The NFL lost its version of a superhero when Earl Morrall passed away Friday at age 79. In his 21 years in the NFL, Earl Morrall was widely considered as the best backup NFL quarterback of all time. He was like an insurance policy – always there when you needed him. That’s a far cry from his collegiate days, when during his senior season he was front and center as Morrall led his Michigan State Spartans to a Rose Bowl victory over UCLA in 1956. Morrall was the second pick in the NFL draft selected by the San Francisco 49ers that same year. After being traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was then traded again a year later to the Detroit Lions, for perhaps the greatest player in Detroit franchise history Bobby Layne. Morrall spent six years with the organization, having his best season in 1963 throwing for 24 touchdowns and more than 2,600 yards. After suffering a season ending injury with Detroit, he was traded to the New York Giants, but eventually landed in a place where he would begin establishing his legacy – Baltimore. An unlikely injury to Johnny Unitas in the final exhibition game in 1968, put Morrall into the starting role, leading the team to a 13-1 record and a trip to Super Bowl III. The Colts were heavy favorites, until they ran into Broadway Joe losing 16-7. Morrall, two years later replaced an injured Unitas in Super Bowl V, this time leading the team to their first Super Bowl championship.
After being claimed off of waivers by the Dolphins, Morrall also replaced another great quarterback, Bob Griese, due to injury after the fifth game of the season and helped Miami to the NFL’s only undefeated season ever. Although he was eventually replaced by Griese at some point in the AFC Championship game, en route to a Super Bowl win, Morrall was an important part of that historical run. Due to his efforts, Morrall earned AFC Player of the Year honors, as well as the very first NFL Comeback Player of the Year award.
After his retirement from the league in 1977, he had a brief stint as a quarterbacks coach in college and entered politics in Florida.
We always remember the superstars in this league, but we barely remember the true heroes. Let’s not forget about this one. Earl Morrall was truly special.