XFL gives Crawford ‘final’ chance to save football career | TahoeDailyTribune.com

XFL gives Crawford ‘final’ chance to save football career

Steve Yingling, Tribune

By all accounts Mike Crawford’s pro football career was dead. Two surgeries hadn’t fixed his aching abdomen and the Miami Dolphins cut him loose in 1999.

The former Whittell High and University of Nevada star finally healed during an unemployed 2000 season, but Crawford couldn’t convince any team that he was healthy again.

But before the 26-year-old Crawford packed away his football memories, Vince McMahon of World Wrestling Federation fame and his rogue XFL threw the 245-pound linebacker a bone: a chance to try out for the Las Vegas Outlaws, one of eight teams in the new league that starts Saturday night.

“This is it,” said Crawford, who will receive $45,000 for the 10-game season. “This is my life, man. I haven’t found a new career since playing for the Dolphins and it’s because my whole purpose is to play football.”

Two years out of uniform haven’t softened Crawford’s aggressive style of play.

“Obviously there is a little rust, but training camp has been good,” Crawford said. “Everyone here has been in the NFL at one time or another – at least in camp – so these guys are good. It’s nothing where I can slack off; it’s legit.”

His new coach, Jim Criner, has noticed little rust on Crawford’s game.

“He really impressed us during his workouts with his size and intelligence, and we will look to slot him into our SAM (strong-side) linebacker position,” Criner said.

For someone known to skydive and jump off the roof of a Tahoe Keys home in his spare time, Crawford likes the innovative ideas McMahon has incorporated into his new league.

“Throughout the years the NFL has become pretty conservative, in my opinion,” Crawford said. “I like to hit. I want to hit those quarterbacks, so this works out. There are no fair catches, so that’s sweet. It’s going to be a little rowdier and the games won’t be run by the officials as much as it is in the NFL.”

After making four tackles in seven games for the Dolphins during his rookie season in 1997 and remaining activated for all 16 games in 1998, Crawford couldn’t hide a nagging abdominal injury any longer. During one surgery, doctors put in mesh in an attempt to fix a tearing of muscle tissue in his abdominal wall. When Crawford’s pain persisted, doctors removed the mesh during a second surgery.

The pain lingered after the last surgery, and the Dolphins lost patience with their sixth-round pick out of Nevada.

“I know things between the Dolphins and I weren’t good, but I’m looking forward to here,” Crawford said. “I control my fate, and if I play good, I’m sure good things will happen.”

Along with rest, Crawford implemented a daily stretching regimen to finally heal his abdomen.

He worked out for the Outlaws and Los Angeles Xtreme in December, and was close to signing with the Xtreme when the Outlaws snatched him away at the last minute. He’s overwhelmed to return to the field of his greatest college game: Crawford was voted MVP for his 14 tackles, forced fumble and interception in Wolf Pack’s 18-15 win over Ball State in the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl.

“That was my last college game and now it’s my home field. And the field finally has some grass, so that’s nice, too,” Crawford said.

South Shore residents can see Crawford’s return to pro football Saturday when the Outlaws play the New York/New Jersey Hitmen at 5 p.m. on NBC.

“It doesn’t get any better than prime time on NBC TV, and it’s coming at a time where there’s no really good sports to watch,” said Crawford, who will wear No. 44 for the Outlaws.

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