Rufus Crawford - Running Back/Slotback - 1979-85 - Virginia State University
Gainful Employment - CFL Illustrated - 1985
Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Rufus Crawford had more yardage to his credit than any other player in the CFL last season. His 2,896 yards from the running back and slotback positions, and on punt and kickoff returns were instrumental in Crawford being named runner-up for the Schenley Award as the CFL's most outstanding player. Yet, Crawford wasn't named to the Eastern or Canadian all-star teams. He plans to give the Football Reporters of Canada, who selected players for these teams, a second chance in 1985 by producing similar results.
With injuries to key Ticat players such as running back Johnny Shepherd in 1984, Crawford played at the slotback and running back positions, and picked up exactly 1,000 yards on pass reception 9864) and by rushing (136). He added a league leading 1,108 yards on punt returns and 788 on kickoff returns. Crawford's all-around performance was a big reason for the Ticats' march to the Grey Cup where they lost to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Schenley Award voters recognized Crawford's excellence and made him a finalist for the most outstanding player award before giving the nod to Winnipeg running back Willard Reaves who led the CFL in rushing with 1,733 yards.
While a multi-talented player such as Crawford can be a valuable asset to his team, especially when injuries occur, it was that versatility that hurt Crawford in all-star voting. The all-star nominations went to people who played positions full-time in 1984. Montreal Concordes' Dwaine Wilson and Toronto Argonauts' Lester Brown were all-Eastern running backs and Wilson and Reaves earned All-Canadian honours. At the inside receiver (slotback) spot, the Argos' Paul Pearson and the Concordes' Nock Arakgi and Winnipeg's Joe Poplawski were All-Canadian. What also hurt Crawford's chances for an all-star nomination last year was the fact that voters don't select kick return men to these teams.
"I would like to be an all-star this year," says Crawford. "I'd like to have the same sort of season again, but the key is being able to stay healthy." Even though he wasn't an all-star in '84, he believes opposing teams respected his talents by trying to keep the ball away from him toward the end of the season. "I think I only had two kickoffs in the last five games. The guy in Toronto (Hank Ilesic) was the only one who kicked to me." The Argos prefer to angle the ball toward the sidelines to minimize the possibility of any return, but head coach Bob O'Billovich says he can understand why CFL teams prefer to keep the ball away from Crawford. "When a guy like Crawford is back there, there's merit in doing that so he doesn't break one on you. He's ideally suited for the tailback position. He catches the ball well and he runs well once he's got the ball,"
Not only can Crawford play in various positions, but he adds a different dimension to each position he plays. A former running back at Virginia State University, he made an easy transition to slotback when he came to Canada because he was already used to the punishment an inside receiver must take from linebackers and defensive backs. his running back experience also helped him at slotback because he can take a handoff and counter inside through the line to sweep around the end. When he is playing running back, his pass catching abilities give him the added threat of being an extra receiver. While Crawford wasn't an all-star in the eyes of voters, he was an all-star with several Hamilton residents during the off-season. In particular, he helped about 110 women avoid becoming "football widows" by explaining the game to them at a football clinic sponsored by the Hamilton Spectator newspaper last spring. He also participated in a kids' football clinic last spring, which he enjoyed because of his teaching background. "I really enjoyed teaching, but i got so caught up with playing football that I gave it up. I don't want it to just be a job. I wanted to be a teacher who really enjoyed what he was doing. When you're talking about kids, you're talking about the future."