This is a two-fold look at one of the most exciting football players I have ever had the pleasure of watching and photographing on a football field, the truly great Nolan Cromwell. In one magical season, Cromwell electrified KU football fans like few others have in the Jayhawks’ checkered football history. Switched from the safety position to quarterback in 1975, Cromwell became one of the most dynamic triple-option players in the history of the game.
Against Oregon State, Cromwell ran for 294 yards. That benchmark for a rushing quarterback stood for 38 years. Later against No. 1 Oklahoma, Cromwell orchestrated a 23-3 defeat of the defending national champion Sooners, in Norman, no less. Cromwell rushed for 1,124 yards that season and was named the Big 8 offensive player of the year. In 1976, Cromwell’s senior season, KU stood 5-1 and ranked No. 8 in the nation. They would finish 6-5 after a knee injury ended Cromwell’s college career.
That is where my personal history with Cromwell began. Cromwell graciously offered me the opportunity to document his rehabilitation. Even with a wounded knee, my favorite NFL team, the Los Angeles Rams, drafted Cromwell in the second round. Returning to his safety position, he became a fixture in the secondary for some very good Rams’ teams.
For the Topeka Capital-Journal’s SportsPlus weekly magazine, I photographed Cromwell again on October 20, 1985 in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Cromwell picked off a Chiefs’ pass in the 16-0 Rams’ victory. The athletic ability that made him a Big 8 champion 400m hurdler and a multi-sport legend in his hometown of Ransom, Kansas, remained with him throughout his 11-year professional career. That career included being named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1980 after helping lead the Rams to Super Bowl XIV.