The San Francisco 49ers of the 1980’s had no shortage of superstars. These teams were littered with iconic names like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Ronnie Lott. Montana, Rice, and Lott were joined by Bill Walsh, Charles Haley, and Fred Dean in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In the 80’s and 90’s, they won five Super Bowls and dominated the NFC, changing the way people played football forever.
However, one icon of the 49er dynasty has yet to hear his name called by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Despite the fact that he completely transformed the running back position, paving the way for future backs, he remains absent from the halls of Canton, Ohio. His name is Roger Craig.
Roger Craig and the Pro Football Hall of Fame
The Argument Against
When Roger Craig retired in 1993, he was only 13th all-time in rushing yards (8,189), and 20th all-time in rushing touchdowns (56). Today, in 2020, there are 43 players with more rushing yards, and 56 more players with more rushing touchdowns. In 11 years with San Francisco, he never led the NFL in a single rushing category. He only had three seasons with 1,000 yards rushing, and he never broke double digits in rushing touchdowns.
It’s also not like he had the most challenging job in the NFL. He played most of his career with arguably the best quarterback and wide receiver in NFL history as a cog in Bill Walsh’s west coast offense.
In order to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it makes sense that at some point during your career, you should’ve been the best at your position. Sadly, Craig played at the same time as Marcus Allen, who put up objectively better numbers across the bay, and Eric Dickerson. The end of his career also saw the arrivals of Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith, who had much better numbers as well.
Also, as far as big play memories are concerned, Craig’s biggest play is still that fumble in the NFC Championship game that cost the 49ers a chance at a threepeat. If Lynn Swann got into the Hall of Fame for a big, memorable play, then maybe Craig’s fumble, like Jim Marshall’s wrong way run, have kept him out.
The Argument For
I very clearly specified rushing stats while arguing against his induction. Roger Craig isn’t necessarily known as being a traditional rusher. He is, however, known as the first running back to ever go 1,000/1,000. He’s one of three players in NFL HISTORY to rush for 1,000 yards and have 1,000 yards receiving in the same season. Since then, only he, Marshall Faulk, and the rightful Offensive Player of the Year from 2019, Christian McCaffrey. Faulk is in the Hall of Fame, and CMC is certainly on pace to be in the conversation. Craig was the prototypical running back in the west coast offense. Without him, there isn’t a Marshall Faulk or a Christian McCaffrey.
Craig was named to four Pro Bowls, was a first-team All-Pro, won the 1988 Offensive Player of the Year award, and was a vital part of three Super Bowl championships. During the first seven years of his career, he averaged over 1,500 all-purpose yards and nine scores.
Joe Namath is in the Hall of Fame because he was the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards, and because he drunkenly proclaimed that the Jets would upset the Baltimore Colts. Why can’t someone with an equally impressive first, and three times as many championships? Which reminds me, there’s another back, with a similar career, that the voters had no problem immortalizing.
Injuries cut Denver Bronco’s legend Terrell Davis’ career short, so he didn’t get to play as long as Craig did, but they had similar careers. They were both the driving force on a Super Bowl offense with a Hall of Fame quarterback.
If you put the first seven years of Craig’s career right next to Davis’ (like I have here), you see that while Davis has more rushing yards, Craig has more total yards. Over seven years, Craig accumulated 10,866 total yards and 65 total scores. Davis accumulated only 8,887 yards and 65 scores.
Davis won two Super Bowls before his injuries forced him to retire early, and he waited 16 years to get into the Hall. Nearly 30 years after Craig took his last snaps, retiring with three rings, he has yet to be enshrined. How is that fair? Had Craig been injured and had to retire earlier, would that have helped his chances? It just doesn’t make any sense.