Big Red Flashback 1965: Why the Cards traded John David Crow

Frustrated about lack of playing time under head coach Wally Lemm, Big Red star running back John David Crow requested a trade after the 1964 season.

Crow won the Heisman trophy at Texas A&M in 1958 and was later the Chicago Cards first pick in the NFL draft. The team moved to St. Louis in 1960 where Crow became a star. His 1,533 total yards and 5.9 yards per carry were tops in the league in 1960 and he scored scored 17 touchdowns in 1962.

However, Crow struggled with injuries during his time in St. Louis. In 1961 he suffered a broken leg. In 1963 a knee operation limited him to just nine carries.

John David Crow was the Cardinals top pick in the 1958 NFL Draft.

Hoping to keep Crow healthy, the Cardinals reduced his workload in 1964. But Crow still led the team in rushing with 554 yards and scored eight touchdowns as the Big Red finished a half game from playing in the NFL Championship game.

After the season, a disappointed Crow claimed that he wasn’t used “as much as I deserved” and requested to be traded.

On February 8, 1965 the Cardinals fulfilled Crow’s request and traded him to the San Francisco 49ers for veteran cornerback Abe Woodson who also was the top kick returner in the league.

“We think it’s a fair trade for both teams and that both teams strengthened themselves,” Cardinals vice president Bill Bidwill said after the trade. “It gives us an experienced defensive back and a player who is adept on one of the specialty teams.”

San Francisco general manager Lou Spadia said, “We feel that Crow will give our offense a real lift. We didn’t want to lose Abe, but in order to get a player of Crow’s ability, you have to give something comparable.”

“Our wish came true,” Crow told the Associated Press. “I’m very happy. My wife and I have talked about it, and we’ve decided San Francisco is the place we would like to go. Being traded to the 49ers feels real good. I wish the season started next week because I’m ready to go.”

Abe Woodson played 2 seasons for the Cardinals

Crow played four seasons in San Francisco and played well. He was named to his fourth Pro Bowl in 1965 when he combined for over 1000 total yards and scored nine touchdowns. He would retire after the 1968 season and ended his 11-year career with 4,963 yards rushing, 3,699 yards receiving and 759 passing yards.

Crow still has the longest run in Cardinals history, dashing 83 yards for a score against Washington on Oct. 4, 1958. He holds the franchise record with 14 rushing touchdowns in a season, and is third in single-game rushing performances with a 203 yard effort against Pittsburgh in the 1960 season finale. Crow is tied for fourth in team history with 51 career touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Woodson was a part time starter at cornerback in St. Louis for two seasons. He returned kicks in 1965—averaging 24.7 yards per return—but lost that job to Johnny Roland and Roy Shivers in 1966. Woodson would retire after the ’66 season.

Years later, John David Crow reflected on the trade. “Looking back now and in my role as a coach,” Crow said in Robert L. Burnes book Big Red: Story of the Football Cardinals, “I perhaps appreciated more the attitude of the organization then—but my feeling at the time was that I was not being treated properly and I wanted out. I enjoyed St. Louis, I enjoyed playing with the team when I was able to contribute, but I had no regrets about leaving then or now.”

Crow also had good things to say about his former teammate Larry Wilson.

“You know how I feel about Larry,” Crow said in Burnes book, “because you have heard it from everybody who was ever associated with him. He was the fiercest football player I’ve ever known. His play in the game was an inspiration to everybody. More than that, he was-and is-a remarkable human being and I just can’t describe how deep my feeling is for him.”

After retiring from football, Crow became an assistant coach at Alabama before taking over the head coaching job at Northeast Louisiana University. He eventually returned to Texas A&M as the athletic director and later a booster for his alma mater. John David Crow passed away in 2015 at the age of 79.

Abe Woodson became an insurance agent after retiring from football. He also served as a prison minister in connection with the Churches of Christ. He died on February 8, 2014, aged 79, just a week before his 80th birthday.

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