The Man With The Golden Arm
Thanks to Bobby Dodd, Tennessee star quarterback Darrell Crawford chose Tech and led the Jackets to
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.
Crawford was the man with the golden arm. Atlanta Journal football analyst Coach Harry Mehre wrote of Crawford's performance against Louisiana State University, "Crawford personally carried the Yellow Jackets to an easy 25-7 victory over a good LSU team. Crawford is 'the' reason and the whole reason why the Jackets are unbeaten.
"His selection of plays is flawless. He is the best field general in the SEC. From where I sit, he is the best all-round back in America."
Of his out-shining Wade (16 completions to Wade's 9), the late Atlanta Journal Sports Editor Ed Danforth wrote, "Wade was supposed to be the man of the hour, but it was Crawford who kept the fans on their feet by ducking and dodging on-coming linemen and throwing for completion after completion. Crawford was not as good as Wade was advertised, he was better."
Wrote Jerry Bryan of The Birmingham News, "In eluding Vandy's aggressive pass rush, Crawford was an escape artist deluxe as he broke out of trap after trap. Six times he was engulfed by would-be tacklers and six times he broke clear and completed his pass. Crawford is not the key to the Georgia Tech attack, he is the Georgia Tech attack."
After Crawford threw three touchdown passes in a 27-7 win over Alabama, Crimson Tide coach Red Drew said, "The SEC never has seen a finer quarterback."
In a game the University of Georgia never will forget, Crawford directed the Yellow Jackets to a 48-6 rout of the Bulldogs to clinch the 1951 SEC championship.
The Orange Bowl selection committee wasted no time in extending Tech a bid to play Baylor New Year's day. The game was another Crawford masterpiece. He was Harry Houdini as he faked handoffs to running backs Bill Teas, Leon Hardeman and George Maloof and then completing passes to his downfield receivers. He passed for 107 yards and one touchdown and set up the game-winning field goal by Pepper Rodgers. He was named the game's most valuable player.
For the year, he completed 83 passes for 1,327 yards and 13 touchdowns. The United Press picked him on its "All-Bowl" team and the nation's coaches selected him to play in the College All-Star game against the champions of the National Football League. He was a unanimous choice for the All-SEC team.
All this, mind you, from a kid who learned to play the game with the bladder of a hog. A gutsy kid who in his first sandlot football game at age 10, received a gaping leg wound that required 26 stitches. The next afternoon, he was back on the gridiron.
Today, that courageous kid of 10 is 73 years old. He looks as fit (5-11, 170) as he did during his playing days. Three days a week he works out at cardiac rehab. He suffered atrial fibulation one year ago but has kept it under control with exercise and medication.
When he is not at his sales management job with Momar Industries, you can find him at the Eastside Baptist Church, where he is an associate deacon, or at the home of his next-door neighbor, William A. (Bill) Paschal, who like Crawford, is a football immortal.
Crawford was born to the game —- his hometown, Kingsport, is the Valdosta of Tennessee football. Just as the Wildcats dominate in south Georgia, Kingsport dominates in east Tennessee. Among its native sons are the legendary Bobby Dodd, Bob Cifers, an All-American at the University of Tennessee, Hal Miller, an All-American at Georgia Tech, and Darrell and his brother, Denver Crawford, an All-American tackle at UT.
Darrell was born in 1929, the youngest of eight children, six boys and two girls. "There was no money in our family for a football," Crawford recalls. "So my brother Denver improvised. He killed a hog, cut out the bladder, blew it up and tied it at one end. It looked more like a basketball than a football but to us it was the real thing."
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 attracted the attention of 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.
The pressure to sign with Tennessee or Kentucky was enormous. After all, Dodd and Cifers were Tennessee legends. And brother Denver was captain of the 1947 UT team.
Coach Neyland personally invited Darrell to every home game, housed him in the UT football dorm and fed him at the UT team training table.
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.
The persuasiveness of Coach Dodd, coupled with the fact that two of Crawford's Kingsport teammates, Jack Patterson and Harry Wright, were going to Tech, had led Crawford to sign a letter of intent with the Jackets. That did not faze Bryant. He made a trip to Kingsport and urged Crawford to telephone Dodd and ask for a release. He assured Crawford that he would be the starting Kentucky quarterback as a sophomore, even ahead of the great Parilli.
Bryant left Kingsport without Crawford, but he wasn't through yet. He dispatched his head recruiter, George Balitsaris, who played with Darrell's brother at Tennessee, for one more shot.
"I was really feeling the heat," Crawford recalls. "I telephoned Coach Dodd and told him I was wavering, that Kentucky had promised me everything from a starting job to box seats at the Kentucky Derby."
"Coach Dodd said he already had my game jersey ready for me and that I was going to be Tech's next great quarterback. He erased any doubts I was beginning to have."
In Crawford's four years at Tech, the Jackets never lost to Georgia. But of all the highlights of Crawford's distinguished Tech career —- the unbeaten season, the SEC record-setting four touchdown passes he threw to Buck Martin to stun Auburn in '51, the four-game sweep against the Bulldogs —- none compare to facing the mighty Vols as a sophomore.
Of the 15,000 citizens of Kingsport, almost every one was among the 45,000 who jammed Knoxville's Shields-Watkins Stadium to see the native son return.
The screaming Kingsport throng came to cheer him, but the other Vols came to see him go down in defeat.
They were disappointed. Crawford mystified the UT defense all afternoon, placing the football in the bellies of his running backs and magically removing it in time to escape and complete passes, two for touchdowns and two others to set up touchdowns. The final score: Crawford-led Tech 30, Tennessee 13.
Crawford is a member of the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame. He is listed in the Georgia Tech media guide five times for passing performances. He was named most valuable player on the 1951 team. But he would like to be remembered not for any of his athletic achievements, not for playing when he was injured which he often did, but for being a good family man, a good friend and a good human being. And those who know him will remember him for just that.