COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — John David Crow, the bruising running back who won the 1957 Heisman Trophy with Texas A&M before a Pro Bowl career in the NFL, has died. He was 79.
The university said Crow died Wednesday night surrounded by his family. A cause of death was not disclosed.
Crow was the first Heisman winner for the Aggies, who were coached at the time by Paul “Bear” Bryant. During the 1957 season, Bryant famously said: “If John David Crow doesn’t win the Heisman Trophy, they ought to stop giving it.”
He had 129 carries for 562 yards and six touchdowns during his Heisman season. He also threw five touchdown passes and played defense, where he grabbed five interceptions. He ran for 1,465 yards and 14 touchdowns and caught four touchdowns in his three-year career at Texas A&M.
“The one thing you knew without reservation was John David Crow was loyal to Texas A&M,” current Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “He has always been supportive of me and our football program. He was always willing to do whatever we asked and that meant a great deal.”
He lived in College Station in his later years and delighted in spending time with Johnny Manziel the year the quarterback joined him as a Heisman winner. In an interview with The Associated Press just before Manziel won the award, Crow was reminded of Bryant’s famous words about him and asked if he felt the same way about Johnny Football.
“I don’t have near the audience that coach Bryant had,” he said in 2012, chuckling. “I’m not sure how big that would go over.”
Manziel, who was at Browns minicamp this week, said “Aggieland lost a hero today.”
“He was a legend on the field and a gentleman off it,” Manziel said in a statement. “My family and I were fortunate to have spent some time with Mr. Crow and he shared some great stories about winning his Heisman Trophy. He couldn’t have been nicer or more encouraging.”
Crow became a favorite of Aggie fans when he helped Texas A&M to its first win over Texas in Austin in 1956. Crow, who was born in Marion, Louisiana, didn’t fully understand the importance of the rivalry at the time.
“It was an electrifying crowd for a young guy that came out of a little ol’ town in Louisiana,” Crow said in 2012. “I came from Louisiana and at that time I knew about LSU and Tulane— that was a big rivalry. It just wasn’t as big a thing to me then. It obviously has grown in my mind to become a very, very big game.”
Crow was the second pick in the 1958 NFL draft and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection in a professional career with the Chicago/ St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. Crow piled up 4,963 yards rushing, 3,699 yards receiving and threw for 759 yards in his 11-year NFL career.
He coached with Bryant at Alabama and was the head coach at Northeast Louisiana University, now known as Louisiana-Monroe, from 1975-80, where he went 20-34-1.
He later returned to Texas A&M where he worked in various positions in the athletic department until his retirement in 2001.
“This year, we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of women’s athletics at Texas A&M,” athletic director Eric Hyman said. “It was John David who really took the lead in helping develop women’s athletics at our university. In getting to know John David, one thing was quite clear: He believed if you were going to do anything, you better do it right and to the best of your abilities.”
R.C. Slocum, who was the hired as A&M’s football coach the same day Crow became the school’s athletic director in 1988, said he admired Crow and that he was honored to have known “such a giant of a man.”