Rebels' Crawford: A Jack of all Trade

We live in a sports era of specialization. Young athletes choose a sport – or parents choose it for them – at an early age and stick with that sport at the expense of all others.

Gone are the days of the three-sport letterman at the collegiate level. Rarely, do we find one who even plays two.

Gone are the days of athletes as versatile as Eddie Crawford, who not only lettered but starred in three sports at Ole Miss. Crawford belongs in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame for any number of reasons, not the least of which was his amazing versatility.

Crawford starred as a halfback and defensive back for coach Johnny Vaught’s 1954-56 football teams that won 26 games and played in both Sugar and Cotton Bowls. For four years, he was the Ole Miss center fielder in baseball, leading the SEC in home runs and making All-Conference as a senior. In 1954-55, he was a standout for the Ole Miss basketball team and also competed in sprint events for the Rebels track team. He turned down bonus money from the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team to return and play his senior season of football for Vaught, a story we’ll get to later.

A typical February day for Crawford in 1955: Classes all morning, batting practice at noon, spring football practice at 2 and a basketball game or practice that night.
“It’s a shame,” Crawford said, when asked about today’s youth choosing sports at such an early age. “I hate to see it. If you have ability at more than one and you enjoy them, you ought to experience all you can”

Crawford began dating his future wife, Ole Miss cheerleader Shirley Wagner, as a junior. Theirs was a whirlwind romance that began the week after Crawford scored four touchdowns to help the Rebels beat LSU at Baton Rouge.

“I couldn’t get her to go out with me until I scored four touchdowns against LSU,” Crawford says, laughing.

The two wanted to get married before Crawford’s senior year at Ole Miss. Vaught, who had a rule against married players nixed that and neither Eddie, nor Shirley, was going to cross Vaught.

And that was that, except for a senior season that ended with a 14-13 Cotton Bowl victory over TCU and with Crawford signing a football contract with the New York Giants.

Crawford played offensively and defensively as a rookie for the Giants in 1957. His offensive coordinator was Vince Lombardi; his defense coordinator, Tom Landry.

He separated his shoulder that first season, Shirley was pregnant, and Crawford decided to go into coaching. Vaught had a job waiting for him at Greenville High School with the understanding Crawford would one day be back at Ole Miss.

Shirley Crawford was thrilled, but less thrilled when she found a letter in the mailbox in a New York Giants envelope with Lombardi’s name in the return address.

Lombardi wanted Crawford back in 1958, said he had big plans and offered a raise.

Eddie Crawford found out about the letter years later.

“I don’t know how I misplaced that letter but I did,” Shirley Crawford said, laughing. “No regrets here,” Eddie Crawford said.

He returned to Ole Miss to join Vaught’s staff in 1962. He’s still there enjoying all the sports and Shirley, too.

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