LAST DECEMBER, when Redskin defensive end Terry Crews called to
ask NFL Properties if it would be interested in granting him a
license to sell lithographs of the portraits he had painted of
NFL players, he wasn't taken seriously as an artist. "The voice
on the phone said, 'Well, Terry, it has to be more than family
and friends who like your artwork for us to get involved,'"
Crews says. "I said, 'Ma'am, once you see my work, you'll see
it's worth more than just something to family and friends.'"
Crews is used to such skepticism. It's difficult for some to
believe that the 6'2", 245-pound utility player has pursued his
football career only as a means to an end. "My reasons for going
into football were purely financial," Crews says. "People always
ask me, 'Why are you playing football? You could make millions
of dollars with your artwork.' And I always answer, 'Haven't you
ever heard the term starving artist?'"
Following graduation from Flint (Mich.) Academy in the summer of
1986, Crews attended camp at the prestigious Center for the Arts
in Interlochen, Mich. He had hoped to enroll at the Center for
Creative Studies in Detroit, but because tuition at the center
was too pricey, Crews accepted a $500 art scholarship to Western
Michigan. He walked on to the Bronco football team as a freshman
and was rewarded with an athletic scholarship following his
Selected in the 11th round of the 1991 draft by the Los Angeles
Rams, Crews spent his first NFL season in the league off and on
the team's practice squad, seeing action in six games. He spent
the next year out of football, working as a graphic designer for
a small firm in Pontiac, Mich. Crews played 10 games with the
San Diego Chargers during the '93 season but was released in
August 1994. He sat out the '94 season and painted commissioned
portraits in San Diego.
"I sold a half dozen portraits for as much as $4,000 each, but
in California that was just getting by," he says. So when the
Rhein Fire drafted him last February, he went to Germany to give
the World League of American Football a try. Crews led the Fire
with five sacks, and based on that performance, the Redskins
signed the defensive end to a one-year contract in June.
Drawing on his background in graphic design, Crews creates his
portraits using an airbrush instead of the more conventional
canvas and paint. His latest works, a series on Charger and
Redskin teammates, are so realistic in detail--down to the hair
on San Diego quarterback Stan Humphries' arms and the stitches
in the seams of the football carried by running back Natrone
Means--that the portraits appear at first glance to be color
photographs. Crews has also incorporated a sense of fantasy into
his paintings: Charger linebacker Leslie O'Neal stands over
serene San Diego harbor in one portrait, and Redskin linebacker
Ken Harvey strides across Washington's Capitol dome in a work
Crews has titled Clear and Present Danger.
Crews will soon complete a licensing deal with NFL Properties
that will allow him to sell his lithographs in limited editions
of 1,500. Crews's subjects will receive a percentage of the
profits and get to keep their original portraits. In addition to
Harvey, several of Crews's Redskin teammates--Darrell Green and
Michael Westbrook, to name two--have plans to pose for the series.
"I used to dabble a little myself," says Harvey, "but when you
see what Terry does, you're kind of put in your place."
COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS USHER The Redskins' defensive end has sketched out a plan to market his NFL player portraits. [Terry Crews with portraits]