Roger Craig was the 49th overall selection in the 1983 NFL Draft, taken in the second round from Nebraska, where he once held the record for longest run from scrimmage (94 yards, set during a 1981 game against Florida State University).
In his rookie year in 1983, he scored a combined 12 touchdowns rushing and receiving, as the 49ers reached the NFC Championship game. Craig became well known in his rookie year for his distinctive high-knee running technique.
In Super Bowl XIX in January 1985, Craig rushed for 58 yards, caught seven passes for 77 yards, and became the first player ever to score three touchdowns in a Super Bowl during the 49ers’ 38–16 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
The following season, Craig became the first in NFL history to run and receive for at least 1,000 yards in the same season. He ran for 1,050 yards on 214 carries and led the NFL with 92 catches for 1,016 yards, and scored a team high 15 touchdowns. With fullback Tom Rathman, also from Nebraska, the two formed the 49ers’ “Cornfield Backfield.”
In 1988, Craig was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press. He ran for a career high 1,502 yards and caught an additional 76 passes for 534 yards. A memorable game occurred in week 7 against the Los Angeles Rams. He scored three rushing touchdowns and ran a career high 191 yards. He went on to assist the 49ers to Super Bowl XXIII by amassing 262 combined rushing and receiving yards and two touchdowns in their two playoff games. In the 49ers’ 20-16 win over Cincinnati in that Super Bowl, he rushed for 71 yards and caught eight passes for 101 yards.
In the 1989 season, the 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row, aided by Craig’s 1,527 combined rushing/receiving yards and seven touchdowns in the season, along with his 240 combined rushing/receiving yards and two touchdowns in their two playoff games. In San Francisco’s 55-10 win over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV, Craig rushed for 69 yards, caught five passes for 34 yards, and scored a touchdown.
The 49ers were 14–2 in the following regular season on their quest to become the first team to win three consecutive Super Bowls. In the NFC Championship Game (his last as a 49er), Craig fumbled late in the fourth quarter while his team was trying to hold on to a 13–12 lead over the New York Giants. The Giants recovered the ball and scored on a last-second field goal to win 15–13, and went on to win Super Bowl XXV.
Craig played a season with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1991 and his final two with the Minnesota Vikings, retiring after the 1993 season. He appeared in the NFL Playoffs every year of his career, and made the Pro Bowl four times (1985, 1987–1989).
He was the first running back to gain more than 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season (1987). Since then, only one other running back has achieved the same feat (Marshall Faulk in 1999). Craig also caught a then-record 92 passes in the 1985 campaign. In 1988, Craig set a then-franchise record 1,502 yards rushing. The 1988 season was the second time Craig broke the 2,000 combined yardage mark in his career.
Craig finished his eleven NFL seasons with 8,189 rushing yards, 566 receptions for 4,911 receiving yards, and three kickoff returns for 43 yards. Overall, he amassed 13,143 total yards and scored 73 touchdowns (56 rushing and 17 receiving).
As of today, Lydell Mitchell, Roger Craig and Chuck Foreman are the only running backs to lead the NFL in receptions for a single season, and Craig is the only back to ever record over 100 receiving yards in a Super Bowl. His prowess as a receiver out of the backfield is a contrast to his college career, where he caught only 16 passes during his three seasons at Nebraska.
In 1993, Peter King (in Inside the Helmet) reported that Craig was the only running back to be elected to the Pro Bowl at both fullback and halfback. On April 21, 2008 Craig was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame (BASHOF).