All M.C. ever needed was a chance |

All M.C. ever needed was a chance

Steve Yingling

We can all learn an invaluable lesson from Mike Crawford: Follow your dreams, no matter how many obstructions you encounter along the way. If you work hard enough and remain focused, they occasionally come true.

That hard-nosed perseverance rewarded the 6-foot-1, 238-pound Crawford with a spot on the practice squad of the Minnesota Vikings on Monday. Not bad for a guy who was told during his freshman year at Whittell High School that he was too small to come out for the team.

“That’s just a recurring theme for me in football, having to overcome whatever someone wants to throw in front of you,” Crawford said.

For a player who has had more ups and downs than a fanatical bungee jumper, Crawford has resiliently stuck to his dream of developing a career in the National Football League.

Coming out of Whittell, despite an appearance in the Nevada 2A state championship game in 1991, the all-state tight end and Warriors’ leading tackler received as much notoriety as a groundskeeper.

In fact, when Crawford graduated that’s what he did at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course for one summer while he was determining which direction to point his life.

But all Crawford ever needed was any kind of opportunity.

That chance at the University of Nevada began in 1993 when the Pack allowed the walk-on to retrieve field goal attempts at Mackay Stadium. Astute coach Chris Ault quickly learned that Crawford was more useful defending his end zone. After earning a scholarship, Crawford went on to become a second-team All-Big West linebacker in 1995, first-team All-Big West linebacker in 1996 and collect MVP honors in the Pack’s 1996 Las Vegas Bowl victory.

“When I first got to Nevada I had to prove myself. I would run over anything on the field,” he said.

Even though Crawford closed out his college career with a national audience watching on ESPN, he was overlooked when the swanky senior bowl games invitations were handed out and the NFL Combine brought in their fresh meat.

Consequently, Crawford wasn’t expecting to be drafted in 1996, even though 85 percent of the teams talked to him beforehand.

“I’m kind of expecting the short end of the stick, which has always been the case for me,” Crawford said before the draft. “All I want is a chance. If I don’t make the team, I’ll still be happy because a lot of people don’t have this chance.”

Jimmy Johnson, then the coach of the Miami Dolphins, noticed Crawford and drafted him in the sixth round in 1997. He celebrated by jumping off the roof of his family’s Tahoe Keys home.

That was the tiny crack Crawford needed, even though he had to survive being waived before being reclaimed and placed on the practice squad. An injury created an active roster spot for Crawford three weeks into the season.

But throughout his rookie season, a pain surfaced in Crawford’s abdomen region and didn’t go away until after the Dolphins released him 1999.

By then, no one was interested in the often-told story where he came face to face with a bear while camping with his girlfriend near Lake Tahoe. He dropped off the NFL training camp invitation lists.

Instead of quitting, though, Crawford persevered. Time and exercise healed what two abdominal surgeries didn’t. He worked out for the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, but neither liked his 40-yard times.

His next break came when Vince McMahon started that zany new football league, the XFL, last year. Although it folded after one season, the unconventional football league allowed Crawford to show in Las Vegas that he could still play football. The offers didn’t pour in. In fact, the Vikings didn’t sign him until three days before training camp opened. Crawford was all set to go back to school at UNR and move ahead with his life.

But he didn’t give up.

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