Another Super Bowl-era Jet has passed away. Paul Crane, the two-time national champion at the University of Alabama who was Joe Namath's versatile teammate both on the Crimson Tide and for seven Jets seasons, including 1968 with a strong supporting role in Super Bowl III, died Saturday, as reported by WKRG-TV in Mobile, Ala. He was 76.
Crane was a standout college player for Paul "Bear" Bryant's consensus national title Tide teams in 1964-65. He centered for Namath and was named SEC Lineman of the Year on the '64 team, after Namath was selected by the Jets in the '65 AFL Draft, Crane served as Alabama's captain and received All-America first-team recognition as a senior.
Those credentials should have elevated Crane's status for both the AFL and NFL drafts, but perhaps because he was undersized, playing at 185 pounds in college, he went undrafted. However, he impressed the Jets coaching staff in workouts for the 1966 Senior Bowl and was signed by the Green & White as a free agent.
Crane, who wore uniform No. 56 for his entire pro career, pitched in wherever he was needed by Head Coach Weeb Ewbank. He then settled into his defensive role as backup at LLB and RLB for his seven seasons, while not forgetting his offensive skills by serving as the long-snapper on the punt team.
But the 6-2, 212-pounder occasionally would emerge with some key starts and contributions. He made two starts at LLB as a rookie, then backed up throughout '67 and '68. In the sixth game of the Super season, he blocked a Houston punt through the end zone for a safety to get the Jets' scoring started en route to their 20-14 win over the Oilers in the Astrodome. He contributed a tackle in the 16-7 Super Bowl conquest of the Baltimore Colts.
His next game after the Super Bowl, he was named the 1969 opening-day starter at LLB, alongside MLB Al Atkinson and RLB Larry Grantham, and in that game at Buffalo he snared an interception and returned it 23 yards for the touchdown with 2:13 to play that iced the Jets' 33-19 win over the Bills. Then in Game 5 that season, he scooped up a blocked punt and returned it for a 12-yard TD in the Jets' 21-7 win at Cincinnati.
Did we say versatile? From 1969-71, he also made two starts at cornerback and one at safety to help out a battered secondary. The Jets won two of those three games when Crane was pressed into DB duty.
And he rejected more than just that punt in '68. He had three more blocked punts and a blocked field goal as well, with his five blocks sharing the franchise mark for most kick blocks in a career with Joe Klecko.
Crane also was the opening-day starter in 1972, replacing Ralph Baker for several games due to Baker's illness, and was playing the best ball of his career until making his final pro start in Game 8 at Shea Stadium against Washington. He tore left knee ligaments in the game and immediately underwent season-ending surgery.
He returned for the '73 offseason and training camp but was waived by the Jets and retired. He finished his Jets tenure with 91 games (including three playoff games), more than 20 starts, 5 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries.
Off the field, Crane was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and led the team's devotional services. He was named the winner of the Heede Award, presented to the most dedicated and improved defensive player, in 1969, and was voted "Most Popular Jet" in 1970. He enjoyed hunting and fishing for relaxation.
He returned to Alabama as an assistant coach under Bryant from 1974-78 and moved to Ole Miss, where he was an assistant coach from 1978-81. In his honor, Alabama created the "I Love to Practice Award," which captured Crane's approach to the game while in Tuscaloosa.
He was inducted into the Mobile Sports Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1994.
Crane was also in attendance for the Jets' Super Bowl III 50th Anniversary Dinner held at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 13, 2018. And Namath, always a featured speaker whenever Jets Legends gather together, saluted Crane and the rest of his band of brothers from that glorious time.
"When I look around the room, I see Paul, I see Carl [MacAdams], I see Rocky [Paul Rochester], teammates that didn't get the spotlight on them all the time," Namath said. "And when we get together, it's just like yesteryear. This is like 1968, 1969, this group of guys, these teammates. We're together. We do bust some chops now and then, too, but we had a unity. And to this day, when we look at each other, man, it's like we've been together all these years. We won it and I'm thankful."