August 3, 2011

Where are they now: Roger Craig

While he may be known more for his success in the NFL than in college, Roger Craig still ranks as one of the best I-backs to suit up for Nebraska. His dual-threat ability as both a runner and a receiver made Craig a few years ahead of his time, but he turned those skills into NFL stardom with San Francisco 49ers and legendary head coach Bill Walsh.

In our final edition of Where are they Now? for the summer, we caught up with Craig to about his memories from his playing days both at Nebraska and the NFL, and also his thoughts on the Huskers heading into the 2011 season.

You had so many great memories from your time in the NFL. When you look back on entire football career, though, are there any moments from your playing days at Nebraska that still stick with you?

"My favorite memory would probably be the Florida State game during my junior year when I ran for 230 some yards. That was my most memorable game. They had beat us the year before, so we were really pumped up to play against them and show them that we were the better team. The most disappointing game I would say was Penn State (in 1982) out in State College. We had some calls that were some questionable calls. Guys catching the ball out of bounds for Penn State and giving them the opportunity to score. That was a big year for us, because I think we were like 12-1 that year. That was our only loss. You work so hard, and to have a referee make a decision like that and we lose, that's tough to live with.

"But looking back on my whole career at Nebraska, it was a great learning experience. I've always been a big Husker fan, even as a kid growing up watching my older brother (Curtis Craig) play, and I understand the history of Nebraska, and that's the main thing, the players before me. For me, it was like a code of respect for the players who played before me and for the fans, knowing how our fans are so passionate about Nebraska football.

"You have to know about what your roles are when you are a player there and what you're playing for. You can be out there and be an individual type of person. You have to know all the history involved. Young guys that come along, they have to do their research and understand the great guys who played before you, like Johnny Rodgers, David Humm, Rich Glover, Ndamukong Suh and players like that. It's amazing. Hopefully the young guys today do research like I did to be able to understand what their roles are and know what it takes to be a Husker, a true Husker, and to have that respect and pride when they step on that football field."

Talk about being the same backfield with Mike Rozier and the experiment of moving you to fullback in 1982?

"It was a little shocking because my natural position was at running back. But, you know, I did what ever it took for our team to win. I didn't care about the individual side of it. I did have a decent junior year, and going into my senior year I had a an opportunity with our great offensive line to be in the running for a Heisman Trophy or All-American. Our offensive line, we had a serious team that year. It was just me doing what Coach (Tom Osborne) told us to do.

"I never pushed the envelope and said 'I don't want to do this.' I did it for the team. If it was going to help our team win, so be it. So I took on that role as a fullback, and we started in the same backfield for a couple of games and then I got injured. I had a high ankle sprain, and that took me out for pretty much the whole season. So that kind of messed up that whole concept of us playing together in the backfield. It would've been great if I could've stayed injury free.

"At the time when Coach Osborne first came to us about doing that, it was kind of hurting us when we were alternating at I-back. There were some games my junior year when I would get hot and then they would put Rozier in and he would be cold, and vice versa. It kind of messed up the whole chemistry by having to switch off both backs like that. So Coach Osborne came to and said 'I'm going to put you both in the same backfield so we can terrorize the league.'

"But that ankle sprain messed up that whole concept. I live with it, and looking at it today, it helped me, because it gave me a versatility that I could play fullback. My first four years in the NFL, I played fullback, so learning how to block linebackers and leading the halfback through the hole helped me a lot. Of course, that all changed when they found out I could catch the ball."

Where are they now?
Player: Roger Craig, 1979-82

Current city: Portola Valley, Calif.

Family: Wife: Vernessia; Children: Damesha, Rometra, Rogderick, Alexander, Nia-Jai.

Current profession: For the past 12 years, Craig has served as the director of business development and spokesperson for TIBCO Software, a provider of real-time e-business software for the Internet which describes itself as "the only enterprise software company solving 21st century business problems." Craig has also spent time as a motivational speaker, appearing on a variety of television talk shows, including Good Morning America and Entertainment Tonight. He is also involved in various charity activities, including the United Way and Children's Hospital.

Professional career: Craig was drafted in the second round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers, and it was mostly there where he became an all-time NFL great over his 11 seasons as a pro. Craig won three Super Bowls with the 49ers from 1983-90. Playing under the legendary coach Bill Walsh, Craig became the first player in NFL history to record 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season in 1985. Craig's 11,506 total yards from scrimmage with San Francisco trails only Jerry Rice in team history. He went on to play one season with the Los Angeles Rams in 1990 and then spent the next two years with the Minnesota Vikings before retiring in 1993.

NU career accomplishments: Had it not been for an injury-hampered senior season in 1982, Craig would have finished his collegiate career as one of Nebraska's top-3 all-time leading rushers. After rushing for rushing for a total of 1,200 yards as a freshman and sophomore, the Davenport, Iowa, native broke out during his junior 1,060 yards and averaged 96.5 yards per game to earn All-Big Eight honors. The highlight of that season came in Nebraska's win over Florida State, where he racked up 234 yards and tied the school record with a 94-yard touchdown run. Heading into his senior year, head coach Tom Osborne experimented with his backfield and moved Craig to fullback and made Mike Rozier the starting I-back to get both players on the field at once. Injuries put a quick damper on that project, but Craig did rush for 127 yards in the regular-season finale against Hawaii. He was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1989.

I was going to ask you about that. How did you become such a good receiver after playing at a place like Nebraska? You were fourth on the team with 12 catches your senior year, for crying out loud.

"Yeah, I caught 12 passes in one game in San Francisco. That was just something I did on my own and kind of taught myself."

So how was that transition from Nebraska's option offense to Bill Walsh's West Coast scheme?

"With the 49ers' offense, what Nebraska prepared me for the next level. It taught me how to be a true professional. Coach Osborne, he led his team and he was very organized, so you had to take notes and have a lot of discussions. You couldn't make mistakes. If you made two mistakes, you're riding the pine, baby. You sitting on the bench. So you had to be focused. He ran a professional organization. He prepared us for that next level. And we were used to winning. We were used to playing in front of big crowds.

"Those stages, they were easy for us, because I played in front of 76,000 strong every home game. So we were used to playing on that big of a platform. Going to the next level, it was easy for me. I knew exactly how to prepare myself when I went out there and how to compete for my position. It was nothing new for me. I would say the education I got from Coach Osborne was valuable information. When you leave a program like Nebraska, you leave with a professional mentality."

A lot of guys we talk to bring up how frustrating it was to watch Nebraska during the Bill Callahan era. Being a player who had to transition from an option offense to the West Coast, what was your initial reaction when he was hired?

"I don't think Nebraska was ready for the hardcore professional system. They should've gradually put it in, not shock the guys and overwhelm them with plays they can barely even articulate. I watched a lot of times when Nebraska would get in trouble in games when they were trying to get the play call into the huddle. It's not like that's a problem just for Nebraska, it's a problem for some pro players. I know (49ers quarterback) Alex Smith was having those problems where they were having trouble getting the play called and they would basically run out of time.

"It takes time, and in college you don't have that much time. You only get four years, and to implement that, it's really hard. So basically (Callahan) could've had a spread offense but maybe still keep the power game. Keep some of the basics and don't go overboard with all the shifting and formations. I thought the guys were just overwhelmed with too much information."

As far as versatility goes, I've heard some comparisons between you and Rex Burkhead. Have you been able to watch him play much over the past couple years and how would you evaluate his game?

"He has great heart. I see his work ethic and his heart every time he touches the ball. That's what it takes. It's all about attitude. It's what you bring to the table every day. Every day in practice, every day on film. You have to be reliable and you have to be accountable in this business, and he definitely has stepped up to the plate in every aspect. A guy with that kind of attitude is definitely going to be able to play at the next level, because that's how you play at the next level, the way he plays."

"You mentioned that '82 Penn State game a bit ago. Are you eager to see Nebraska get a chance to take on the Nittany Lions on an annual basis now with the move to the Big Ten?

"They talk about Ohio State and Michigan - No. The rivalry is going to be Penn State and Nebraska. That's going to be the rivalry. That's going to be the Oklahoma-Nebraska game in that conference. We had that Oklahoma rivalry going every year, and I still think they should keep that game. They should find a way to play that on Thanksgiving and make that the big rivalry, because there's so much history there going back for decades. Don't mess up that opportunity, man, because that's one of the funnest games today. That was the highest level of college football when I played, and it was beautiful."

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