OXFORD, Miss. (WCBI/Ole Miss Athletics) – James A. “Tank” Crawford, Sr., 86, of Arkabutla, Miss., who helped lead Coach John Vaught’s Ole Miss Rebels to their first Southeastern Conference championship in 1947, passed away Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, following a lengthy illness.
Visitation will be at First Baptist Church in Coldwater, Miss., on Friday, beginning at 9:30 a.m., with the service to follow at 11 a.m. Burial will be in Memphis Memory Gardens on Raleigh Lagrange Road. at 2 p.m. Forest Hill Funeral Home, South (901-346-3250) is in charge of arrangements.
He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Louise Babb Crawford; two daughters, Susan Williams (Paul) of Olive Branch, Miss., and Carolyn Gindt of Lakeland, Tenn.; three sons, Jimmy Crawford (Donna) of Canton, N.Y., Stephen Crawford (Terry) of Bartlett, Tenn., and Mike Crawford (Rita) of Hernando, Miss.; 13 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. He also leaves a sister, Tillie Mayse of Farmington, Mo., and numerous nieces, nephews and friends. He was preceded in death by his son, John David Crawford.
In January of 2011, the Ole Miss Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame honored Crawford with its Distinguished American Award, which is presented each year to individuals who have carried the lessons learned on the football field into a life of service to their community and fellow man.
Prior to enrolling at Ole Miss, Crawford played his high school football at Memphis Tech, where he was an All-Memphis pick in 1945.
A 5-10, 220-pound guard, Crawford earned four letters at Ole Miss while playing for Coach Harold “Red” Drew in 1946 and the next three years for Coach John Vaught. As one of the team’s top players, he was a two-time All-SEC performer, earning first-team honors from the Associated Press and United Press International in 1948 and from UPI and International News Service in 1949.
As a member of the 1947 Rebel squad, Crawford helped lead Ole Miss to its first SEC championship and a 13-9 victory over TCU in the Jan. 1, 1948 Delta Bowl in Memphis. The 1947 season was Vaught’s first year as head coach at Ole Miss after having served as an assistant coach the year before. Ole Miss finished 9-2 in 1947 and 8-1 in 1948.
Crawford was named to the All-South team by the Chicago Tribune All-Players poll in 1948 and by Colliers and The Southerner in 1949. The Memphis Commercial Appeal also made him an All-Southeastern selection in 1947. He was selected third team All-American by the Chicago Tribune in 1948 and was named the “Best Lineman” on the 1948 Ole Miss team.
Following his senior season, Crawford played in four post-season classics — Senior Bowl, North-South, Blue-Gray and the Chicago All-Star game. Although selected by the Chicago Bears in the 1950 NFL Draft, he chose not to play professionally.
Crawford, who earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Ole Miss in 1950, was selected to the 1949-50 Ole Miss student Hall of Fame and was a member of Omicron Delta Kappa national honorary leadership fraternity, as well as Beta Theta Pi and the M-Club. He was inducted into Ole Miss Athletics Hall of Fame in 1988.
After earning a master’s in education from Ole Miss in 1953, he served two years active duty in the United States Marines and then as a battalion commander during 20 years in the Marine Corps Reserve in Memphis, earning the rank of Lt. Colonel. While working on his master’s degree at Ole Miss, Crawford served as a B-Team football coach for Vaught during the 1952 season.
A former member of the Jaycees, Rotary International and the Civitan Club, Crawford was active in Gideons International and served 25 years as a federal parole officer for the U.S. District Courts (Western District of Tennessee). He was a member of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, a lifetime member of the University of Mississippi Alumni Association and a member of the M-Club Alumni Chapter.
A member of First Baptist Church in Coldwater, Crawford served as a Sunday School teacher and Deacon for 50 years and was also a member of the sanctuary choir. Memorials may be sent to Gideons International, First Baptist Church of Coldwater, or St. Jude Children’s Hospital.