Three-time Grey Cup champion Carl Crennel dead at 74

He played in the CFL before defensive statistics were tabulated, but Wally Buono says no number could ever do justice to Carl Crennel's value to a football team.

Buono says the state of Crennel's helmet was always the true measure of his impact on the Canadian game.

"They talk about the violence of the game today and Carl was a very, very clean player," Buono said. "The impact in which he delivered a blow or made a tackle, it was amazing sometimes when you saw his helmet after a game and how much it had been mangled because of the collisions he delivered.

"Remember, he was a nose tackle at West Virginia and so he had tremendous quickness, explosion and athleticism. When they say he was 225 pounds, he was closer to 240. He was very thick from the hips down and that's where he got his power."

On Tuesday, the Montreal Alouettes, one of five CFL teams Crennel played for, confirmed Crennel's death at the age of 74. The cause of death was not immediately known.

"We are saddened to learn of the passing of Carl Crennel," the Alouettes said in a statement. "Our condolences go out to his family, friends, and former teammates."

Buono and Crennel were teammates in Montreal throughout Crennel's tenure with the Alouettes (1972-79), winning Grey Cups together in 1974 and '77. Buono spent his entire playing career with the franchise (1972-81) before starting his legendary coaching career there in 1983.

The CFL didn't keep statistics on defensive tackles or sacks for much of Crennel's career. But for Buono, Crennel was one of the league's top defensive players.

"Carl was a great football player," Buono said. "In his day he might've been maybe the most impactful player because of his physicality and ability to do a lot of good things.

"Carl was a very dominant player in the league at that time when running the football was way more prominent. A guy like that controlled the game in a lot of ways."

Buono said Crennel also left his mark on the Alouettes off the football field.

"Carl was a lot of fun to be around," Buono said. "He wasn't just a great football player, he was also a great teammate."

Crennel played his college football at West Virginia. He was captain of a Mountaineers team that posted a 10-1 record in 1969 and defeated South Carolina 14-3 in the Peach Bowl, with Crennel earning MVP honours.

The native of Lynchburg, Va., was a three-year starter at West Virginia at middle guard (1967-69).

Crennel was taken in the ninth round, No. 209 overall, in the 1970 NFL draft by Pittsburgh. He played one season with the Steelers before joining the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1971.

After appearing in five games with Winnipeg, Crennel joined the Alouettes in 1972. He remained with Montreal until 1979.

Crennel was named an East Division all-star three times during his time with Montreal. The Alouettes dealt Crennel to Edmonton in 1979 to make room for Tom Cousineau, the former Ohio State all-American linebacker who had been selected first overall in the '79 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills.

Edmonton defeated Montreal 17-9 in the '79 Grey Cup. Cousineau was named the game's top defensive player.

Crennel's stay with Edmonton was brief. He was dealt to Hamilton in 1980 and finished his CFL career with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1981.

Crennel's other Grey Cup appearances were in 1975 and '78 with Montreal and 1980 with Hamilton.

Crennel, who didn't take up football until his junior year in high school, was inducted into the West Virginia University Sports Hall of Fame in 1998. He earned the John Russell Award as West Virginia's top defensive player in 1969 and the following year appeared in the Hula Bowl.

Crennel is also a member of the WVU all-time football team.

Crennel appeared in 150 career CFL games, registering 14 interceptions while recovering 13 fumbles. He was also credited with two sacks with Saskatchewan in 1981, which is when the league started recording sacks as an official statistic,

The six-foot-one, 225-pound Crennel was the younger brother of Romeo Crennel, the former longtime NFL assistant coach who also served as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns (2005-2008) and Kansas City Chiefs (2012). Romeo Crennel, 76, was also the interim head coach of the Houston Texans during the final 12 games of the 2020 campaign.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 22, 2023.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press