Published December 17, 2009
Darrell Crawford, who celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year, is a humble, consistent, dedicated Christian and a faithful member of Marietta’s Eastside Baptist Church.
The Sunday Crawford united with the church Bob Aycock, who once played football at Georgia Tech, knowingly declared, “We have just added to our membership the greatest quarterback in Georgia Tech football history.”
He has also been heralded as, “The man with the golden arm.” That is how the August 2002 Georgia Trend magazine described Georgia Tech’s most revered quarterback.
The statewide business publication elaborated on Crawford’s athletic prowess by stating, “Georgia Tech has had its share of great quarterbacks – Billy Lothridge, Frank Broyles, Wade Mitchell, Kim King, and Joe Hamilton – but none was greater than Darrell Crawford out of Kingsport, Tenn.
“In 1951 Crawford out-dueled the so-called ‘five finest passers in America.’ He became the first player in Southeastern Conference history to throw four touchdown passes in one game, and he quarterbacked the Yellow Jackets to their first undefeated season in the Bobby Dodd era.
“Along the way to an 11-0-1 record, Crawford out-passed the much-heralded Billy Wade of Vanderbilt, Vito “Babe” Parilli of Kentucky, Heywood Sullivan of Florida, and Fred Benners of Southern Methodist University. Then he topped that in the Orange Bowl by out-performing All-American Larry Isbell of Baylor.”
It is true that in January of 1952, Crawford led the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to an incredible football victory over the Baylor Bears and was designated as the Most Valuable Player of the Orange Bowl.
The 1951 Georgia Tech Annual chronicles Tech’s 25-7 win over Louisiana State University and adds, “Darrell Crawford was again a masterful performer in handling the team [with his] passing and faking.”
Regarding Tech’s convincing 27-7 win over Auburn The Annual reported, “Darrell Crawford and Buck Martin might as well be the entire story of this classic, accounting for all 4 of Tech’s touchdowns.”
With the Yellow Jackets’ recent ACC championship victory over Clemson and ascent to regent of the Atlantic Coast Conference and bid to play in the upcoming Orange Bowl it might serve the present Tech football squad well to read about the 1952 Orange Bowl victors.
Furman Bisher, current sports columnist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, was a rookie sports journalist when Tech faced the Baylor Bears in the 1952 Orange Bowl classic.
On January 1, 1952 Bisher wrote from Miami, “Georgia Tech is the unbeaten co-champion of the Southeastern Conference. Baylor is ranked second in the wild and incorrigible Southwest Conference.
“There is no slither of a margin either way between these two contestants. Only the sentimental are picking a winner and only the hardiest of gamblers is putting money on it.
“For headline purposes, this is a personal match between Darrell Crawford, Tech’s percentage ace, and Larry Isbell, a passing fool who can also step a hot lick or two, if the occasion demands.”
On the next day the Atlanta paper declared in its Orange Bowl headlines: “Crawford Out-Duels Isbell, Paves Way for Dramatic 17-14 Tech Victory.”
The paper specified, “Larry Isbell, undoubtedly the best quarterback Tech met all season, dominated the first half, but Darrell Crawford, Tech’s capable operator, took charge in the final chapter and pounded away with telling effect. There was nothing to choose between the two great football players. In fact, the edge, if any, must go to Crawford. He was effective all the way. Isbell faded in the stretch.”
Crawford didn’t fade in the 1952 Orange Bowl and he shows no signs of fading today – at least spiritually. While his body is no longer capable of making those deft moves that propelled him to football greatness, he is, from a spiritual perspective, “steadfast, immoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
But that prompts this writer to say that there is a story – a great big story – within the football story here.
‘Remember who you are’
Crawford was born in Kingsport, Tenn., in 1929. He and his five brothers and two sisters were practically raised in Barton’s Chapel Church, an independent Baptist church in the Holston Valley of upper Tennessee.
He recalls his mother reading Bible stories to him and his siblings. His mother died when he was a freshman in high school, but his father continued to teach the Crawford children the importance of discipline and respect. His dad would often say, “Remember, you are a Crawford and you need to conduct yourself as such.”
However, with the passing of time Darrell became less interested in spiritual things and devoted more and more of his time and interest to football.
Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport became famous for its football program in the 1920s. Among its native sons are the legendary Bobby Dodd, Tennessee All-American Bob Cifers, Georgia Tech All-American Hal Miller, Crawford, and his brother Denver, an All-American tackle at the University of Tennessee.
Darrell Crawford says, “You looked up to the players. My brother, Denver, would take me as a barefoot boy to watch the games. We snuck into the dressing room. The whole town was engulfed in Dobyns-Bennett High School football. It was a draw for me and a source of civic pride.”
When Darrell was a lad the Crawfords could not afford to purchase a football, so Denver improvised. When the family killed a hog, Denver cut out the bladder, blew it up, and tied it at one end. It was more round than spherical, but served very well as a football to the Crawford boys.
Georgia Trend reported, “From the hog bladder to the pigskin, Crawford was in a class by himself. He led his sandlot team to a city championship and his high school team (Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett) to two consecutive state championships. He also attracted almost every college football scout from south Florida to South Bend.
“What impressed Tech’s Dodd and Tennessee’s Coach Bob Neyland was not only Crawford’s athletic ability, but his leadership and classroom work as well. He was a standout baseball and basketball player, an A student, and president of his junior and senior classes.
“Even the legendary Notre Dame coach, Frank Leahy, sent him books on Notre Dame’s glorious football history and its all-time great quarterback, Johnny Lujack.
“But the greatest pressure came from another legend – Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, then head coach at Kentucky.”
Crawford selected to play football for Coach Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech. His college career constantly made headlines and at the conclusion of his spectacular 1952 Orange Bowl performance the owner of the Chicago Cardinals, Walter Wolfner, approached Crawford after the game and told him he was going to draft him to play in the National Football League.
One day after the Orange Bowl, Coach Dodd called Crawford to his office. When Darrell walked into the coach’s office there sat Dodd and Charlie Trippi, who had become an All American quarterback at the University of Georgia and was drafted by the Chicago Cardinals in the first round (1st overall) of the 1945 NFL draft.
The next step and a wistful memory
Crawford thought it strange to see a UGA legend in Coach Dodd’s office, but Trippi had come to Atlanta to get Crawford to sign a professional contract with the Cardinals.
Darrell viewed the opportunity to sign the contract with some caution and Trippi asked, “Do you need some money to help you make this decision?”
Darrell responded, “Well, that might help.”
Trippi immediately got on the telephone with Wolfner and said, “Darrell is going to need a little money.”
Wolfner requested to speak to Crawford and promised, “If you will sign the contract today I will send you a check for $2,500.”
Darrell could hardly believe that he would suddenly come into such an enormous amount of money. In addition to the signing bonus, the contract offered him a salary of $7,500 for his first year of professional football.
Unfortunately, amidst all his football successes, Darrell’s relationship with God became little more than a wistful memory. Even though Coach Dodd had attempted to keep God an ever-present reality in the lives of his players by requiring them to attend church, Darrell admitted that he wasn’t following the teachings of the Bible he had learned from his parents and his church. His instinct was telling him that he was not right with God.
Darrell’s professional football career was abbreviated when he was drafted to serve in the Korean War midway through his first season with the Cardinals.
After being discharged from the military service Darrell got married and took a job as the backfield coach for the University of Richmond. He was given the chance to play again with the Chicago Cardinals or in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tigercats, but his instincts told him there would be no hope for his new marriage if he went back into pro football, so for the sake of his newly established family he took the job at the University of Richmond.
After coaching for a few years Crawford moved to Newnan to work with Reynolds Aluminum in order to better support his family. In Newnan Darrell, his wife, and two daughters began to regularly attend Central Baptist Church. One Sunday Darrell, 27 at the time, was convicted of his sins by one of the pastor’s sermons and was subsequently baptized.
As the years rolled by the Crawfords eventually moved to Marietta where they united with Eastside Baptist Church. One Sunday the well-known evangelist Junior Hill was preaching a sermon on being convicted of sin, but not being converted unto righteousness.
Hill told a personal illustration about his own brother who died suddenly and unexpectedly one day while fishing with his father. The evangelist told the Eastside congregation that his own brother was in hell because he didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
After the sermon all Darrell could think about was talking to his brother, Dana, who was a pastor back in Kingsport. Darrell’s sense of urgency compelled him to drive to Kingsport that day and by dusk he had arrived at Dana’s home. Darrell and Dana retreated to the gazebo in Dana’s backyard for a heart-to-heart conversation.
Dana was Darrell’s second-oldest brother and the one who had inspired Darrell to excel in football. Darrell told his pastor brother about his experience at Central Baptist Church in Newnan and about his experience at Eastside under the preaching of Junior Hill.
Dana explained to Darrell that it was possible for an individual to be convicted, but not converted. At that point Darrell was persuaded to get on his knees and repent of all sin and ask God for forgiveness.
Darrell admitted, “My body shook. It was a tremendous emotional experience, but when I got off my knees I knew that I had experienced more than a conviction of my sins. I knew that I had been converted.”
Crawford’s football exploits elicited thunderous applause from fanatical fans of the game, but his spiritual conversion resulted in a celebration in glory that included the affirmation of the Son of God. Today the man “with the golden arm” is worth his weight in gold to God’s eternal game plan.
Darrell was one of the first members of Eastside to become involved in the church’s FAITH evangelism program. He commented, “I have received many accolades in my lifetime, but the one thing that I am most proud of is the testimony the Lord has given me and which He has allowed me to share with others.”
In this day when football has become an idol to many, let it be understood that the story of Darrell Crawford’s spiritual conversion is THE story within the story and far more significant than his athletic heroics.
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