Texas A&M running back John David Crow won the Heisman in 1957.
Born in Springhill, La., he was recruited to College Station by Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant and, at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he was an atypically large back for his era.
By his senior year, he was dominant on both sides of the ball. Despite missing roughly three games due to injury, he rushed for 562 yards and six touchdowns, caught two passes and threw five touchdown strikes. On defense, he had five interceptions.
Bryant told Heisman voters that “they should do away with the thing” if they didn’t vote for Crow. They heeded the legendary coach, giving Crow the trophy over defensive tackle Alex Karras of Iowa. Crow went on to play 11 seasons in the NFL, making his way to four Pro Bowls. He also coached with Bryant at Alabama and at Northeast Louisiana University before become athletic director at NLU.
He currently lives in College Station, Texas, and I got a hold of him on the phone on Thursday as he was packing for his trip to New York City to witness Johnny Manziel at the Heisman ceremony:
Have you been back to NYC in recent years, or is this your first time in a while?
“We didn’t make it last year, but we made it the year before, when Cam Newton won it. I don’t really recall when I came back again for the first time before that. When they presented it to me, I then went on to play football for 11 years. I definitely didn’t go back in those days because I was always playing in December. I don’t think I went during the years that I coached. It was probably in the neighborhood of 50 years later. I don’t think they invited people back for a while.”
Did you have any Heisman expectations heading into your senior season?
“It wasn’t on the radar. I recall Jones Ramsey was our SID back then and he called me down for something one day. I don’t think I’d ever been in his office to that point. There was a picture of this award there. I asked him what that was and he told me what it was. It was just another award or something to me. I had no idea that I would ever proceed to even be all-Southwest conference. I had no idea what it was or the possibility of winning something like that.”
Had you heard about or idolized any Heisman winners prior to winning?
“In Springhill, La., we only got papers from Shreveport and I think that was only on Saturday or Sunday. Doak Walker was the only person I knew because he was in the Shreveport Times a lot because he played for SMU. To be very honest with you, I didn’t read very much of the paper back then. I don’t think many juniors and seniors in high school did.”
What made you decide to go to Texas A&M?
“I didn’t know anything about Texas A&M and I wouldn’t have gone if not for coach Elmer Smith, who coached my brother at a small school in south Arkansas. We went to all the games and I’d sit on the sideline and got to know coach Elmer and when coach (Bear) Bryant hired him he came and recruited me, and convinced my mother and dad and myself to be an Aggie.”
You were injured for part of your senior year, right?
“I got my knee hurt in the Maryland game, which was the first one. It was right before half time. I didn’t play against Texas Tech the next game and then I played just three plays against Missouri. So you might say I missed two-and-a-half games my senior year.”
What was it like to win the Heisman back then?
“It was something I had never dreamed of. I didn’t even know anything like it went on in the United States. It was not something you talked about back then like we do now. I’m so happy that it has become what it has, not just because we have one here in our house, but because it’s good for college football. I love the fact that everyone is talking about freshman winning or whatever, but the award is presented to the most outstanding college football player who played football this year. I think he (Johnny Manziel) is without a doubt the most outstanding.”
What was your trip to New York like when you were given the trophy?
“It was great. We had dinner on the 13th floor of the Downtown Athletic Club and we could see the Statue of Liberty out the window. The night of the presentation, they had a bunch of microphones sitting there at the podium for CBS, NBC and all that, but the only one I saw was from Movie Tone which was the one that you saw in the movie theaters when I was growing up. Those were the newsreels which ran when you went to go get popcorn. I recognized that mic and thought I might be seen in the movie theaters back in Springhill. But you can’t even compare it to the way it is today. I’m so fortunate and so happy that it’s changed.”
Gary Beban, who won in 1967, once told me that you were his hero growing up. Over the years, have you noticed the impact that your Heisman win has had on other people?
“That is awfully nice of Gary to say and I look up to him and he’s a very good person. That’s the first I’ve heard that and that’s very, very nice of him to say. I’ve never looked at it like I did anything. I swear to you, I never looked at it that way. I went to New York on behalf of the coaching staff, my teammates, the 12th man, the managers and the trainers. I accepted the award on behalf of them. I’m just keeping it for them. Football is the ultimate team sport. No one can do anything in football if you don’t have a little help. Of course some people can make marvelous plays and, rightfully so, they should be patted on the back for that. But still when you get right down to it, winning and losing the game is the most important thing. That’s what the Heisman award stands for — helping your teammates win games.”
When did you first get a chance to watch Johnny Manziel play?
“I hadn’t gone to a practice this year and then I didn’t want to go after a while because I’m a bit superstitious. The first time I saw him was in games. I was obviously shocked when I saw him, as were a lot of people, because of the things that he can do. Kevin Sumlin and his staff have done a great job with the whole team and with him. I still think he does things that you can’t coach. It’s instinct, he was born with it. I’d like someone to explain to me how he made that play against Alabama where he got the ball knocked out of his hand, reversed himself and found the receiver in the end zone. Just ridiculous.”
You finally met and talked with him recently. What did you talk about with him?
“We talked briefly. I tried to tell him to keep on acting the way he’s acting and keep on doing the things he’s doing, respect his mom and dad and go have fun. What else can you tell him? Saturday night we all hope we can walk away very, very happy. If not, he’s still got to play Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl anyway.”
What will him winning the Heisman mean to you?
“It’s exciting but sometimes I think things like this are overplayed, unless it’s happening to you. I’m more interested in getting this done Saturday and then we’ll have this forever. It won’t matter what happened last year. You’ve got to look toward the year coming up and try to improve.”
Are you looking forward to all the attention you are sure to receive this weekend when you come to New York?
“I think my cell phone number got out, so they might find me. I’ve never been through this. I hear there will be an awful lot of autograph seekers out there, not so much for guys like me but for the younger guys. I’m looking forward to going up there for Saturday night. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to all the hullabaloo that’s going to go on between when we get there and when the ceremony starts. Still it’s an honor for someone who I’ve never met to want to come up and see us and say hi and talk about a subject that really means a great deal to me, because it’s A&M. It’s my school and it’s done very, very well by me and the coach that coached here while I was here…there’s no doubt in my mind that he was the greatest coach that ever walked on this earth. And my teammates were the best as well. So I’m looking forward to it.”