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Danny Crossman's career day at Wembley

Posted Oct 20, 2015

Bills special teams coordinator Danny Crossman had the game of his life 24 years ago at Wembley Stadium in London.

He had only been living in London for a couple of months, and he was often traveling out of town for away games with his teammates, sometimes on transatlantic flights. Playing his home games at Wembley Stadium however, Danny Crossman quickly came to learn the importance and tradition of going up to the Queen’s Box at the conclusion of a championship match. Now he and his teammates were taking part in that very tradition themselves, even if their brand of football wasn’t exactly native to England.

The London Monarchs had just won World Bowl I in convincing fashion 21-0 over the Barcelona Dragons in the World League of American Football’s first title game. It was June 9th, 1991 and the MVP trophy was being awarded to of all players a safety.

Danny Crossman, for whom the World League provided a second opportunity at a pro career, had just had the game of his life. Playing alongside established safety Dedrick Dodge, who had six interceptions in their inaugural 10-game season, Crossman had three picks in the title game alone. One of those he returned for a 20-yard touchdown.

“We had a drop down coverage that we hadn’t played a lot of and instead of covering the inside area we would just run into the flat and fortunately they threw it out there based on the pre-snap read,” recalled Crossman of the play. “Easy. Just don’t drop it and then don’t trip going into the end zone.”

After his third interception his teammates started ribbing him on the sidelines about being the MVP of the game and the new car that was to come with the trophy.

“The day before they had made the announcement that whoever the MVP of the game was he was going to get a vehicle, so yeah after that happened some of the guys on the team were starting to jab me a little bit about the possibility of getting a new vehicle,” he said.

Very quickly the separation between the NFL and the World League was readily apparent. The car awarded to Crossman was a Pontiac Transport minivan. Needless to say the 24-year old took the residual value for the vehicle. For Crossman the championship was enough.

“So the whole team tromps up through the stands to the box to accept the hardware,” said Crossman. “It was a really special deal because you were celebrating with your teammates.

“Just my fondest memories as a player throughout my career and for most guys is when you’re able to win championships. It’s not the individual stuff that happens. Forget about the fact of being the MVP, just the fact that we were able to win the championship was super special. To be MVP was icing on the cake.”

A whirlwind of football
The World Bowl was the culmination of an extraordinarily accelerated assembly of a 10-team international league that had NFL investment in an effort to broaden the game’s reach beyond North America. Though the planning of the inception of the league took more than two years, the assembly of coaching staffs and rosters took just a matter of weeks out of necessity.

The call out for players was nothing more than a blurb in USA Today in October about how the World League of American Football was putting together a 10-team league to begin play in March.

Crossman, who had been to training camp the previous summer with the Washington Redskins, but was waived due to a shoulder injury was invited.

“That’s really what started the process and jump started me back into the mode that it’s not over yet,” said Crossman of his aspiring pro career.

The WLAF combine was held in Orlando in February. The workouts went one at a time by position with a positional draft immediately following the workouts the next day.

“They would bring the quarterbacks in and they’d have physicals, have their day of workouts,” said Crossman. “Then the next morning would be the draft for the quarterbacks. While the draft for quarterbacks was going on the medical stuff was going on for the next position. Then they would work out and they would get drafted.”

Defensive backs were the last positional group, so Crossman came in at the end and was drafted by the London Monarchs. There were four international teams in the WLAF. Barcelona, Frankfurt, London and Montreal while the rest were American based.

After the draft the American teams returned to their cities for training camp and the international teams set up shop in Orlando.

“We got drafted in the morning and that afternoon we were at the hotel and they flew everybody back in from the other position groups and we started training camp the next day,” Crossman said. “So I went from drafted one morning to on the field practicing the next.”

Building blocks
Training camp lasted just two weeks, but Crossman was fascinated with how the team was being put together from scratch.

“It wasn’t a big deal as far as the football stuff because we were playing, but I did have an interest in what was going on so I spent a lot of time talking with some of the front office people,” said Crossman, who won the starting strong safety job out of camp. “Mike Maccagnan, who is now the general manager of the New York Jets was our personnel director. I knew Mike from Washington when I was there in training camp.

“Hearing him talk about the logistics of everything that had to go in from a personnel aspect was amazing. Then in talking with a gentleman named Billy Hicks who was our general manager and had spent time in other professional sports and in football with the Dallas Cowboys and professional soccer. That’s when you realize what a crazy endeavor it was trying to get some of the things done that they were trying to accomplish.”

Going from a two-week training camp right into games was certainly accelerated, but Crossman quickly saw that their defensive unit had a significant amount of talent.

“It’s like anything else it starts with players. I can tell you that now as a coach,” he said. “We had some outstanding coaches on the staff, but from a defensive standpoint we had a lot of really good players. We had several guys who had been in the league for two or three years and after us they played another two or three years in the National Football League.

"We had a good coach in Ray Willsey who was our defensive coordinator. He had been in the NFL for 20-something years and had been the defensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders. So we had good players and a good coach.”

Stacking wins
With QB Stan Gelbaugh, who had a brief stint with the Bills, running the offense and a defense that could pressure opposing quarterbacks the Monarchs ripped off nine straight victories before dropping their season finale to Barcelona, who they’d ultimately face in the World Bowl two weeks later.

“In the first meeting we didn’t do much,” said Crossman of the Barcelona matchup. “We had already clinched and we had just come back from a long road trip. We had spent three weeks in America playing three different teams. So I don’t know that we had put much stock in that game and had simplified some things. In the championship game we ran some different coverages and did some good things.”

After beating the New York/New Jersey Knights in the Meadowlands in the semifinal state side, the Monarchs traveled back to London for World Bowl I at Wembley Stadium against Barcelona.

“I know that going into the game we felt that we had created a lot of turnovers throughout the year. We were able to create pressure so we thought we would get some opportunities,” said Crossman. “If they were going to throw them to us we were going to take them any way we can get them.”

The details for each of Crossman’s three interceptions are fuzzy for him. Ironically, the play that sticks out the most for him is a failed interception.

“The only thing I remember in the game was I dropped one,” he said. “A pass was tipped right in front of me and still hit me in the hands and I should have had a fourth one. That’s the one I remember.”

Coaching calls
After his successful rookie season in the World League, Crossman was signed by the Detroit Lions, but injuries again prevented him from proving he deserved a spot on the roster. He played a second season with London and was back at training camp the following summer with the Lions and injuries cropped up again.

“It wasn’t meant to be,” said Crossman. “I knew I was never going to be an outstanding player and I hurt my shoulder and I had a feeling it wasn’t going to play out and it was time to get on with what I wanted to do.”

What he wanted to do was coach. While playing for London, Crossman served as special teams captain. With coaching staffs only numbering seven or eight, the staff leaned on players to plan and provide input. Crossman was only too happy to do so particularly on special teams as the captain of that unit.

“Hue Jackson was on the staff and he’s the offensive coordinator of Cincinnati. Hue got put in charge of some of the special teams and he had been an offensive coach for most of his life. So he said, ‘Hey let’s get together on some of these plays,’” said Crossman. “I had played a little defense, offense and was contributing on special teams in college, so it was a nice mix.”

Crossman remembers his World League coaches telling him more than once to consider coaching as a profession when he was done playing.

“As a player you don’t want to hear that. When you’re a player, you’re a player,” he said. “But I soon realized I’m not a player anymore. I can’t stay healthy and you’re not going to get opportunities if you get hurt. So I knew it was time to turn the page and made some phone calls and got into the coaching business.”

Return to Wembley
Crossman hasn’t been to England in a decade. The coaching profession demands a lot of his time. Old Wembley Stadium has been replaced by a refurbished version of the grand old arena. So it won’t be quite the same when Crossman walks on the pitch on Sunday, but there might be a flash or two in his mind of the plays that were made during pre-game warmups.

“I haven’t thought about it and I hope not to,” said Crossman. “Maybe during the week some of those thing will come up and I’ll think about it because it was a wonderful time in my life and I truly enjoyed the heck out of it. It’s like anything else. We’re over here on a business trip. It’ll be fun, obviously because it is a new stadium I won’t have some of those recollections of what it was and what I remember, but it’ll still be a special time.”