SAN FRANCISCO (BVM) – The offense of the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s was a dominant force. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice rightfully get the majority of the headlines. However, one of the keys to the Niners’ success was running back Roger Craig.
During his eight years in San Francisco, Craig became a four-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time Super Bowl champion as one of the 49ers’ unsung heroes out of the backfield. Since retiring, Craig’s impact on the game has been felt while the former running back has found new avenues for success off the field.
Roger Craig’s early life, high school career
Craig grew up in Davenport, Iowa and attended Davenport Central High School. He had successful careers across multiple sports including wrestling and track and field. However, he impressed most on the football field as he helped Davenport Central’s football team to a state title in 1976.
During his senior season in 1978, Craig ran for over 1,500 yards and 27 touchdowns. He saved his best for last, as in his final high school game, he ran for a ridiculous 353 yards and four touchdowns.
After watching his older brother go on to play at Nebraska, as well as his former high school teammate and another future NFL player in tight end Jamie Williams, Craig decided to do the same.
Roger Craig’s college career
Playing under legendary Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, Craig had a strong college career. After seeing little action as a freshman, Craig began making his impact as a sophomore with 769 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.
The running back would become an All-Big 8 player as a junior as he ran for 1,060 yards. An injury in his senior year in 1982 would cause him to miss playing time, but he still found a way to run for nearly 600 yards and five touchdowns.
Despite the finish to his college career, Craig remained one of the top NFL running back prospects as he entered the draft in 1983.
Roger Craig’s NFL career
Selected with the 49th pick in the second round of the 1983 NFL Draft, Craig joined a 49ers squad that had recently won a Super Bowl championship in 1981. The Niners would get back to the NFC Championship game in 1983, but would fall short to the Washington Redskins. Still, Craig made an immediate impact in his first season, racking up 1,152 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns.
In 1984, Craig got even better with 649 rushing yards, 675 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns. He remained solid in the postseason and would score three touchdowns in the Niners’ Super Bowl XIX victory over the Miami Dolphins, becoming the first player in league history to do so in the league’s championship game.
Coming off his first title, 1985 was one of Craig’s best seasons as a pro, as he became the first running back in NFL history to have over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. Craig also had a league-high 92 receptions that season as well as a career-high 15 touchdowns, earning his first Pro Bowl selection.
Craig continued his dominance with over 2,700 yards combined in the 1986 and 1987 seasons, earning his second Pro Bowl honor to cap off the ‘87 campaign. In 1988, Craig again proved he was one of the best backs in the NFL with a league-high 2,036 scrimmage yards that included a career-high 1,502 yards on the ground.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) July 10, 2022
Named NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Craig again helped the 49ers to a Super Bowl title in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals with 71 rushing yards as well as eight catches for 101 receiving yards – a receiving line that wasn’t matched by a running back in a Super Bowl until James White did so for the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
The standout back ran for over 1,000 yards once again in his fourth Pro Bowl season in 1989, and earned his third Super Bowl ring with the Niners, again going over 100 yards from scrimmage and scoring a touchdown in San Francisco’s championship win over Denver.
Craig would return for one more title run with the Niners in 1990. However, it was one that would end in surprising disappointment as the Niners were upset by the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game in part due to a late fourth quarter fumble by their star running back. Playing in just 11 games that season, Craig saw his numbers tail off with just 640 total yards and one touchdown.
In 1991, Craig signed with the Los Angeles Raiders where he would join Marcus Allen in the backfield. The former Niner ran for 590 yards and one score in his lone season wearing the silver and black. In 1992, Craig signed with the Minnesota Vikings. He would spend his final two NFL seasons in the Twin Cities, primarily in a reserve role.
Despite the slow ending to Craig’s pro career, his overall numbers prove just how elite and successful he was. The four-time Pro Bowl selection – who was the first player in league history to be named to the Pro Bowl as both a running back and fullback – made the playoffs in every season of his career, scoring nine touchdowns across 14 postseason contests. In his 11 years in the NFL, Craig ran for 8,189 yards and 56 touchdowns. Meanwhile, he racked up 4,911 career receiving yards and another 17 scores.
Roger Craig’s personal life, net worth, achievements
In the late 1980s, Craig was inducted into the Quad City Sports Hall of Fame, Davenport Central High School Hall of Honor and Nebraska Football Hall of Fame. Over a decade later in 2002, Craig was also inducted into the Iowa High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame.
Craig is also a member of the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, the San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame and the NFL’s 1980s All-Decade team.
The former Niners running back is estimated to have a net worth of around $5 million. Craig is married to his wife, Vernessia, and the couple has raised five children together, several of which have followed their father’s footsteps as an athlete.
Roger Craig’s post-playing career
Craig’s greatest endeavor during his post-playing career has come outside of football. Just five or so years after retiring from the NFL, the former running back joined TIBCO Software, a firm which focuses on big data and software integrations. Craig has served as the VP Director of Business Development for the firm.
Meanwhile, Craig has also been involved with Sports Thread, a social-media based network connecting student-athletes with teammates, coaches, parents and fans. Craig has become a spokesperson for the company, leading a mentor-initiative program through a series of videos.
Outside of working, the 62-year-old has maintained a healthy lifestyle, running in dozens of marathons since his retirement.
— roger craig (@histepper33) October 18, 2018
Craig has helped found a few charitable races as well including the San Jose Rock N’ Roll Marathon.
The 49ers legend has also stayed connected to football, in part thanks to the on-field success of his third cousin, Breece Hall. The former Niners running back has given Hall advice and praise throughout his time at Iowa State, and will now cheer him on as he begins playing on Sundays with the New York Jets.
Roger Craig’s Hall of Fame case
Craig has had a tremendous life on and off the field. However, the one thing that remains missing from his resume is becoming a Pro Football Hall of Fame member.
Many have called for Craig to be inducted for almost two decades now. This includes several of his former Niners teammates and franchise personnel, as well as fans, media and colleagues.
— 𝙏𝙝𝙚𝙎𝙁𝙉𝙞𝙣𝙚𝙧𝙨 (@TheSFNiners) February 28, 2022
Prior to 2020, Craig had finished as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame 10 times already, but was a finalist just once back in 2010. He became a finalist again in 2020, but was still not voted in. Craig was again named a semifinalist in the seniors category for the 2023 Hall of Fame class in July, but again was not voted on to the finals.
It remains a mystery as to why Craig has not received his Hall of Fame nod quite yet, as his career numbers are comparable to many that already have a gold jacket. His success in the game and dual-threat ability in both the run and the pass game was groundbreaking for backs that followed him.
Some have considered Craig was mainly successful because he got to play with Montana or Rice. Others believe it was perhaps his costly fumble in the 1990 NFC Championship game which cost the 49ers a chance at a third consecutive Super Bowl that has held him back.
No matter what it is, Craig seems destined for the Hall of Fame at some point down the line. The wait continues for now, but Craig’s incredible legacy in an era of 49ers football that was one of the best the NFL has ever seen also continues to shine through.