What's the benefit of being yanked, stretched and mashed? Well, since the fourth week of his rookie season, in 1983, Craig has started all but one game, including playoffs and a Super Bowl. Unlike most running backs, who try to rest their legs during practice, Craig works out with a vengeance. On the day after a game, he jogs four laps around the 49er practice fields and does five to eight 100-yard dashes at three-quarter speed. When the team runs through plays later in the week, Craig sprints to the end zone every time he touches the ball.
Craig attributes much of his durability and resilience to the warm, human touches of his therapy. "The body is a whole, not the sum of parts," says Winter. "Modern technology is wonderful, but we can do a lot with our hands that a machine can't. Being touched is a form of nurturing and caring. If you're going to take the body out and get it beat up once a week, you need tender loving care. That's a nice balance. And Roger is a balanced person."
Two years ago Craig was plagued by a strained hip and bruised ribs, not to mention an ulcer caused by the anti-inflammatory drugs he was taking. Last year he had difficulty making the transition from fullback to halfback. Consequently, Craig entered this season facing the possibility of splitting time with second-year backs Terrence Flagler and Doug DuBose. According to the Bay Area scuttlebutt, Craig had lost a step.
Today Craig is a leading candidate for the MVP award. Going into this weekend's games, he ranked second in the NFL in rushing, with 1,071 yards. and fourth in receptions, with 57. No running back had caught as many passes. He is enjoying his best season since 1985, when he became the first player in history to surpass 1,000 yards in both rushing and receiving.
His combination of high career rushing (5,140) and receiving (3,611) yards is a rarity in the NFL. In fact, with 415 receptions in five-plus seasons, Craig already ranks third among running backs in career catches. Walter Pay ton, who is No. 1, had 492 catches in 13 years, and Tony Galbreath had 490 in 12 with the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants.
This year 49er running-back coach Sherm Lewis has altered Craig's style. He still has that remarkably high knee lift, a trait he picked up as a high school hurdler. Now. however. Craig lowers his upper body in traffic. That way he provides a smaller target for potential tacklers and is in position to initiate a hit rather than just receive one.
"To stop him, you've got to bring your lunch money, hit him with everything you've got," says Dave McGinnis, the linebacker coach of the Chicago Bears, who faced Craig earlier this season. "He'll run through arm tackles and dead legs. You can't bring him down with one guy; you've got to swarm around him, keep a fever pitch throughout the game. That's hard to do for 60 minutes."
Craig's relentlessness was a sight to behold in San Francisco's 24-21 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 16. He mowed down linebackers and defensive backs left and right in 95� heat at Anaheim Stadium en route to 190 rushing yards. On a breathtaking 46-yard touchdown run, he bulldozed through five different tacklers. Afterward, Ram coach John Robinson called Craig "the best back in the league."
"When we watch film, there's comedy and tragedy," says Bears defensive end Dan Hampton. "Comedy is when somebody gets upended and he flips upside down. Tragedy is when somebody gets his leg torn off. Awe is when we watched Roger Craig against the Rams."