Denver Broncos fullback Aaron Craver, the battering ram who clears the way for league rushing leader Terrell Davis, started his NFL career with a clutch performance worthy of the Hall of Fame. During a predraft workout at East Los Angeles Junior College in 1991, Craver, a tailback from Fresno State, saved the life of Dallas running backs coach Joe Brodsky. When the coach suffered a seizure on the sidelines, Craver rushed to his side, cleared the crowd away, cushioned the coach's head with a sweatshirt and placed a calculator in Brodsky's mouth to prevent him from swallowing his tongue. Craver, who followed procedures he had learned in a first-aid class at Fresno just a month earlier, was the only one to react in a crowd full of stunned coaches, players and onlookers that included two police officers. "No one knew what to do, but then this kid just came running over and saved my life," says Brodsky, 62. "He's an outstanding kid. I love him all the way."
Brodsky had surgery that night to repair a vein in the back of his brain and has been fine ever since. "That whole experience was incomparable to anything I've experienced in athletics," says Craver, 27. "Saving a game is nothing compared to saving a life."
After rescuing Brodsky, however, Craver spent the next four seasons trying to resuscitate his own unlikely football career. Even though he had saved the Cowboys' assistant coach, Dallas passed on the six-foot, 220-pound Craver, and he was drafted by Miami in the third round. But Craver crumbled under the pressure of playing for Don Shula as a rookie, appeared in only six games the next year and then suffered a season-ending knee injury in 1993. The following year he was cut and re-signed twice by the Dolphins. He became a free agent after that season and signed a two-year, $1 million deal in '95 with Denver.
With the Broncos, Craver, too, has found new life. Last year, when he wasn't blocking for Davis, he gained 752 all-purpose yards. This season Craver ranks among the league's top fullbacks, with an average of 4.2 yards per carry and 486 all-purpose yards.
As an asthmatic child growing up in Compton, Calif., Craver limited his activities to baseball (in which he had a .400 batting average at Compton High), bowling (better than a 200 average) and books (3.0 grade point average). He graduated from high school at 16 and then, after the Toronto Blue Jays showed interest in him, played for two weeks in the Mexican baseball league. Homesick, he returned to Compton, where two years later a friend persuaded him to give football a try. After a stint at nearby El Camino Junior College, Craver transferred to Fresno State and rushed for 2,251 yards and 26 TDs in two years. "I go home and my old friends still look at me funny," says Craver. "They say, 'Hey, I saw you on television. When did you start playing football?' "
Actually, it wasn't until he arrived in Denver, where his explosive strength and surefire hands have made him John Elway's go-to guy on short third-down passes, that he really started to play. "Unlike a lot of other places in the NFL, the best players start here, not the biggest names," says Craver. "That's perfect for me. That's why, after all I've done and been through, coming to Denver was the best decision I've ever made."
You might even call it a lifesaver.