Big 12 Sports.com Correspondent
Paul "Bear" Bryant won 323 games and six national championships. In his seasons, he coached one Heisman Trophy winner.
John David Crow.
Bryant spent 38 seasons at Texas A&M before becoming a coaching legend at Alabama. Bryant's final season in College Station was 1957. It was also Crow's senior season and the year in which he won college football's most prestigious award.
Crow is as much a part of Texas A&M football as the 12th Man and Reveille. That's why he was selected by the school to be its Big 12 Conference legend. Crow will be honored along with the other 11 Legends the weekend of the Dr. Pepper Football Championship game in Kansas City.
"I've been blessed throughout my life and career and this is another example of that," Crow said. "It's an unbelievable honor to be selected to represent our great university."
Bryant's days in College Station are famous because of the Junction Boys, the 1954 training camp in the Hill Country where two bus loads of players left campus and one bus with some empty seats returned. Crow was a freshman that season and ineligible to play for the varsity. He wasn't happy when the buses left for Junction.
"I was really kinda looking forward to it," Crow recalled. "When the one bus of players came back, I asked, 'Hey guys, where the hell did everybody go?
"Contrary to what a lot of people think, a lot of the guys who went to Junction said we had the same kind of training camp in College Station the next year. The difference was, we didn't sleep on a cot. Coach's practices were tough ... he believed if you got knocked down, you got back up."
Bryant had once played a game against Tennessee with a broken leg. Crow duplicated that grit in 1956 when he was part of the first Aggie football team to beat the Texas at Memorial Stadium. He played despite breaking his right foot five days before against Rice. Crow's 27-yard touchdown run helped the Aggies win in Austin for the first time in 33 years.
"After we scored that touchdown at the South end of the field the crowd just going crazy," Crow said. "I got back to the huddle and asked what was going on. One of the guys said, 'This is the first time A&M's scored in this end of the field.' That was my indoctrination into the rivalry."
Crow's Heisman season in 1957 was modest by statistical measurements. A hyper-extended knee in the season opener limited him to seven games, in which he gained 562 yards on 129 carries. He passed for five touchdowns and caught two touchdown passes. On defense, he had five interceptions.
In short, Crow was a football player. At 6-2, 220 pounds, Crow was a super-sized running back/linebacker. He was probably the only player who The Bear referred to by first name.
In 1957, Bryant said not to count Crow's yards but "count the people he's run over." And he made his opinion clear to the Heisman voters who might have been in doubt as to how to cast their ballots.
"If he doesn't win the Heisman," the Bear growled, "they ought to stop giving it out."
Duly informed, the voters gave Crow a large victory margin over the runner-up, Iowa tackle Alex Karras.
"It was quite an honor and a humbling experience to win the Heisman that year," said Crow, who was also named a scholastic All-American in 1957. "I always felt like I accepted that award on behalf of my teammates and the university.
"I didn't realize the Heisman was that big a deal. The Heisman committee called the A&M chancellor who called us at home in Louisiana. My mother told me I had a call from the school president and I said, 'Oh my gosh, what did I do?'"
For Crow, the trip to New York City for the Heisman banquet illustrated the meaning of the award. It also was part of a journey started deep in the backwoods of northwestern Louisiana.
Crow's father Harry was a hard-working, no-nonsense survivor of the Great Depression. Harry Crow valued a day's labor over much else. John David eventually worked beside his father in the paper mill in Springhill, calling it " challenging, tough work that will test your insides."
"That's the way it was in those days, you had to be tough to make it," Crow said. "When coach Bryant jumped on my behind, it was just like my dad. My dad said that if you were going to do a job, you never left it unfinished."
After receiving the phone call about the Heisman trophy, Crow remembers walking to the paper mill with his mother, Velma, to tell Harry Crow about the honor his youngest son had received. The look and the tears in his father's eyes, John David Crow says, "for all of my life, for as long as I live, that will mean more to me than anything else."
Crow had a successful 11-year NFL career with the Cardinals and the 49ers, playing in four Pro Bowls. After his NFL career, he spent time as an assistant coach with Bryant at Alabama.
Starting in 1983, he served as Texas A&M's associate athletic director (1983-88), athletic director (1988-93) and director of athletic development from 1993 until retiring in June 2001.
"I'm busier now than I've ever been," Crow said with a laugh.