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Why 2024 could be the year former 49ers RB Roger Craig is named a Hall of Famer

Marc Adams
Jun 22, 2024 at 9:53 AM

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"Any idea when we might hear something about the Hall of Fame vote?" That was the text I sent San Francisco 49ers reporter, Matt Maiocco, last August on the day we expected to hear who the Hall of Fame Senior Committee was selecting as new Pro Football Hall of Fame members. I had been working on a podcast series making the case that former 49ers running back, Roger Craig, belongs in the Hall of Fame. Maiocco, along with other media members like Larry Krueger, as well as some of Craig's former teammates, like Steve Young and Ronnie Lott, were working with me on the project.

The work was finished, the voters had voted, and we were waiting to hear their decision. Then came Maiocco's response to my question regarding when we would find out if Craig was selected. Since Maiocco is a Hall of Fame voter, I figured he would know. He texted me back, "In about 10 minutes. It's not good news."

I was very disappointed. Craig deserves to be in Canton. He has the credentials. He has the numbers. He has the championships. And, by all accounts, he's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. I realize that being nice doesn't get you enshrined in Canton, but it makes it more disappointing when the player gets snubbed. Craig, who declined to join me on the podcast, certainly wants to get in, and he believes he deserves it.

In 2022, Kreuger and I made the Hall of Fame case for Roger Craig and believed we had a compelling argument. Young and Lott were part of that story, as were fellow Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. We even sent the article to every Hall of Fame Senior voter. But Craig was turned down.

And now a year later, we were making the case again, this time in podcast form. But the result was no different, even though some of those Hall of Famers like DeBartolo, Lott, and Montana were making calls to voters to continue making the case. The number of people working together to make the Hall of Fame case for Roger Craig was impressive.

Even some former players who played against Craig were joining the fight. Guys like former New York Giants players Jim Burt, Harry Carson, and Gary Reasons had great things to say about Craig. Burt spoke with Maiocco and compared Craig to Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor. Reasons told Maiocco that Walter Payton and Roger Craig were the top two running backs in the '80s.

Former Chicago Bears great, Mike Singletary, who was Payton's teammate, told me, "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."

So with the disappointment that came on the heels of a lot of momentum in 2022 and 2023, why would I believe 2024 could be the year Craig breaks through and is selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame? It's because of some things that were said last August after we learned that Craig hadn't been selected.

After Maiocco gave me the bad news, he followed it up with some optimism: "I really think it's close. Next year is my bet (and I've never said that before)." Maiocco's belief that 2024 could be the year was a result of things he heard and conversations he had. And he wasn't the only one giving me some hope.

Valerie Panou worked for DeBartolo at the time and was the one who had given me access to the 49ers' former owner. Panou's husband is a beat writer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She's been around the sport, knows a lot of people (including media/voters), and understands how things work in the NFL. After the new class of seniors was announced, she called me to share her belief that 2024 might be the year Craig gets in.

Panou spoke with multiple senior voters before and after the vote. She was told by more than one voter who had been in the room that Craig was discussed at length. When a player is brought up for discussion, if there is little to no discussion, it's usually a bad sign. But when there is a lot of discussion, it's a good sign that the tide is moving in favor of that player. Craig was discussed for several minutes, and though he wasn't selected in 2023, there was a bit of optimism that he's close to being selected, which aligns with what Maiocco said.

Panou also told me that there was a belief that Craig might have been selected in 2023, had it not been for the health situation surrounding former Bears defensive tackle Steve McMichael, who is battling ALS. It doesn't diminish McMichael's candidacy, he's certainly worthy of being a Hall of Famer. But some believe the voters wanted to get him into the Hall of Fame before he passed away. McMichael will be inducted this summer, but reportedly will not be able to make it due to complications with ALS.

The last bit of information Panou gave me was that she had spoken with 49ers vice president & senior advisor to the general manager, Keena Turner. Turner, of course, was one of Craig's teammates. Panou was reaching out to request the 49ers join the cause to help Craig get selected, specifically by finding someone to dig deep into analytics and find out how the 49ers' offense fared when Craig was on the field versus how they performed when Craig wasn't on the field. DeBartolo was willing to pay for the work to be done. Turner told her the 49ers would help once the 2023 season was over.

I'm not sure if that happened, but even without that, there is a lot of optimism that Craig's wait may soon be over. And that's why I believe 2024 may be the year Roger Craig finally gets selected to be a Hall of Famer.

Watch the Hall of Fame Case For Roger Craig:

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