Mike Singletary, Harry Carson endorse 49ers’ Roger Craig for Hall of Fame

Marc Adams
Jun 1, 2022 at 10:00 AM--

Say this with me—Roger Craig belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame! This has been written, spoken, and shouted from rooftops. It has been uttered by fans, media members, broadcasters, and teammates, including some legendary players with the San Francisco 49ers.

Recently, I wrote a story that made the case for Roger Craig to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The case for Craig included compelling facts compiled by Larry Krueger, formerly of KNBR Radio, a counter-argument to the reasons why Craig hasn't been inducted, as well as the endorsements of Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, and Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. A number of Craig's other former teammates also endorsed his Hall of Fame credentials, as did former team president Carmen Policy and former head coach George Seifert.

Here are the facts you simply can't ignore, regarding Roger Craig:

  • First player in NFL history to score three touchdowns in a Super Bowl.
  • First player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same year (1985). If that isn't enough, only two players (Marshall Faulk, who is in the Hall of Fame, and Christian McCaffrey, who may be Canton-bound) have done it since.
  • Led the NFL with 92 receptions in 1985. At the time, it was the most by a running back in NFL history. Since then, only eight running backs have eclipsed that number.
  • He was ahead of his time and changed the way teams used running backs.
  • 1988 Offensive Player of the Year
  • Three-time Super Bowl Champion (and a vital part of those teams)
  • Played in five NFC Championship games
  • Arguably the best running back in football for two seasons in the 1980s.
  • Named to the 1980's All-Decade Team at running back, along with Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, and John Riggins. Yet Craig is the only one of the four not in the Hall of Fame. In addition, every running back from the 1970s and 1990s All-Decade Teams are in the Hall of Fame. Craig is the only "All-Decade" running back over a 30-year period to not be elected.
  • Top 20 in NFL History for receiving yards and rushing yards when he retired.
  • Made the playoffs every season of his career.
  • Four-time pro bowler
  • First-Team All-Pro (1988)
  • Second Team All-Pro (1985)
  • Only running back in NFL history to make the pro bowl as a fullback and as a halfback.
  • Scored 73 regular-season touchdowns. That's more touchdowns than Hall of Famers Art Monk, Michael Irvin, Terrell Davis, and Larry Csonka.
  • 13,100 total regular-season yards. That's more total yards than Hall of Famers like Csonka, Earl Campbell, Jim Taylor, Monk, and Irvin. In addition, Craig has 2,000 more total yards than Davis, and twice as many total yards as Hall of Famer Lynn Swann. Craig trails Hall of Famer Steve Largent by only 253 yards. And he only trails Hall of Famers Andre Reed and Cris Carter by roughly 1,000 yards. Neither of the last three receivers mentioned has any Super Bowl rings.
  • 8,189 yards rushing (regular season). That's more rushing yards than Hall of Famers Csonka and Gale Sayers.
  • 4,911 yards receiving (regular season). That's only 500 yards less than Swann.
  • First running back to have 100 yards receiving in a Super Bowl.
  • 566 career receptions. That's more than Hall of Famers Stallworth and Swann.
  • Seven straight seasons of at least 1,100 yards from scrimmage.
  • Two seasons of 2,000 yards from scrimmage.

Still, some see the facts and choose to ignore them, preferring to argue that Craig benefited from being in Bill Walsh's offense, and playing with the likes of Montana and Rice. But as Krueger stated, "Roger's numbers were suppressed by playing with the greatest statistical force in NFL history (Rice)." Rice was great for the 49ers, but not for Roger Craig's numbers.

Some argue that the fumble in the 1990 NFC Championship Game should keep him out of the Hall of Fame. Really? One play? Policy agreed that the fumble has kept Craig out of the Hall of Famer because some people judge by the last thing they saw (that was Craig's last play with the 49ers). "And think about this—after the fumble, a lot had to go right for the Giants to win that game. There was the big catch and run by Mark Bavaro, some missed tackles, the field goal...so that loss wasn't just on Roger," said Policy.

Regardless of how Craig's time in San Francisco ended, his Hall of Fame teammates and owner still endorse him. See for yourself:

Hall of Fame quarterback, Joe Montana: "One of the things about Roger was that he was one of the first all-purpose backs. He was a fullback, a halfback. He could run, he could block, he could catch the ball. He was the first 1000/1000 guy. There are people in there [Canton] that didn't have near the statistics or the records that he set. And he could have put up even more numbers if we had been a running team.

"Roger was the epitome of what Bill [Walsh] looked for—a great runner, a great blocker, but the receiving part was what made him special. Bill's offense used passes as part of the run game. So maybe instead of running for four yards, we'd pass it for four yards. Defenses hate to give up a four-yard run, so when we'd pass for four yards, they would think they stopped us because it wasn't a big pass. But it was still four yards. And Roger was the perfect back for that offense.

"Rog was also a great teammate. He never complained, even when he wasn't getting the ball. A lot of guys aren't happy if they're not getting the ball. But Roger Craig just wanted to win. And he would do whatever the team needed him to do. Everyone has seen his great runs, but watch what he did when he didn't have the ball. He'd be blocking down the field. Never a harder worker. Just a great guy."

Hall of Fame quarterback, Steve Young: "Roger was a thermostat player. His talent and spirit raised us all up when we lagged. He could make a big run and was indomitable in attitude. He was perfect for the innovative West Coast offense. He was key to success as the offense was the first one that asked the feature back to be able to catch the ball from multiple spots on the field on the run. He was a back way ahead of his time. Today, he would fit nicely into the demand on RBs in the most innovative offenses. To appreciate Roger, you have to look at the totality of his game, and you have to also see that he moved the position forward to where it is today. He was THE pioneer in transitioning the feature back to where it is today."

The NFL's all-time leading wide receiver and touchdown scorer, Hall of Famer Jerry Rice: "Roger Craig was more than a great teammate. He was a great role model for me and many players. His level of preparation and dedication to always improving made him a leader and mentor to me and others on our team. Having Roger's skills and flexibility on our team opened up the opportunity for Bill Walsh to develop a creative offense that led to winning seasons and Super Bowl victories before I even joined the team. I feel that these qualities and his gameplay set the standard for running backs after him.

"Roger forever impacted the game of football and I witnessed it during our time playing together for the 49ers. Roger had four seasons in the top 10 in receptions, five seasons in the top 10 of touches, five seasons in the top 10 in yards from scrimmage, went to four Pro Bowls, and won three Super Bowls.

"Roger was such a big part of the offensive success during the 49ers Dynasty years and it doesn't seem right that one of the other keys to our success is not sitting beside me, Joe Montana, and Steve Young in the Hall of Fame. Roger belongs in the Hall of Fame."

Hall of Fame defensive back, Ronnie Lott: "When I think about Roger Craig- when you're the first to do something, that in and of itself is Hall of Fame material. When you think of the game, in 80 years, people did a lot of things, but Roger did something significant, something no one else had done.

"Also, quarterbacks are valued by the amount of rings they win. Roger Craig had a significant part of winning with us. When you think of that, and what he did in his time in the league, he has to be considered. In that era of the '80s and '90s, when you think of all the things he's done, with the 49ers and Raiders, the longevity of a career, especially at that position, there's something there that needs to be considered. Everything he did was worthy of the Hall of Fame."

Former 49ers owner, and Hall of Famer, Edward DeBartolo, Jr.: "As the first 1,000 yards rushing/1,000 yards receiving running back, Roger set a standard for the position that many Hall of Famers followed and many others do today. He was one of the most complete backs in NFL history. Bill Walsh's West Coast offense changed football and a big part of that success was having a back like Roger in the offense. Bill's creativity worked largely because he could do more in his offense because he had Roger.

"During my time as owner, the 49ers dominated for a 20-year period, making the playoffs 19 times, 10 NFC Championship games, and winning 5 Super Bowls. Roger made the playoffs in ALL 11 seasons he played. Think about that, how many NFL players made the playoffs in every season they played?

"Besides Joe Montana, Roger was the best offensive player on one of the best offensive teams before the arrival of Jerry Rice, and we had already won 2 Super Bowls by then.

"I wish Bill Walsh were alive to make his pitch for Roger. I spent a lot of time with Bill and he always called Roger a 'clear-cut Hall of Famer.' I know he would be as disappointed as I am that Roger is not in the Hall of Fame alongside him."

Matt Maiocco, of NBC Sports Bay Area, wrote, "Bill Walsh told me that he was not able to do all the things he wanted with his offense until Roger Craig arrived. Roger changed how the game was played with his 1,000/1,000 season of 1985—and that came after his three-TD performance (1 rushing, 2 receiving) against the Dolphins in the Super Bowl. He had seven straight seasons of at least 1,100 yards from scrimmage and two seasons of 2,000 yards. He deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And there is no doubt in my mind that he WILL be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's only a matter of when."

I asked Montana to elaborate on what Walsh told Maiocco, regarding how Craig allowed him to do more with his offense than before the 49ers drafted the Nebraska running back. Montana said, "We could not only throw him the ball out of the backfield, but we could also line him wide. And we could do it without making any substitutions. The defense wouldn't have the chance to substitute, so we'd have a mismatch."

The argument some will make against induction for Roger Craig is that it's to be expected that his former teammates would go to bat for him. Of course, they would. So while some may argue that endorsements from his teammates, owner, front office and former head coach don't matter, we decided to take the case for Roger Craig beyond his 49ers family, and talk to a couple of NFL legends who played against Craig.

In a collective effort, Leisa Knudsen, a longtime friend of Craig, and I, along with some guidance from Maiocco, Valerie Panou (from DeBartolo's office), and Daniel Brown of The Athletic, reached out to some former NFL greats to get their takes on Roger Craig.

Two Hall of Famers, both of whom played several games against Craig in the '80s and early '90s—including some very big postseason games—eagerly jumped at the opportunity to endorse the great running back

Hall of Fame Linebacker, Mike Singletary:

"I'm disappointed that Roger Craig is not in the Hall of Fame. He really should be. Roger Craig is what the game of football is all about. If you're going to have a running back who is unselfish and isn't complaining about his yards, and just wants to win, you're talking about Roger Craig. The running back position is about winning. He's what coaches want; a running back who wants to win and is unselfish.

And he did whatever he was asked to do- block, pass protect, catch the ball out of the backfield, line up wide, run the ball up the middle. He did it all, and he did it very well.

I have as much respect for Roger Craig as I do for Earl Campbell, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, you name it. You had to prepare for Roger because you didn't know how he was going to beat you, out of the backfield, as a blocker, up the middle. He was a mismatch, and I consider it an honor to have played against him. Out of all the running backs out there, he's the one I'd have the most to say about, and that includes Walter Payton. Roger Craig was the total package. He was everything you want in a running back.

Usually, when a running back leaves the backfield and lines up as a receiver, you're glad, because now you don't have to worry about him. But when Roger left the backfield, you had to always know where he was at. Even after the 49ers had Jerry Rice, who you had to double-team, they still had Roger Craig on the other side or in the backfield. Roger was never a decoy in the passing game, like most running backs. Bill Walsh had all kinds of schemes to put him anywhere. You had to know where he was at all times. He did a great job catching the ball.

Roger Craig has my utmost respect. He was a warrior. He brought it every down and took no prisoners. And he never said a word, except for 'Good job.' He really should be in the Hall of Fame. In fact, it's a shame he's not. I really hope he gets in soon."

Hall of Fame Linebacker, Harry Carson:

As a defensive player with the New York Football Giants during the 1970s and 1980s, I and my team had an opportunity to compete against opposing players who were considered "difference makers" during that era of the game. In my opinion, Roger Craig was an essential part of the success of the 1980s San Francisco 49ers.

Hall of Fame Coach Bill Walsh wisely used Craig's effectiveness as a running back and as a receiver coming out of the backfield. I know this first-hand because, as an inside linebacker, I found myself to be the one who either had to plug the holes, in an attempt to stop the run or cover Craig in man-to-man coverage. I still vividly recall a move he used on me on a swing pass out of the backfield to score a touchdown. By the way, that game was a Monday Night Football game in my own stadium.

While Joe Montana was one of the best quarterbacks I've played against, Roger Craig was one of the best weapons Montana utilized to help make the 49ers one of the best NFL Teams of the 80s. I strongly support and endorse Roger Craig for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In addition to speaking with Singletary and Carson, we unearthed some quotes from other greats who played or coached against Craig, especially during his prominence in the '80s.

In 1985, former Los Angeles Rams coach, the great John Robinson, called Craig, "the best back in the league." Three years later, in 1988, following a game in which Craig rushed for 190 yards and scored three touchdowns, Robinson said, "Roger Craig was magnificent. He's the best runner in the league."

Robinson, who coached Eric Dickerson, and coached against Walter Payton, called Roger Craig the best back in the league...in 1985 and 1988.

Former Bears defensive end, Dan Hampton, said, "When we watch film, there's comedy and tragedy. Comedy is when somebody gets upended and he flips upside down. Tragedy is when somebody gets his leg torn off. Awe is when we watched Roger Craig against the Rams."

Matt Millen, who played for the Los Angeles Raiders in the early '80s and the 49ers in the late '80s, said this of Craig in 1985, "He's the hottest back in the league right now. He's our biggest concern. He's always at top speed." Millen specialized in stopping the run, so he should know what it's like trying to stop Craig.

Legendary coach Bill Parcells, on Craig's record-setting 1,000/1,000 season, said, "Montana throws a 2-yard pass to Craig, then you look up and it's second and 1. He gets those extra yards. That's something you have to stop."

Vince Newsome, longtime safety of the Los Angeles Rams, said of Craig, "He is the toughest man in the NFL to tackle. You try and hit him high and he's too strong; you hit him low, and he'll kick your teeth in."

Dan Reeves, former coach of the Denver Broncos, commented, "I've seen all the great ones, O.J. Simpson and Jim Brown and Gale Sayers and Walter Payton. None of them breaks more tackles than Roger Craig." Did you catch that? Reeves named four Hall of Famers—and Roger Craig.

That's such high praise. From Singletary to Robinson to Reeves, not only comparing Craig to some of the greatest running backs in NFL history but even placing him higher in some regard.

The opinions of fans rarely matter in decisions like these. But there are other factors that always will matter. Factors such as:

Does the player have the statistics to be considered one of history's greatest at his position? You've already read the numbers. Craig has Hall of Fame-worthy statistics.

Was the player considered one of the best at his position during the time he played? We have read comments from several players and coaches lauding Craig as among the NFL's top running backs during the '80s.

Does the player have the Super Bowl rings to back up his claim, in a sport driven by championships? Craig has the championships. He won three with the San Francisco 49ers. In one of those, Super Bowl XIX, Craig had a record-setting performance and was arguably the best player on the field that day. That's impressive considering there were future Hall of Famers in that game, such as Montana, Lott, and Dan Marino.

Are there players and coaches, who played with and against him, willing to endorse his credentials? Within this story alone are seven Hall of Famers endorsing Craig as worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Of course, there is one endorsement not yet included. And that would be from his legendary Hall of Fame coach.

Hall of Fame coach, Bill Walsh:

"There was a period of time when Roger was easily one of the best three or four running backs in all of football. I remember John Madden stating flat out that Roger was the best back in the league. I heard that quite a few times in the mid-to-late 1980s.

"In another offense, Roger would easily have gained a lot more yards rushing. But we combined rushing and pass receiving. We looked at total yards, not just rushing yards from our backs.

"He had an outstanding career, with the highlights perhaps coming in Super Bowl XIX when he scored three touchdowns against the Miami Dolphins. He continued on to be one of the great running backs in NFL history. He is a clear-cut Hall of Famer, and someday he will be honored as such."

We believe we have made a strong case for Roger Craig to be inducted into Pro Football's Hall of Fame. From Krueger's numbers, the debunking of reasons why Craig shouldn't be in Canton, and the endorsements from several of NFL's most legendary players and coaches, our case is compelling.

Almost as compelling as the case Number 33 made for himself.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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