Crane played all seven seasons of his professional career with the New York Jets, playing both center and linebacker.
Former New York Jet Paul Crane passed away this week at the age of 76. His death was first reported by Creg Stephenson of AL.com, who confirmed it through Bill Griffin, the athletic director at McGill-Toolen Catholic School, where Crane served as the head coach of the football team for eight seasons.
Crane’s impact on the Jets began before he ever set foot in New York, originally serving as Joe Namath’s center at the University of Alabama. Despite earning All-American honors twice and helping the Crimson Tide earn consecutive national championships, Crane went undrafted in both the NFL and AFL Drafts. He was signed by the Jets in 1966 and played 88 games over seven seasons.
The Jets used Crane as a linebacker during his professional career. He partook in the Jets’ victory in Super Bowl III, earning a tackle in the Jets’ 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts. At circa 210 pounds, Crane was considered undersized, leading the Jets to also use him as a defensive back. He would earn five interceptions over the course of his career, including three during the 1969 season. One of those was taken back for a touchdown in the Jets’ season-opening win in Buffalo. A year prior, Crane earned AFL Defensive Player of the Week honors for blocking a punt that led to a safety in the Jets’ 20-14 win over Houston.
In a nod to his college roots, Crane also served as the Jets’ long snapper on special teams. Crane would assist and deter kicks on each side of the ball. His five blocks are a Jets record, tied with Joe Klecko.
Namath praised Crane for his contributions when the Jets’ Super Bowl squad reunited for the 50th anniversary of their historic win.
“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, per team reporter Randy Lange. “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.”
Crane is survived by his wife Heike.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags