John David Crow once described his hometown in Louisiana as, “so far back in the woods they have to pipe in sunshine.”
A native of Springhill, a lazy town crouching on the Arkansas line, Crow made All-America in football and lettered in both basketball and baseball at Springhill High. Crow’s brother, Raymond, had been coached by Elmer Smith at Southern Arkansas, and when Smith joined Paul “Bear” Bryant’s staff at Texas A&M, he was hot for Raymond’s talented younger brother. So certain of Crow’s talent, Smith was, that he parked at a Springhill hotel for, as he claimed, “three months.”
Crow arrived in College Station in 1954 a greenhorn tailback thankful he’d missed out on the brutality of Junction. His sophomore year, Crow learned firsthand how Bryant’s words could impact. After two punt return plays where Crow lost yardage, he trotted to the A&M sideline expecting thunder from the fedora-hatted coach. As Crow sat downtrodden at the end of the bench, waiting on Bryant to arrive — “All of a sudden,” Crow recalled, “I saw Coach Bryant’s shoes. I kinda braced myself, and he put a hand on my knee. I looked up then, and he pointed toward the field. All he said was, ‘John, our goal is THATAWAY!”
Later, Bryant would point others in the direction of Crow. After Crow’s magnificent campaign in 1957, Bryant lobbied for Crow to win the Heisman Trophy, saying famously, “If John David doesn’t get it, they ought to quit having it.”
Crow received a majority vote and was presented the prestigious award at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York. “It all seems like a dream,” Crow said, “and I want to sit down before I make a racket that might wake me up.”
After A&M, Crow would go on to a distinguished career in the NFL. The first-round pick of the Chicago Cardinals in 1958, Crow played 11 seasons in the NFL and was elected to the Pro Bowl four times.
After retiring with the San Francisco 49ers, Crow joined Bear Bryant’s staff at Alabama as an assistant. He had coaching stints with the Cleveland Browns and San Diego Chargers before becoming the head coach at Northeast Louisiana in 1976.
Crow returned to A&M in 1983 as assistant athletic director, and in 1988, was promoted to athletic director. He served in that role until 1993.
John David Crow passed away on June 17, 2015. A tribute to the life of Crow was written on the website Texas A&M Today: “The core values of Texas A&M University—respect, integrity, leadership, excellence, loyalty and selfless service truly describe this Aggie legend, John David Crow.”
Crow is an inductee of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame, and the College Football Hall of Fame. But Crow was not a man who cared much for accolades. “All these accolades and awards and all the stuff athletes receive, it all boils down to family. The love of my children is so much more important than all the other stuff that goes on in my life,” Crow once told sportswriter Michael Brick.
Although Crow missed out on Junction, the patina of Bryant would endure through the years. In 1967, at the induction of Elmer Smith into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, Crow commented on his respect for Coach Bryant: “It’s been 10 years since I played for him, but right now, if he told me to run through that wall over there, I’m sure I’d give it a try.” HA
Photos courtesy of Texas Sports Hall of Fame, Waco, TX.
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