Life Beyond The Football Field
Story by Matthew St. Amand
Every kid who plays a sport dreams about becoming a professional athlete. Windsor native, Tyrone Crawford, made the leap across that almost impossible threshold, playing nine years in the NFL for the legendary Dallas Cowboys. With ESPN and Sports Illustrated running stories about his recent retirement, with offers rolling in from various directions, what is the first thing Tyrone says in his interview with Windsor Life Magazine?
“I know this article is probably all about me, but I want to make sure we honour my mom.”
When it came to her sons, Tyrone and Tarrence, Mrs. Tara Crawford always put them first.
“She is the reason we became the people we are,” Tyrone continues. “My mom worked factory jobs so we could have things and play sports. I never saw her cry and never heard her make an excuse. She led by example.”
It was from his mother that Tyrone learned the work ethic that would see him shine as a star high school athlete at Catholic Central. He was one of only a handful of Windsor athletes in the past 60 years to win the coveted Royal Arcanum Award twice. Although he was a standout on the football field, Tyrone also won three provincial gold medals in shot put and one in basketball.
“I was a single mom and thought that sports would keep my sons out of trouble,” Mrs. Crawford explains. “I worked 12-hour shifts, worked midnights for 14 years so I could be at their games and be at the school meetings.”
Tyrone began in T-ball when he was four years old. By the time he was 12, he stood 5’9” and people on opposing teams thought he was the coach. He was the pitcher. Opposing batters cowered at home plate as Tyrone lobbed in his pitches. He felt bad the kids were scared of him. “His coach would be calling: ‘Come on, Tyrone, whip ’em in there!” Mrs. Crawford remembers.
“I had the boys in baseball, basketball, soccer,” she continues. “I tried putting
Tyrone in hockey, but they didn’t make skates big enough for his feet.”
Mrs. Crawford told the boys’ coaches: “Don’t baby my kids. If they’re going to be a good person in life, they need to be told what to do.”
Achieving success in multiple high school sports, how did Tyrone know football was his game?
“I didn’t,” Tyrone says. “Playing different sports benefited me in different ways.
Football kept me in shape so I’d be ready for basketball. Track and field kept up my conditioning afterward. My high school coaches played a huge role in the athlete and the man I’ve become.”
In 2008, Tyrone enrolled at Bakersfield College in Bakersfield, California. Playing defensive end on their football team, Tyrone was named first-team all-conference as a freshman. The following year, he was named a junior college first-team All-America, as well as first-team all-state and conference. In 2010, he transferred to Boise State University in Boise, Idaho.
Then, in 2012, he received The Call. The Dallas Cowboys.
“Getting the call was honestly surreal,” Tyrone recalls, visibly lost in memory. “As pro teams go, they’re like royalty. Being a kid from Windsor, with Jerry Jones and Jason Jerret and all my coaches… I can’t really explain the feeling. I didn’t think I would be an NFL player…”
When the initial shock wore off, he remembers thinking: “I just got drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. This could be a huge change for me and my family… and my future family.”
He was not wrong.
In his first professional season, Tyrone filled the left defensive end position, finishing the season with 33 tackles and 5 quarterback pressures. Subsequent seasons found him filling roles up and down the defensive line. On the first day of training camp, 2013, he suffered a torn Achilles and was placed on the injured reserve list. There were more injuries to come.
All the while, Tyrone performed on the field. In Week 3 of the 2014 season, Tyrone played defensive tackle against the New Orleans Saints, and went on to earn the starter job. That season, he came away with three sacks and 29 quarterback pressures.
In 2015, the Dallas Cowboys demonstrated how pleased they were with Tyrone’s performance by signing him to a five-year contract extension, worth $45 million.
Life off the field was coming together, as well. On March 26, 2016, Tyrone married his fiancé, Kelsey Marie Mills. They have two daughters: Mia, who will be three in June, and Kali, 18 months old.
So, how does an athlete at top of his game stay motivated?
“It’s not easy,” Tyrone admits. “After you sign a contract, and play in the NFL, part of you wonders: ‘How do I keep this thing going?’ I just focused on the love of the players beside me, helping them get to where we all want to be: the Super Bowl, becoming a Pro Bowler.”
He continues: “Also, I have my wife and my girls, my brother, my mom, everyone who was watching me. Those were motivators, too.”
Although Tyrone dwells in the rarified air of a multi-million dollar elite athlete, he has never forgotten where he came from.
“I love Windsor,” he says. “There’s no love greater than the love a person has for the city where they grew up. I can’t get back as much as I would like, especially now, when things are crazy.”
In 2013, Tyrone founded Windsor’s Finest Football Academy, with the help of his brother, Tarrence, and cousin Darry Townshend, a defensive back for the Montreal Alouettes. It is a day-long camp for kids, aged seven to 19. Tyrone enlisted friends and teammates from the NFL to coach at the camp. These have included: Dallas teammates, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyron Smith and Maliek Collins, and LaSalle native, Luke Willson, among others.
“My teammates loved Windsor,” Tyrone says. “The kids who came out were on it. They took care of business. The pro players were impressed.”
Earning a pro athlete salary, Tyrone was adamant about doing something for his mom. She was just as adamant: “He doesn’t owe me anything, except his love,” she says. Finally, however, she relented and allowed Tyrone to buy her a few things she’d had her eye on. For her own part, Mrs. Crawford continued working.
“I always said to Tyrone, ‘By the time you retire, it won’t be long before I retire,’” Mrs. Crawford recalls. “I have worked for my current employer for 28 years. My friends think I’m the Bionic Woman!”
After nine years in the NFL, appearing in 117 pro games, Tyrone announced his retirement from the Dallas Cowboys. How did he come to this decision?
“Just the way my body was taking punishment in the daily grind of the NFL,” he explains. “I felt like I was too far from getting back to how I wanted to feel, going into a season.”
So, what’s next?
“I have a couple different directions I’m being pulled,” Tyrone says. “Aside from focusing on my family, being a good husband, father, trying to stay healthy, I’m looking at going into real estate development as an investor.”
With the support of his family, friends, former teammates, and coaches throughout his athletic career, Tyrone faces life off the field with both eyes open and both feet on the ground.