Green: Morrall remembered for loss in Super Bowl III
Jerry Green is one of two journalists — Jerry Izenberg of Newark, N.J., is the other — to cover every Super Bowl.
San Francisco — He was the other quarterback ... always the other quarterback.
He was other starting quarterback at Super Bowl III, the most important pro football game played. When it was over, the plans for the future of the sport — and the NFL — had to be drastically altered.
And if — if — he had been able to find a wide-open receiver waving his arms in the end zone and get the ball to him for a score, what we have seen in the NFL the last 45 years might have been different.
Another never-know touch of sports history.
The other quarterback? It was Earl Morrall.
Morrall was the unsung, disrespected quarterback who opposed Joe Namath — “Broadway Joe,” the glamour boy for the young, yearning American Football League.
But 47 years later, Morrall gives us a sad pause in the festivities in the countdown to Super Bowl 50.
Two years ago, Morrall died of what now has been reported as Stage 4 CTE — chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a terrifying head trauma from, presumably, repeated blows to the helmet in football games. His family confirmed CTE was the cause of Morrall’s death at 79 in an article in the New York Times.
In the lobby of the media hotel in Santa Clara, Calif., there is a replica of Namath’s No. 12 Jets jersey — with his autograph — for sale.
The price tag is $695.
Missing is the No. 15 Colts replica jersey Morrall wore in that game.
But upstairs, there are images — plenty of them — and personal remembrances of this vagabond who played 21 seasons in the NFL with quiet dignity.
Always the other quarterback.
“There are five quarterbacks in the AFL who are better than Morrall,” Namath told the New York press before Super Bowl III.
And he rattled off their names — Daryle Lamonica, John Hadl, Babe Parilli, Bob Griese and himself.
Morrall responded to the insult.
“Joe’s getting his newspaper space,” Morrall said during Super Bowl week. “That’s what he was after, isn’t it?”
Morrall was about as flamboyant as vanilla ice cream.
Replaced by Unitas
A Muskegon High graduate who won a state football title, Morrall went to Michigan State, where he added a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl victory before heading to the NFL.
He would play for six teams, including the Lions.
And by the time Super Bowl III rolled around, he was on team No. 5 — and built the reputation as the other quarterback. It might have been a stigma to other quarterbacks, but not Morrall.
Morrall not only was the other quarterback at Super Bowl III, he was the other quarterback on his own team. The great Johnny Unitas, injured most of the season, was Morrall’s backup. But it was Morrall who led the Colts to a 13-1 record and snapped the control the Packers had on the NFL.
And it was Morrall who led Don Shula’s Colts into Super Bowl III as the standard-bearer for the proud, haughty NFL. They were 17-point favorites over the AFL champion Jets.
The game was even until late in the first half.
That’s when Shula ordered a trick play — a flea-flicker.
Morrall took the snap and handed to Tom Matte, who lateraled back to Morrall. Morrall ran to his left looking for a receiver. Downfield, uncovered near the goal line, was reliable Jimmy Orr, waving his arms as he ran back and forth.
Morrall didn’t see Orr, instead throwing it high toward fullback Jerry Hill.
Jim Hudson intercepted it — one of three Morrall interceptions.
As the second half opened, and the Colts offense flailed, the Jets took control, 13-0.
And that was it for Morrall, replaced by Unitas.
Always the other quarterback.
Jerry Green is a retired News sports writer.