Earl Morrall was the
He left his mark on NFL history by stepping in for two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks —
"All Earl ever did was win games for me, whether it was as a starter or coming off the bench," said legendary Miami coach
Morrall, who had been in failing health for some time and reportedly suffered from Parkinson's disease, died Friday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 79.
Born May 17, 1934, in Muskegon, Mich., Earl Edwin Morrall was a star in football, basketball and baseball in high school, earning a football scholarship to Michigan State. He led the Spartans to a victory over UCLA in the 1954 Rose Bowl.
A first-round pick by San Francisco in 1956, Morrall played for six teams in a career that spanned 21 seasons. He did far more than hold a clipboard, throwing for 20,809 yards and 161 touchdowns, and winning the NFL's Most Valuable Player award in 1968 when he filled in for the injured Unitas for an entire season.
But Morrall is best known for his contribution to the 1972 Dolphins, who lost Griese to leg and ankle injuries in the fifth game of that season. Morrall stepped in and helped the 4-0 team win its next 10 games to finish the regular season 14-0. His numbers weren't eye-popping — he threw for 11 touchdowns during that span — but he was a steady hand for a running team that leaned heavily on backs Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris.
"If you lose
In the 1972 playoffs, Morrall guided Miami to a victory over Cleveland but was replaced by Griese after the Dolphins fell behind to Pittsburgh in the AFC title game. When Miami prevailed to advance to the
"That probably had to be the toughest decision that I had to make in my coaching career," Shula told The Times in a phone interview. "Griese was our quarterback of the future. He got hurt, and Earl was brought in as a stopgap and did a great job. But thinking of the future of the team, I knew I had to go back to Bob.
"I called Earl in and told him what my thoughts were, and he said, 'Coach, I don't agree with it. But I'll be ready if and when you need me.' That says it all about what kind of guy he was."
That wasn't the first time Shula turned to Morrall to bail his football team out of a jam.
In 1968, when Shula was coach of the
In the Super Bowl, however, the upstart
Two years later — with Shula in Miami and Don McCafferty head coach of the
Like his buzz cut, which he kept into the 1970s when longer hair was in fashion, Morrall was a throwback to a older, strait-laced era.
"The thing to understand about Earl Morrall," Times columnist Jim Murray wrote, "is that it's not only a name, it's a description. Like a Horatio Alger hero, the name fits the character. He could be 'Ned Earnest,' or 'Peter Pluck,' or 'Ron Loyal,' but he's 'Earl Morrall.' "
Morrall is survived by his wife, Jane, sons Matthew and Mitchell; daughters Mardi Donahoe, Mindi Morrall-Ansley and Megan Leiti; and nine grandchildren.