Crawford will be swimming with Dolphins |

Crawford will be swimming with Dolphins

Michael Traum

Mike Crawford’s line was in the water. And Sunday, he hooked into a whopper that could feed him for a lifetime.

While watching the National Football league draft on ESPN2 at his mother Mary’s South Shore home, the Miami Dolphins selected the Nevada linebacker with a sixth-round pick – No. 173.

“This is the best day of my life. From Whittell to the Wolf Pack to the Dolphins. I can’t believe it,” said Crawford, who was joined in the moment by a small group of friends and family.

The 1992 Whittell High graduate was fully prepared to take the free agency route to the NFL. While the 6-foot, 2-inch middle linebacker had comparable size and strength to others in the draft, being from a small school was an admitted disadvantage.

But the situation took an upturn after a stunning workout last month for NFL scouts. It was so impressive that Miami pulled Crawford from the last days of a spring break outing to attend an interview at the Dolphins’ training facilities in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

So when the phone rang Sunday late in the sixth round, anticipation measured in tons hung on every word.

“Are you ready to be a Dolphin?” asked head coach Jimmy Johnson.

“Yes sir, I’d love to play for the Dolphins,” Crawford replied.

And with that short exchange, a lifetime of dreams became reality.

“People have been telling me for my entire life that I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t play at the next level,” he said. “I never set out to be the best athlete in Tahoe or anything like that. I’m just trying to accomplish my goals and dreams.”

Crawford began his collegiate career as a walk-on at Nevada, chasing footballs for players who didn’t think he belonged. Even college coaches told him that he was too small and too slow – not capable of playing Division 1 ball.

But he persevered, driven by the notion of proving everyone wrong. He worked his way up to the first team defense and capped his career with a most valuable player award in the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl.

“I wanted to make sure, if Vegas was going to be my last game, that I went out on top,” he said.

But the unbelievers were still being heard. No way, they said, could Crawford play pro football, let alone dream of being drafted.

An ESPN Internet site didn’t have the backer ranked among the top 100 available at the position. Even the humble Crawford began to wonder if his name would be heard on draft day.

“I’m gonna go free agent. That’s alright by me. Besides it doesn’t matter. It’s what you do once you get there that counts” he said in the weeks preceding the draft.

But that didn’t steer the dream off course. The television was on Sunday. The call might come.

And when the screaming subsided, Crawford was a Dolphin.

“It’s definitely unexpected. Nothing is ever for certain. I was nervous only because this day could change my life dramatically. I didn’t know where I’d be this summer, where I’d be working,” he said.

Crawford, who will receive about $35,000 as a signing bonus (last year’s sixth-round average), leaves for a Miami minicamp on Thursday. He said the hard work won’t stop there, knowing that making the team is the next step.

“I’ve got a lot to prove now. I’m going out there and just fly around, making things happen,” said Crawford, whom Johnson earmarked as someone who could make an initial impact on special teams. “My motto is that I’m not coming back from Miami. Even if they cut me, I’ll stick around to be their janitor or something.”

The janitorial business, while respectable, is a career that Mary doesn’t think her son is destined for.

“I always encouraged my boys (Mike and Nick) to be the best in things and work hard,” she said. “Mike just has that attitude. He’s a pretty humble guy and his strength is more of an inner belief in himself.

“I cried a lot (Sunday). I’d just be walking along, then all of a sudden – Oh my gosh, he made it. My son, I can’t even believe it.”

It’s a reality check that even Crawford, along with a house full of guests, couldn’t escape from Sunday night. Random shouts of, “The Dolphins,” would draw a surge of cheers heard throughout the house.

“I can’t believe I’ll be on the same team as Dan Marino. I might even have a locker next to Zach Thomas,” Crawford said.

Mike, believe it.

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