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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Kurt Crain an Auburn Legend

Artwork by @Tiger3P Rob Altemari
 It was a warm, sunny day when the batter stepped to the plate in game three in the Alabama State Championship. A slight breeze wafted into his face while the young man surveyed the outfield and then set his gaze directly into the eyes of the pitcher. The pressure of the situation, with the bases loaded, the score knotted at two apiece, was immense.

The pitcher winds up and sends a rocket to the catcher's mitt, only the ball never makes its intended destination. With a mighty swing, a bases-clearing double is sent into deep right-center field. When the excited young baseball player looks back at the bench from second base and eventually into the stands. There standing tall above everyone else is his Father relishing in his son's accomplishment with both fists held high in the air. That was Kurt Crain the Dad.

Kurt Crain became an Auburn Legend during his time on the Plains. Without a doubt the height of the Pat Dye era at Auburn created many memorable players. Kurt Crain stood out among them.

A younger Kurt Crain played multiple sports while attending Berry High School. Picked by the Cincinnati Reds in the amateur draft out of high school Crain chose to go to Auburn, after a brief stint with the University of Memphis, and play football in 1986. He became a starter in his first year. 1987 saw Kurt Crain blossom into an All-SEC first team Linebacker and an All-American. Crain led a stout defense with five interceptions returning one for a touchdown.

One day at practice Crain, the soon-to-be Auburn Legend, broke the forbidden rule. Bo Jackson came running the ball around where Crain was set and his instinct took over as he tackled Bo. Pat Dye had a rule: You were not allowed to tackle Bo! Coach Dye immediately kicked him out of practice. That was Kurt Crain the competitor.

Kurt Crain would later tell his sons he felt sorry sometimes for the opposing offensive linemen. In the huddle, “back when teams huddled”, Crain would look around at the guys and think to himself “ we are about to destroy these guys, and there's nothing they can do about it.”

It's no wonder Kurt Crain felt that way. With the future number one pick in the NFL Draft in Aundray Bruce along with Tracy Rocker, Quentin Riggins, Craig Ogletree, Benji Roland, Kevin Porter, and many others. That stingy defense finished third in the nation in scoring defense allowing a paltry 11 points a game.

Ask any college football fan in the state of Alabama and they will quickly tell you the Iron Bowl is the most important game of every season. Backed up with claims of the game being the best rivalry in all of football.

*The New York Times printed a story via Associated Press about the 1987 Iron Bowl which Auburn won 10-0.

Until Auburn's 99-yard drive, the game was dominated by the defenses, with the Auburn linebacker, Kurt Crain, halting Alabama with an interception...”

Crain would be drafted in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers along with Chris Dishman and Lorenzo White among others. Kurt used to jokingly tell folks of Bill Romanowski (3rd round Forty-Niners) was
picked before him in the draft. Saying “the guy who made that pick was the smartest man in the room.”

A projected third-round pick, Crain went to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL against the pleading of his Father, and promptly tore his ACL on a sprinkler head. The injury dropped his draft status.

That was Kurt Crain the football player.

Once his playing days were finished Kurt took up coaching. His passion and love for the game were something he wanted to share. Kurt Crain had a coaching philosophy that was hard as he could coach you and get on you, whenever we leave the field, he would love on you just as hard, just as passionately. He'd never leave the field with his players without letting them know why he coached them so hard. It was because he loved them.

One such player came up from a bad part of town ( we are intentionally leaving names and places out of this part) both parents were abusing drugs and nobody else would touch the kid. Crain saw the potential and worked diligently with the young man. The player graduated college and is now the VP of a construction company. That was Kurt Crain the Coach.

We can't thank Jake Crain enough. This story would have been nearly impossible without his guidance and insight. Sometimes the journey down memory lane was emotional, while other times joyous. When we asked Jake for some thoughts about his Dad, he was quick to share.

photo courtesy Rob Altemari

“The stuff I remember is going fishing or hunting. Don't get me wrong we'd talk football a lot and watch film. He'd sit us down and show us “this is Power, this is the “I”, this is why they're doing that.”

As good of a football player he was, he was an even better baseball player.

He's literally still the funniest person I ever met.” He had this face he'd make when he wanted to make sure we were paying attention. We called it “Iron Face.” 

That was Kurt Crain the Dad.

It didn't matter what size you were. What you did. What color your skin was. Where you were from. Who you voted for. He cared. He treated everybody the same and he never “big-timed” anyone.

As an attestation to this, I want to share with you a piece of an article written by Tommy Hicks of

I was the Auburn beat writer for the Anniston Star when Kurt starred at Auburn and I covered his coaching career at various spots, especially at South Alabama. But none of the memories I've had of him since learning of his death had anything to do with his days as a player or coach. Each memory centered on one fact: he was a good man.”