Brandon Crawford looked like any other Giants rookie participating in this weekend’s minicamp at the team’s Timex Performance Center in New Jersey. The 6-3, 260-pound defensive end out of Ball State went through the same drills as the rest of the defensive linemen — crouching in his three-point stance before rushing the quarterback, sprinting downfield in special teams coverage, hitting a tackling dummy after high-stepping between blue foam pads a few yards apart.
But this was no ordinary rookie. At 33, Crawford is attempting to become the oldest rookie in NFL history.
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“My dream is to play,” Crawford said.
“It’s to help a team be successful in any way I can. I’m in the moment. This is what I’m focused on.”
It has been a long and circuitous route for Crawford, who served a four-year stint in the Marines before enrolling at Ball State at age 29 and playing four seasons before trying to fulfill a lifelong ambition of playing in the NFL. The odds are still stacked against him; in fact, this minicamp might be his only shot. He’s on a tryout with the Giants and he may learn after today’s practice that the team won’t bring him to training camp this summer.
“I’m not even thinking about that,” he said. “Whatever happens I’ll address later.
But right now, I’m in the playbook just trying to learn the terminology and trying to focus on that.”
If Crawford somehow defies the odds, he’d become the oldest rookie to make an NFL team. Former Eagles receiver Vince Papale made that team’s roster in 1976 at age 30 and played four seasons. Papale’s story was turned into a movie, “Invincible,” which came out in 2006. Crawford takes his inspiration from another movie about an aging athlete: “Rocky Balboa,” the final of six movies in the Rocky series. The boxer returned to fight after a 20-year retirement, losing a 10-round split decision to the fictional heavyweight champion.
“I feel where was coming from,” Crawford said. “Rocky was older, but it was something he loved to do and he was able to compete. He just asked for a shot.”
Crawford would have taken a more conventional route had he not been involved in an incident in high school that caused him to lose the handful of scholarship opportunities he had. According to Crawford, one day during his senior year at South High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., he hopped into a car with some friends to go out for pizza after a game. The car turned out to be stolen, and Crawford was put on probation.
His family didn’t have enough money to pay for college, so he worked a handful of jobs, the last of which was at an automobile parts factory. At age 23 and looking for more, Crawford enlisted in the Marines. He attended boot camp in San Diego, eventually was transferred to a base in North Carolina, and spent the next four years there before being honorably discharged.
Football was still a passion and eventually he enrolled at Ball State University in 2006 at age 29.
“When I got there, people didn’t know how old I was,” said Crawford, a second-team all-conference (Mid-America) defensive end in 2009. “They’d say, ‘Hey, what school did you come from?’ When I told them about my situation, they were like, ‘No way. You don’t look like it. You don’t run like it. You don’t act like it.’ ”
The nicknames were quick to follow for Crawford: Crawdaddy. Crawfather. Crawpops. Or just plain Old Man.
“People say I’m an older person, but I’m just not the traditional student with the traditional path,” he said. “My body’s in great shape.”
Good enough for the Giants? It’s still a long shot, but coach Tom Coughlin won’t write him off just yet.
“He’s a terrific kid,” Coughlin said. “The fact that he’s still participating in football after his military obligation and service is something. He’s an outstanding Marine and I just take my hat off to that kid.”