The three-time Super Bowl champion will take the Remix Challenge this weekend at Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose.
There was Roger Craig’s high leg kick, his knees seemingly churning into the heavens like a Vegas showgirl, tacklers caroming to the turf. There was No. 33 slipping out of the backfield, catching a Joe Montana dump-off and high-stepping it up field.
A three-time Super Bowl champion in the 1980s with the San Francisco 49ers and now a member of the 49ers’ Hall of Fame, Craig was all short bursts and collisions.
Which makes Roger Craig, today at 54, all the more fascinating.
He’s still running, but now he’s Roger Craig, Marathon and Half Marathon Man.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon celebrates its ninth anniversary this weekend, and this is Craig’s baby. He’s one of the race’s co-founders, its face, its loudest cheerleader.
“All the people out there, they’re my family. They’re my running community,” he says, his voice rising with enthusiasm. “We’re all just one heartbeat.”
Craig shares the story of one race when he was on pace to set a PR. A guy approaches him with two miles to go and asks, “Can I run with you, Roger?”
Craig says, “Heck yeah.”
Then, with a mile to go on a toasty day, the guy cramps up.
“I’m like, ‘Wow, what do I do? Do I keep going, chase the clock? Or do I stop and walk with the guy?’” Craig recalls. “I stopped. I told him, ‘We’re going to finish together.’ That made his day. That made an impact on his life. On his family’s life. That’s more important than a fast time.”
Craig owes his love of distance running, in part, to one of the greatest running backs to ever tuck a football in the crook of his arm.
Walter Payton, “Sweetness,” once told Craig at a Pro Bowl in Honolulu, “Never lose your endurance.”
The man can name drop. He mentioned Joe Montana.
“I was talking to Joe and he said, ‘I don’t know how you run all those miles. I’ll give you two miles, but after that I’m looking for my car to cover the final 24.2.’”
He mentioned Frank Shorter.
“After my first marathon, I cried like a baby,” recalls Craig. “I’m like, ‘Wow, I did it. I ran 26.2 miles.’ But I felt sad. I’m talking to Frank Shorter and I ask him, ‘Why do I feel so sad?’ He said, ‘You set your goal. You did it. But now you’ve got to do it again.”
And being a Nebraska alum, he gave a shout-out to Cornhusker running back Ameer Abdullah, a Heisman Trophy candidate. “That dude runs hard. And fast,”
Craig ran his first marathon in 2004 at the event that spawned the Rock ‘n’ Roll running brand, Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego. He finished in 4 hours, 9 minutes, eventually slicing his PR to 3:46.
His log book includes 15 half marathons and 13 marathons. In his mid-50s, he leans toward the half now.
“When I run a half marathon, I can function,” he says. “You’re not sore. You’re not fatigued. Run a marathon, you’re out of commission for a little while.”
He runs five or six times a week. He’ll log more than 2,500 miles by the end of the year.
This year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon will include a 5K on Saturday, plus the half marathon and a 10K Sunday. Craig will lead the 5K, plus run the 13.1-miler. The event is expected to draw 16,000 participants.
To those who may have forgotten just how good of a running back Craig was, here’s a reminder.
— He was the first NFL running back to rush for 1,000 yards and catch passes for another 1,000 yards in the same season.
— He was the first player to score three touchdowns in a Super Bowl.
— He was the consummate all-around running back, rushing for 8,189 yards, catching passes for another 4,911.
But now, his world is running and business. By day, he works for a multi-billion-dollar Bay Area software company.
Asked to explain his love of running, Craig virtually gives a dissertation on the journey over the destination.
“This is one of the most beautiful areas in the world to run,” he says. “Take San Francisco. You can run on dirt. You can run across the Golden Gate Bridge, look at Alcatraz. You’ve got hills.
“And when you finish a race, inevitably, you’ve had to fight through adversity. You take that back to your job, to your family. It helps you feel complete as a person.”
He pauses, seemingly ready to juke some linebacker in the flat, then comes up with a yarn related to football.
“You come across that finish line, they drape that medal around your neck and you’re relieved. You did it. No one helped you. You didn’t have an offensive line blocking for you 13.1 miles. You had to reach within yourself, pull it out of your gut and finish.
“I’m passionate about this. This is what I love to do.”
About The Author:
Don Norcross is a San Diego-based sports writer, follow him on Twitter @Don_Norcross.