All-Decade team, along with Paul Hornug, Leroy Kelly and Gale Sayers. He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection.
Crow was the first player in Texas A&M history to win the Heisman Trophy. He was a two-way standout on legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s team. He rushed for 562 yards and six touchdowns, threw five touchdown passes and recorded five interceptions on defense in his Heisman season.
He entered the NFL as the No. 2 overall pick of the Chicago Cardinals in the 1958 NFL draft. The 49ers acquired Crow in 1965 in a trade for cornerback/kick returner Abe Woodson. In 1966, he won the prestigious Len Eshmont Award as the 49ers' most courageous and inspirational player.
“I tried hard, and I’m very proud and pleased with my contributions to the teams I played with,” Crow said in the 2005 book San Francisco 49ers: Where Have You Gone?
He added, “San Francisco was a great experience for me.”
In 1968, Crow’s former teammate with the Cardinals, Dick Nolan, became the 49ers’ head coach.
“He came to me after we played Oakland in the preseason and asked if I wanted to play tight end,” Crow said. “I told him if he thought that would help the team get better, that’s where I’d play.”
Crow entered that season needing just 41 yards rushing for 5,000 in his NFL career. He caught 31 passes for 531 yards and five touchdowns, but added just 4 yards rushing.
Three-quarters of the way through that season, Crow decided he would retire following the final game. Nolan asked Crow if he wanted to move back to halfback to reach the 5,000-yard mark. Crow declined Nolan’s offer.
“I hope that I got all those yards trying to help the team win,” Crow said. “I wanted to feel like I was helping the team, not that I was doing something for statistics.”
Following his playing career, Crow became a member of Bryant’s coaching staff at Alabama. He returned to the NFL as an assistant with the Cleveland Browns from 1972-73 and served as the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers in 1974. Crow spent six years as head coach at athletic director at Northeast Louisiana University.
He returned to Texas A&M as assistant athletic director in 1983, and was promoted to athletic director of Texas A&M in 1988, where he served until 1993.
During his time at his alma mater, he was instrumental in bringing gender equity to the athletic program.
“I made changes in women’s athletics,” Crow said. “We weren’t just going to do stuff for the women because Title IX told us to. We really wanted to change things and have the women’s program compete.”