In the back of his head, Roger Craig can still hear Jack Leabo’s voice.
He’s back on the Davenport Central football practice field in the late 1970s and the Blue Devils have just run a play. Craig has the ball in his hands and the play is pretty much over but Leabo, a Central assistant coach in that era, is still shouting.
"He used to make the running backs run out every play," Craig remembers. "You’d have to run 70, 80 yards, all the way to the end zone. He’d be back there yelling ‘Run, run it all the way out.’ I took that same attitude with me to Nebraska and to the 49ers."
For that matter, Craig has carried that philosophy and other things he learned during his boyhood on the streets of Davenport with him throughout his life.
He has run just about everything all the way out as he has transitioned from football star to software executive to marathon runner.
"The foundation started right here in the Quad-Cities, baby ..." Craig says. "All those things built that foundation for me and I’m still doing it, still living it."
Craig, who has made his home in California since the 1980s, was back in the Quad-Cities this weekend to appear at the grand opening of a new Dick’s Sporting Goods store at SouthPark Mall in Moline.
He does events like this as a result of the fame he gained from being one of the best running backs in pro football in the 1980s, a cornerstone of the 49ers dynasty of that era.
While players such as Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott received most of the plaudits for the success of the 49ers, Craig was one of the true pacesetters of that team as well as its primary ballcarrying threat.
For example, there was that run-out-every-play mindset. Craig started doing it in practice every day as an NFL rookie in 1983 to the utter amazement of some of his veteran teammates.
"They couldn’t believe it," he says. "They’d tell me I didn’t have to do that. But it became contagious. After awhile, they were expecting everyone to do that. It kind of changed the whole environment of how we trained."
Craig didn’t stop running when his football days ended.
He has found success since then as a business executive, philanthropist, father and runner.
For the past 16 years, he has been the vice president of business development for Tibco Software. Craig was hired by company founder Vivek Ranadive shortly after he retired from the NFL and he’s still there.
"I love technology, I love the customers," Craig says. "I still have a passion for this."
He and his wife, Vernessia, have raised five children who all have excelled in sports and business arenas. One is even an aspiring actor.
Along the way, the 54-year-old Craig also took up running and has completed 38 marathons and half-marathons. He is a trim 200 pounds, about what he weighed in high school at Central, after getting up to about 225 during his NFL heyday.
He also has helped found a couple of races, including the San Jose Rock ‘N Roll Marathon.
"My first love was track and field," he says. "I loved track and field more than football.
"I’m having fun with it. The cool thing about races is that you meet these people from all over the world, from other countries. It’s amazing. The running community is everything to me."
In one recent race in Chicago, another runner he didn’t know came up alongside Craig and asked if he could run the final stretch of the race with him. Craig readily agreed.
With about a mile to go, the other runner began cramping up and slowing down, and Craig was left with the choice of either continuing on to finish the race on his own or slow down and walk the rest of the way with a complete stranger. He chose the latter option and the other runner hugged him effusively at the finish line.
"That’s what I mean about making an impact on people’s lives that they’ll remember for the rest of their life," Craig says.
"I’m always trying to do something to make the world a better place," he adds. "My upbringing here in Davenport and the Quad-Cities gave me the foundation to do everything that I’ve done."
That foundation was provided by coaches such as Jim Fox, Tom Murphy and Leabo and Craig's older brother Curtis, who preceded him as a star at both Central and Nebraska. It even came from his barber.
Craig used to sit in the chair in Joe McLemore’s shop and listen to him tell stories about the great athletes who had come through Davenport before him.
"As a kid, I was just absorbing all of this stuff he was telling me," Craig says. "It gave me a platform to see who I was going to be as a person."
Craig was one of the original five inductees into the Quad-City Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, but he never has gotten into the Pro Football Hall of Fame even though he clearly is qualified.
He was the first player ever to score three touchdowns in the Super Bowl. He was the first running back to collect 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season. (Marshall Faulk is the only other man to ever do it.) He was the NFL’s offensive player of the year in 1988. At the time he retired, he ranked among the top 20 players all-time in both rushing yards and receptions.
Craig has gotten a decent amount of votes in the Hall of Fame balloting a few times and made it to the semifinal stage last winter, but he hasn’t made it all the way to Canton yet.
But that’s about the only thing he hasn’t been able to run all the way out.