Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Curious Career of Earl Morrall, Part Four

Reviewing the Curious Career of Earl Morrall prompts one obvious question--why the heck didn’t anybody give this guy the chance to consistently start when he was in his prime? I don’t get it. What initially prompted me to take this in depth look at Morrall’s career was this list compiled by the true geniuses at the Cold Hard Football Facts. Check it out. The list shows the top 15 All-Time Leaders in Yards Per Attempt. Many football experts believe YPA is the most important passing stat and look who’s tenth with a 7.74 YPA mark: Earl Morrall. And look at some of the company he’s keeping: Otto Graham, Sid Luckman, Norm Van Brocklin, Steve Young, Bart Starr, Len Dawson, and Roger Staubach. Hall of Famers comprise half of that list. As for quarterback rating, Morrall’s career mark of 74.1 isn’t far off those of the two Hall of Famers he once replaced, Johnny Unitas (78.2) and Bob Griese (77.1) and is far superior to his Super Bowl nemesis Joe Namath (65.5). And remember, unlike those guys Morrall never got to play consistently for any one team. Playing for six different teams, and usually watching from the bench, Morrall had no continuity year-to-year with any particular offense or receiver. How could he ever get in a rhythm? The fact he came in cold and played as well as he did so many times should alone be enough to establish what a fine player he was.

Stats are great of course, but the game’s about winning in the end. How’d Morrall fare in that area? Well, I wish had his career won-loss record as a starter but I don’t. All I can do is add up the records of the five teams he played for as the primary starter: the 1958 Steelers, the 1963 Lions, the 1965 Giants, the 1968 Colts, and the 1972 Dolphins. Subtracting Griese’s four 1972 wins from the total leaves Morrall with a tremendous 41-22-1 record, a .648 winning percentage. Now you might argue Morrall benefited from playing for great teams. And he did. So lets’ look at his team’s combined records in the seasons immediately preceding the ones set forth above. Those teams totaled a fine 39-24-5 record (.610). So Morrall did take over some excellent teams but he still improved them by another 4%.

Morrall started for five seasons. Four times, his team’s record improved over the previous season. The only team Morrall failed to improve was the 1963 Lions. They tumbled from an 11-3 mark to only 5-8-1 with Morrall at the helm. But I’m not sure if you can pin that on Morrall. A comparion of his 1963 stats to that of 1962 Lions starter Milt Plum shows Morrall was much better:


So why the dropoff? It’s hard to day for sure from our vantage point almost half a century later. The stats show Detroit went from the league’s best defense in 1962 to maybe the third best in 1963. The Lions fell from 4th in rushing yards to 10th in 1963 though their rushing yards per attempt actually improved a bit relative to the league. Turnovers could have played a role. Detroit recovered 23 fumbles in 1962 but just 11 the next year. Maybe they simply didn’t catch any breaks. I mentioned in Part One that the Lions lost 6 games by a TD or less (and tied another) in 1963. Whatever the reason the Lions lost so many games in 1963, overall we can say Morrall improved his teams when took over.

Now what about the postseason? Morrall’s QB rating drops substantially when we look at his playoff career, 56.5 in the playoffs vs. his 74.1 regular season rating. His postseason YPA of 7.83 actually tops his great 7.74 career mark. Morrall’s problem was throwing too many playoff picks. But you know, he still went 4-1. For all those postseason interceptions and subpar play, he lost only one big game: Super Bowl III. Maybe he won ugly, maybe his defenses bailed him out, whatever. In the playoffs a win’s a win. Even if Morrall would have blown Miami’s perfect season without Griese saving the day (and it was only 10-7 at the time), that’s still a 4-2 playoff record, a .667 winning percentage that’s higher incidentally than Morrall’s already excellent regular season winning percentage.

As a starter, Morrall played well at every point in his career. He won games. At 34, Earl Morrall was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. At 36, he won a Super Bowl. At 38, his All-Pro quarterbacking led the Dolphins to an undefeated season. He was good enough to play in the NFL until the advanced football age of 41. He’s tenth all-time in YPA right there with some of he greatest passers who ever lived. Just what might Earl Morrall have done if given the chance to consistently start in his prime? And why didn’t any of those teams who saw what he could do give him that chance? The mystery of the Curious Career of Earl Morrall may never be solved. But it doesn’t matter. Morrall must be content with his two Super Bowl rings and his unofficial title as “The Greatest Backup Quarterback of All Time”.

The Curious Career of Earl Morrall

Earl Morrall, Part One
Earl Morrall, Part Two
Earl Morrall, Part Three
Earl Morrall, Part Four
Fun Earl Morrall Facts

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Stubborn, Not Stupid

Guess Cameron’s just stubborn not stupid. He gave Ronnie Brown all the work and Chatman never touched the ball. The result: over 200 yards of offense from Brown against the Jets. The payoff: another loss. Brown was a force, Miami only turned it over once, and they scored 28 points on the road. And they still lost. And Miami trailed 31-13 at one point in the 4th quarter. So what happened and how do we parcel out blame? I’d do it this way:

1) The defense. Couldn’t force a single turnover. Gave up a ton of third-down conversions, several by penalty. No pressure on the quarterback. And they got pushed around, literally, by Thomas Jones. I should just quote Jason Taylor here instead of wasting anymore words of my own:

“We do things that hurt us, and that’s me included. I jumped offsides twice. I can’t do that. You play around with that fine line of jumping the ball and rushing the quarterback and being offsides. I can’t do that to our team. We’re not ready to overcome stuff like that … I didn’t get to the quarterback, I suck right now, it’s as simple as that so there, there’s your headline … “

2) Special teams. Not just the kick return TD by Leon Washington; the Jets had better field position than Miami all game. Again, Ginn did little on returns. His one good return got called back on a penalty of course.

3) Trent Green. His best game of the season. Only 1 INT as mentioned. But that INT was critical. Leading 21-13 the Jets take the second half kickoff, chew up 7 minutes, drive 67 yards, and kick a FG for a 24-13 lead. Miami responds with a good drive into Jet territory, really a must-score drive. And Green kills it with a pick. Bad, bad timing. The Jets then drive for what proves to be the winning TD. (During that drive, CBS showed a closeup of Green on the sidelines looking at a notebook. Jeff said it was his Quarterbacking for Dummies Book).

So even with an improved offensive performance, our special teams stink and the defense is collapsing. Cam was brought in to improve the offense but even if he proves successful at it, it looks like the Dolphins are going to have to rebuild the defense too. And if Ginn doesn’t get it going already, we might have to waste another pick on a WR/KR too.

What about the Raiders on Sunday? Well, if the Dolphins can’t beat a bad team at home in the heat then I’ll have to further revise my predictions downward. I think they'll win it somehow but if they can’t win Sunday, I don’t know what games they can win. Seriously, they can’t actually let Duante Culpepper return to Dolphins Stadium and beat them can they? If they’re not good enough to beat the freaking Raiders then a one-win season could be a real possibility.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Curious Career of Earl Morrall, Part Three

For a second time, Don Shula resuscitated Earl Morrall’s career. Now the Miami Dolphins’ head man, Shula spent the $100 waiver fee to snag Morrall as his backup quarterback. Set with All-Pro QB Bob Griese as his starter, Shula was just looking for some insurance and he remembered what Morrall did for him back in ’68. With Morrall newly installed on their bench, the Miami Dolphins began the 1972 season as the defending AFC champions. Griese picked up where he left off the previous year and guided his team to a 4-0 start, but early in the fifth game disaster struck. Griese suffered a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle. Amazingly, for the second time in his career a future Hall of Fame quarterback went down and backup Earl Morrall had to come in to the save the day for a Super Bowl contender. The first time it happened, in 1968, Morrall lost but a single regular season game. This time, he ran the table. 10-0.

What did Morrall’s teammates think as he stepped onto the field that first time? Well, center Jim Langer claimed to have no doubts about the new QB's ability to get the job done, saying “We felt Earl was prepared and moved on.” But other players were perhaps a bit more candid. Tight End Jim Mandich said: ''I remember seeing Griese lying there in pain, with his ankle all contorted and here's this 38-year-old man with a flattop haircut coming on the field, and I thought, Oh hell, it's all over.'' An understandable reaction, but turns out it wasn’t over after all. To put it simply, Morrall played brilliantly in relief, averaging 9.1 yards per attempt, earning All-Pro honors, and winning the NFL’s comeback player of the year award at season's end. Like most dominant teams, Miami thoroughly outclassed its opponents week in and week out but the team did have a couple of close calls. The last real threat to the perfect regular season came in week ten against the New York Jets. Miami trailed the Jets, 24-20 as the fourth quarter started but Morrall led a game winning drive, and more amazingly, the not-so-fleet-of-feet veteran earlier scored on Miami’s longest TD run of the season: a 31-yarder in the third quarter.

After that scare nobody challenged Miami the rest of the year as Morrall finished the job Griese started. For the first time in 30 years, an NFL team won every single one of its regular season games. Morrall proved yet again he could take over a team from a superstar QB and lead it into the playoffs. But what about those playoffs? As we’ve seen previously, Morrall’s play dropped dramatically in the postseason in 1968. Would it happen again?


Miami moved out smoothly to a 10-0 halftime lead against the Cleveland Browns in their first-round playoff game. But Cleveland mounted a second-half comeback. Miami’s offense disappeared and Cleveland came up with some big plays when they needed them. A 27-yard TD pass had Cleveland up 14-13 early in the 4th quarter. Morrall struggled all game. As the Miami offense began a last-ditch drive to win the game, Morrall had completed just 4 passes for 38 yards to that point. Then he had an epiphany: to keep the perfect season alive it might be a good idea to get the ball in the hands one of the greatest receivers of all time, Paul Warfield. Warfield hadn’t caught a pass all day. Now, Morrall hit him first for 15 yards and then on a spectacular 35-yard grab three plays later. Another toss to Warfield resulted in a pass interference call putting the ball on the Browns’ 8. Jim Kiick ran it in from there.

Dolphins GM Joe Thomas shrewdly obtained Warfield from the Browns in 1970, just one of a series of brilliant trades made by Thomas to build a dynasty. Two years later, that move looked extra-brilliant as Warfield’s clutch play now put the Dolphins on the very brink of a trip to the AFC Championship game. And in an amazing twist of fate, the trade was about to pay one more dividend. You see, Miami gave up its first-round draft pick to Cleveland and with it the Browns selected their quarterback of the future: Mike Phipps. The future arrived in 1972 and with the game on the line and Cleveland needing a last-minute scoring drive, Phipps instead tossed his fifth and final interception of the game. Miami ran out the clock and escaped with the win. Morrall’s numbers don’t overwhelm but at least he only threw one pick that day, not Phipps' fatal five.

I don’t know how many people today realize just how close the Orange Bowl came to featuring Earl Morrall in a second monumental upset ranking right up there with Super Bowl III. Miami pulled it out but ominously Morrall had now gone four straight postseason contests without throwing a single touchdown pass.

Due to the old rotating championship game rule, Miami traveled to Pittsburgh the following week to face the emergent Steel Curtain defense. That defense stymied Morrall and the Miami offense throughout the first half. Miami needed a fake punt to get any points on the board at all; the trick play set up a 9-yard pass to Larry Csonka that tied the game. But when Pittsburgh took back the lead with a third quarter field goal the dream of a perfect season and a championship appeared to be in serious jeopardy.

Trailing 10-7 in the third quarter, Don Shula made perhaps the biggest coaching move of his great career. Shula knew he probably waited too long to bench an ineffective Morrall in Super Bowl III. With this game still close, he wasn’t making the same mistake again. For only the second time in his playoff career Morrall left the field with his team trailing. He would never throw another postseason pass again. Finally healed from his injuries, Bob Griese entered the game and immediately tossed a 52-yard bomb to Warfield to set up a short touchdown run that gave the Dolphins the lead for good. After another TD, Miami withstood a Steelers’ comeback, picking off two Terry Bradshaw passes, and held on for the hard-fought 21-17 victory.

Morrall hoped Shula would give him the starting nod in Super Bowl VII but deep down he had to know that wasn’t going to happen. Shula saw firsthand the spark Griese gave his team against the Steelers and Shula probably already suffered from post-traumatic Super Bowl stress syndrome thanks to Morrall’s meltdown four years before. So from the sidelines the perfect season’s key figure watched Bob Griese lead the Miami Dolphins to a triumph in Super Bowl VII, completing the first and still only perfect season in NFL history. Still, despite the benching Morrall’s story is still the hook on which any history of the perfect season has to rest. 38-years-old, Morrall came off the bench and never lost. He was perfect and ultimately responsible for more of those 17 wins than Griese was. Morrall earned a place in pro football history. 1972’s 17-0 season provided the triumphant coda to his long strange career, which finally concluded after the 1976 season at the age of 42.

The Curious Career of Earl Morrall

Earl Morrall, Part One
Earl Morrall, Part Two
Earl Morrall, Part Three
Earl Morrall, Part Four
Fun Earl Morrall Facts

Monday, September 17, 2007

Dolphins 2007: It's Ugly

Looks like I spent too much time looking for the good things in my preseason analysis when I should have been concentrating on all the flashing red warning signs. I never realized I was such a homer. 8-8? Forget it. This 2007 Miami Dolphins team could be the worst team in the league right now and if you see any reason to think it's going to get better please tell me how 'cause I don't see it. No offense. Terrible special teams. A defense prone to giving up big plays at the worst possible times. And a coach who shows no signs of knowing what the hell he's doing. Trent Green looks finished. Ronnie Brown? I have no idea what the problem is. Cameron won't give him enough carries to let him get anything going. Chatman can't possibly be a better back but facts are he's outproduced Brown for whatever that's worth. The running game's nonexistent really. And Cameron gave up on it against the Cowboys when the game was still close in the 3rd quarter. 'Cause you really want to be putting the ball in Trent Green's hands as much as possible. Especially with all the big play sure-handed weapons he's got. Actually Chambers hasn't been half-bad and the Book made a nice TD grab yesterday. But David Martin stinks. Ted Ginn Jr? Who's he? I haven't seen anybody by that name doing anything. Nothing to do now but give it a few more games and hope Beck finally gets a chance to play. Maybe he and Brady Quinn will each get the starting nod in the same week; there's no point in sticking with Green much longer. Might as well save him from the inevitable concussion. Did you see what Dallas was saying about him?

"Players studied. Coaches studied. We saw some things." "Tell what we saw," cornerback Jacques Reeves said at the next locker. "Not me," Hamlin said. "Trent Green likes to get rid of the ball fast," Reeves said. "That's what we saw. For good reason, too. He has, what, seven concussions?" Reeves was told Green has been adamant about having just one concussion, the nasty one last year. "Naw, he's got like seven concussions," Reeves said. "The limit is eight, I think. So he doesn't want to get hit. Can you blame him? But if he's thinking about getting rid of the ball fast, we're going to think about it, too."

I know. It's only two games. Certainly way too soon to render a verdict on Cameron. We know he didn't inherit much to work with. This franchise can't afford another Dave Wannstedt.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Curious Career of Earl Morrall, Part Two

In the Colts’ final preseason game of 1968, Johnny Unitas suffered a severe injury to his right elbow (he’d never be the same player again). The Colts had no choice but to turn over the reins to their newly acquired QB, Earl Morrall. As he had so many times before Morrall responded. That’s putting it mildly really. The 1968 Baltimore Colts were one the great teams in NFL history, a juggernaut on both sides of the ball. Morrall played spectacular football, earning All-Pro honors, winning the MVP award and leading the Colts to a 13-1 record. Johnny Who? Morrall kept it going in his first postseason game ever, completing 13 of 22 passes for 280 yards and 2 TD’s (1 INT) in a 24-14 win over Minnesota. Red flags appeared the following week as a less effective Morrall went 11 for 25 for only 169 yards with an interception and no TD’s. But who cared? Baltimore rolled 34-0 to set up a date with the New York Jets and an all-but guaranteed victory in Super Bowl III.

After sitting out almost the entire 1968 season due to his injury, Johnny Unitas hoped to return to start in the Super Bowl but his coach, Don Shula, had other ideas. The Colts hadn't missed a beat with Morrall at the controls and he'd guided them to the league's best record. Unitas was a legend, but Shula had faith in his MVP and he went with what brung him. The Colts fielded great teams from 1964 to 1967 but Unitas was unable to lead them to a single title. Now Morrall was primed to do what Unitas couldn’t, deliver a Super Bowl championship to Baltimore. Everyone and his brother expected that to happen but, as we all know, history and Joe Namath had other plans: the greatest upset in pro football history.

Previously, Morrall succeeded when entrusted with the sarting job. Now, in the biggest game of his career, Morrall self-destructed, flamed out, and flat-out choked. The signature play of the debacle came with 25 seconds left in the first half with the Colts trailing the Jets 7-0. From the Jets' 41-yard line the Colts called a flea-flicker. Tom Matte took the handoff from Morrall and then flipped it back to him. The pass was intended to go to Jimmy Orr and indeed Orr was wide open; the Jets bit on the fake. All alone at the Jets’ 10-yard line Orr waved frantically to get Morrall’s attention but somehow Morrall never saw him. Instead of a momentum-changing, last second tying TD before the half, Morrall threw his third pick of the day. To this day nobody knows how Morrall missed Orr. Some have speculated Orr’s jersey blended in with the uniforms of the marching band headed for the end zone but who knows? Morrall stunk up the joint when the band was off the field too. Shula sent Unitas into the game in the 3rd quarter but it was too late. At least Morrall manfully accepted the humiliation of his third quarter benching saying, "If I was a coach and my team was being quarterbacked by a guy who couldn't get the ball over the goal line, I'd sure as hell do something". Morrall’s final numbers: 6 of 17, 71 yards, 0 TD’s, 4 picks. Ugly. There’s no getting around it. More than any other factor Morrall’s horrible play cost the Colts the Super Bowl.

Morrall went back to the bench in 1969, the team was thoroughly mediocre, and the Colts’ and Morrall’s window of opportunity appeared to be closed for good. But in 1970 the Colts finally caught some breaks. Thanks to the NFL-AFL merger, the Colts now found themselves in a weak conference and they made the most of it. The Colts finished the 1970 NFL season 6th and 7th respectively in points scored and allowed but in their conference, the AFC, that was good enough for 1st in scoring and 2nd in scoring defense. It all added up to an 11-2-1 record and a return trip to the Super Bowl. Morrall played little that year but he was excellent, far better than Unitas who was now only a shell of his former self. But despite Unitas’ sub-par play the Colts remained good enough to glide past the AFC’s inferior competition into Super Bowl V.

No one could call the Dallas Cowboys inferior competition however. That team was loaded with talent especially on defense. As the game progressed Unitas tried his best but his eroding skills were useless against the Doomsday Defense. The Colts D played just as tough against the Cowboys’ Craig Morton and the combination of great defenses and bad quarterbacking resulted in the worst-played, sloppiest Super Bowl in history. They called it the Blunder Bowl when it was all over. 10 turnovers. 14 penalties. Even Baltimore’s lone first half score came off of a mistake: Unitas overthrew Roy Hinton, but Hinton and Dallas CB Mel Renfro each slightly tipped the ball and it wound up in the fortunate arms of John Mackey who took it to the house for a 75-yard TD.

The end came for Unitas in the 2d quarter when he got smacked by the Cowboys’ George Andrie. Cracked ribs. Done. So now the roles reversed from two years earlier. Morrall entered a Super Bowl to replace Unitas. It was almost too good to be true. Earl Morrall, the goat of Super Bowl III, now given a chance for Super Bowl redemption, a chance to make up for his self-immolation two years before. And, as if right out of a feel-good sports movie, Morrall found redemption, becoming the first and still only QB to ever come off the bench and lead his team to a come-from-behind Super Bowl triumph. Forget Johnny Unitas. Forget Joe Namath. This time the hero was Earl Morrall.

And yet...

Morrall didn’t throw a single touchdown pass. He didn’t lead his team on any long scoring drives. The stats show he didn’t play particularly well. 7/15/147 and a pick. He certainly came out like gangbusters though. Trailing 13-6, Morrall first touched the ball at his own 48-yard-line with less than 3 minutes to go in the 1st half. A 26-yard pass, a 21-yard pass, and just like that Morrall had his team at the Dallas 2. Three rushes totaling 0 yards followed. On 4th down the Colts gambled and lost. With 16 seconds left Morrall overthrew Tom Mitchell in the end zone and the deflated Colts went to the locker room still trailing. Morrall tried again in the second half. The Colts fumbled the 2d-half kickoff but Dallas returned the favor a few plays later. Morrall then drove Baltimore from its own 10-yard line into FG range. O’Brien missed. Continuing to plug away on the Colts’ next possession Morrall tossed a 45-yard bomb to move his team to the Dallas 11-yard-line. But the third drive was not the charm either. Morrall reverted to old Super Bowl habits and threw an end-zone interception to Chuck Howley. Still not giving up, Morrall led a fourth consecutive drive into Dallas territory. From the Cowboys 30 the Colts called a halfback option pass to Hinton that pushed the ball to the Dallas 5 where Hinton promptly fumbled it into the end zone for a touchback. Four consecutive potential scoring drives. Zero points. Normally that would doom any team but like I said earlier the Colts caught some breaks that season. And the biggest came in the form of Morrall’s opposite number Craig Morton.

The list of quarterbacks who’ve lost multiple Super Bowls without ever winning one is a short one: Fran Tarkenton, Jim Kelly, and Morton. And Morton’s the one not in the Hall of Fame (for good reason). Watching Morton give the game away Morrall finally discovered that most important of Super Bowl lessons: don’t turn it over. Or at least turn it over less than your opponent. In short order, Morton threw a pick that the Colts returned to the Dallas 3. Baltimore ran it in two plays later. After trailing most of the afternoon the Colts had tied the score with 7:35 left to play. Followiing an exchange of punts Morton obliged with another INT, this one returned to the Dallas 28. Three plays later Jim O’Brien kicked the winning field goal with 5 seconds to spare. Morrall’s two scoring drives measured three yards apiece. He completed not a single pass on either. Unless you count his holds on the FG and extra-point snaps he had nothing to do with any point scored that day. But he won. In the end, Morrall didn’t make any critical mistakes to cost his team the game. That’s all that mattered. Morrall cost his team a championship in 1968. He helped them steal one in 1970.

The following season, Morrall played almost as much as Unitas due to Unitas’ assorted injuries and neither man played well. The Colts still reached the playoffs but it was all Unitas in the postseason and at season’s end, the Colts waived the 38-year-old Morrall. His long career finally appeared to be over.

The Curious Career of Earl Morrall

Earl Morrall, Part One
Earl Morrall, Part Two
Earl Morrall, Part Three
Earl Morrall, Part Four
Fun Earl Morrall Facts

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Curious Career of Earl Morrall, Part One

The Curious Career of Earl Morrall

After leading the Michigan State Spartans to a rare Rose Bowl victory over USC, Earl Morrall became the 1st round selection of the San Francisco 49’rs in 1956. Backing up future Hall-of-Famer Y.A. Tittle, Morrall played little that year and after the season the Pittsburgh Steelers made the Niners an offer for Morrall they couldn’t refuse: two first-round draft picks and linebacker Marv Matuszak for Morrall and guard Mike Sandusky. Morrall rewarded the Steelers huge investment in him by playing well enough to earn a Pro Bowl berth in his first season as a starter. The team improved by a game and the future looked bright. But two games into the 1958 season the Steelers suddenly decided to cut bait with Morrall and go with proven talent, trading him to Detroit for the great Bobby Layne. Now Layne's one of the greatest QB’s in NFL history but he was 32-years-old at the time and a legendary boozer. Layne subsequently had some success with Pittsburgh but never recaptured the championship form of his Lions days.

As for Morrall, on his third team in three years, he found himself stuck on the Lions bench backing up Tobin Rote in 1958. In 1959 they split time, with Morrall playing well and Rote a black hole of ineptitude (5 TD’s, 19 INT’s and a 26.8 QB rating). Morrall’s reward for his superior play? The Lions stuck him back on the bench for 1960 and brought in a new QB to start, Jim Ninowski. Though not as bad as Rote Ninowski was bad enough while Morrall played great in limited action. Morrall earned more playing time in 1961 and again outperformed Ninowski. So the Lions made the obvious move...for them. They brought in yet another new starting QB, Milt Plum, and pushed Morrall back to the sidelines. While the Lions had a great season, going 11-3, Plum played poorly while, again, Morrall outshone the starter when given the chance to play. At last the Lions brass could no longer overlook the obvious.

Up to that point in his career, teams had spent a total of three number one picks and a Hall of Fame quarterback on Earl Morrall. The Detroit Lions traded away the greatest QB in their franchise’s history to get him. Five long years later they finally gave Morrall his chance to start. And Morrall didn’t disappoint. He was simply tremendous in 1963, throwing for 24 touchdowns, 2,621 yards, and finishing fifth in passer rating. The team declined due to drop-offs in their running game and defense plus some plain old bad luck (they lost 6 games by a TD or less) but Morrall showed what he could do with an opportunity. Unfortunately, no sooner had he made the Lions’ QB job his own than he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury the following season. Not willing to wait for Morrall to heal, the Lions decided to go with Plum for good and sent Morrall to the New York Giants in 1965 (was Matt Millen the GM back then too?).

Undaunted as usual, Morrall picked up right where he left off in 1963. Fifth in passing yards, fourth in passing TD’s, and fifth again in passer rating. The Giants improved by 5 wins with Morrall at the helm. So the starting job would surely be his again in 1966 right? I think we all know where this is going. Yeah, he had a great year but so what, this is Earl Morrall we’re talking about. Even he had to know that a great season was no guarantee of a job. And it wasn’t but the Giants did the Lions one better, not just finding a new starter to replace Morrall, but instead opting for some bizarre quarterback hydra of Morrall, Gary Wood, and Tom Kennedy. Morrall couldn’t thrive in this three-headed situation (who could?) and his numbers suffered but they were a bit better than Wood's, the team’s attempts leader. Kennedy played the best but he was out of football the next year. After winning but a single game in 1966, one of the worst seasons of all time, New York mercifully pulled the plug on their insane experiment, traded for Fran Tarkenton and sent Morrall back to his accustomed position: the bench.

We now see the pattern emerge: an NFL team gives Morrall a chance, Morrall comes through in a big way, and his team can’t wait to then give his job to somebody else. Getting pushed to the sidelines by Y.A. Tittle, Bobby Layne, and Fran Tarkenton must have been tough enough, but Jim Ninowski, Tobin Rote, Milt Plum, and Gary Wood too? I wish I could tell you why so many teams gave up on Morrall. Was it his lack of mobility? Could he not get along with his coaches? Did he sleep with his GM’s wives? Did he refuse to help old ladies cross the street? Booze? Drugs? Cross-dressing? Bad breath? B.O.? Whatever the reasons when the Giants traded the 34-year-old Morrall to the Baltimore Colts in 1968 it looked like he’d finally run out of chances. The Colts already had a starting QB, Johnny Unitas, and Morrall wasn’t beating out Johnny U. But as it turned out the most interesting parts of the strange saga of Earl Morrall were still to come.

The Curious Career of Earl Morrall

Earl Morrall, Part One
Earl Morrall, Part Two
Earl Morrall, Part Three
Earl Morrall, Part Four
Fun Earl Morrall Facts

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Even More Worthless Predictions

Miami Dolphins 2007:

I'm having a real hard time getting a handle on what Cameron's doing with the Dolphins. On the bright side he appears to be putting an actual offensive system in place (which is more than their last couple of coaches have done) and he's aggresively bringing in the players he thinks can do well in that system: Green and Beck, Ginn, Lorenzo Booker, David Martin. (It'll be years before we can fairly judge the Ginn/Quinn thing so no point doing it now). I don't like the acquisition of too many vets when clearly this team is years away from being a contender. Green and Joey Porter come to mind. At least Cam jettisoned Hakim and the Schles after seeing what they couldn't do. And what the hell are all these Ronnie Brown mindgames? Returning punts? Making him fighting for his job with journeyman Jesse Chatman? Does Cam not like Ronnie or is it just some crazy motivational scheme? Clearly Brown's our best offensive player and Cam's got to know that. I'm not too worried about the seeming lack of production in preseason. Cameron already said he was more concerned with practicing fundamentals than in running anything to exotic.

Ok, so how will Miami fare this year? My guess is they'll be a bit better than last year's 6-10 squad. Taylor and Thomas are aging and it's a shame Miami wasted their primes by failing to field a decent offense (the flip-side of Marino's career), but overall the defensive unit should still be strong, especially with the addition of Porter. So the question is the offense. There are a lot of reasons to expect a disaster. A 37-year-old QB coming off a horrific concussion, a so far disappointing and injury prone running back, a star receiver who alternates highlight-reel catches with easy drops, and a #1 draft pick who's shown little since a January foot injury and isn't known for his great route running. And let's not forget last year's terrible offensive line. Still, I do expect improvement. Cameron knows how to build an offense. After the last couple of clowns we used as coaches, that's not nothing. I don't care what Trent Green might have lost ability-wise, he will be better than Joey Harrington. We don't need much to improve at that position. And that suddenly improves the receiving corps. I've written about this before but losing Wes Welker won't hurt at all. Miami came out ahead in that trade. Welker's versatile, a gamer, etc., but he's not fast and safety valve guys are easy to replace. The Dolphins needed playmakers. As for Ronnie Brown, given the terrible o-line and abysmal quarterbacking the last 2 years, his 4.3 YPC is a great number. If he stays healthy this should be his biggest year ever. Cameron will find ways to use him in the passing game. The offensive line should be better with the new blood, especially Satele, and Hudson Houck's coaching. No playoffs. Completely independently of Jeff, I also conclude this team improves to 8-8. (And yeah, Miami wins their opener).

Super Bowl:
1) AFC. The consensus pick are the Patriots (overrated!). A lot of people like the Colts to repeat (they won't get all the postseason breaks this time). The Chargers may have the best talent (and the worst coach, Norv the loser). But I'm going with a team I think people are overlooking: the Baltimore Ravens. The defense remains the best in the conference and the team's biggest weakness last year, Jamal Lewis, is gone, replaced by Willis McGahee. Lewis looked washed up in 2006 and I think BAL might have beaten Indy in the playoffs if the dude could have done anything at all. Having seen the Colts destroy the Saints the other night though, it's a really tough call deciding between the two of them. Manning's just on another level than everyone else now. If IND can regularly play defense like that all year, I don't see how anybody stops them.

2) NFC. With no signs that Rex Grossman has improved, the Bears won't make a return trip to the Super Bowl. So I'll go with Philadelphia. McNabb's the best QB in the NFC when he plays and the defense is strong. They had every chance to knock off the Bears in the playoffs and that was with Jeff Garcia at QB.

Addendum: Is anything more worthless than preseason predictions? I can only think of one thing: a football blog.

2007 Predictions (Football Edition*)

NFL Sunday is tomorrow. Is everyone as excited as I am?

OK. So this is my last day to predict (guess at) how the Dolphins will do, before they start doing it (or start having it done to them).

I am incapable of just saying, 8-8, or 10-6, or 1-15 and leaving it at that. Oh no, I have to be meticulous about it. Game by game meticulous.

9/9 at WASH: I think the Skins will be bad. New QB vs. our (very) old QB. We win 28-17, go Trent. 1-0!

9/16 DALL: I have a good feeling about this one. Home crowd that I can't afford to be a part of, Parcells-abandoned 'boys, we win a close one 24-23. 2-0, but don't get too excited b/c...

9/23 at NYJ: Ken O'Brien and Freeman McNeil come out of retirement for this one game, get 400 and 150 yards, respectively. Annual arrrgravaton for me, 21-30 loss. 2-1.

9/30 OAK: Daunte's revenge? We'd deserve it, but it won't happen. They are awful. He says now. 31-14. 3-1.

10/7 at HOU: the early part of our schedule is sweet, yes? 20-10 yawner, 4-1.

10/14 at CLEV: This one's for you Jim. We realize we can't be 5-1 even though we're playing another suck team like yours. And it rains, too. 13-17 zzz...4-2.

10/21 NE: oh, please. They'll kill us. Welcome home, Wes Welker...oh, GOD, we missed you...17-38. 4-3.

10/28 NYG in LONDON: Oi, wet n' cold over 'ere, innit? Don't order any kind of "pudding" there, boys...and don't look for veggies 'cos they don't have any. Culture shock favors the G-Men. 19-24. 4-4.

11/11 BUFF-a-LOWWW: We needed that bye week. And a very beatable opponent like our old nemesis. 31-10 romp, Back in Black at 5-4.

(how wrong am I so far? Is this haunting me circa December or what?)

11/18 at PHIL: they're good. we're not so much. 22-35 (we got a late 2-pt. conversion is why). 5-5.

11/26 at PITT: we wilt under the MNF spotlight. 24-27. Game highlight is a drunken Charles "Chuck" Jablonski of Harrisburg, PA, running onto the field only to be clocked by Zach Thomas. Sadly, this riles up the fans, and Jaws, against us. 5-6.

12/2 NYJ: Because I want to beat them so badly...they win. 27 to our 21. 5-7.

12/9 @BUFF: Because they want to beat us so badly, BUT have Marshawn Lynch instead of Thomas Jones, they can't. We're 6-7, no idea what the score was.

12/16 BALT: I realized that if I got all the other scores right, I'd regret not putting in a random guess at last week's score. So we won 24-10. Why am I not talking about BALT? Because they are more boring than watching paint dry. McNair misses this game due to injury. We win 17-10, all points due to defensive scores. Yes, including the field goals. back to .500, 7-7.

12/23 at NE: Unless they've already clinched and are only playing reserves, we lose again to a really good team. Many graphics compare our free-agent pickups and commentators make snide remarks about Hakim, Campbell, and Schlesinger. Which is ironic b/c the Schles will be a sideline reporter during the game, run up to the booth, and beat the crap out of the commentators. Anyway, 19-32. 7-8.

12/30 CIN: Happy belated Hanukkah, Miami. Cincinnati continues to screw up in late-season games. Our 35-24 win fills us with hope for Cameron's second season. 8-8. We finish second in the division because our division also has the Bills and Jets. Who both end up 0-16 despite the Jets having beaten us twice, and splitting their series with each other. DAT'S WHY DEY PLAY DA GAMES!

AFC EAST: 1. NE; 2. MIA; 3. NYJ; 4. BUFF.

AFC NORTH: (still Central to me) 1. BALT; 2. PITT; 3. CIN; distant 4. CLEV.

AFC SOUTH: 1. IND; 2. JAX; 3. TENN; 4. HOU.

AFC WEST: 1. SD; 2. DEN; 3. KC; 4. OAK (getting better though)

AFC Championship: Brady over Manning in a game in which the two quarterbacks are the only players ever mentioned by game announcers...

NFC EAST: 1. PHIL; 2. DALL; 3. NYG; 4. WASH.

NFC NORTH: I can't stop the double spacing. Why is this? anyway, it's LIONS then Bears then Packers then Vikes (WRs, please apply). Oh. And while Favre again starts every damn game, he only makes 5 TD passes. Dan Marino's record remains intact YESSSS!, though there is much speculation (color me shocked) that Brett "may" return for 2008...

NFC SOUTH: NO then TB then CAR then ATL. Best wishes to Joey Harrington and Chris Redman, so that the evil taint of coach- and canine-killer Vick can be minimized ASAP. But since when do I get what I wish for?

NFC WEST: god this blog is taking forever...yes, to write. What, it's not sheer pleasure to read? Where was I? Where am I? Oh of course. Sitting on my tuchas as usual. STL over SEA over AZ over SF in a very tough division.

NFC Championship: Philadelphia over N'awlins.

Super Bowl XLII: Philadelphia 34, New England 30.

BTW, I also predict that I'm going to be wrong. I'm always wrong. This blog was Rob's stupid idea anyway. And is brought to you by the Tinsley Sports Network. (?)

*Not to imply that I'm making any other kind of predictions for 2007.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Fun NFL Facts 3: Earl Morrall Edition

While researching a lengthy piece on Earl Morrall's career (which I'll post as soon as it's done), I discovered the following fun facts:

1) Replacing Johnny Unitas in 1968, Morrall won the NFL MVP award that year. The winner of the award the following year: Roman Gabriel. Replacing Bob Griese in 1972, Morrall won the Comeback Player of the Year award that year. The winner of the award the following year: Roman Gabriel.

2) Primarily a backup QB in his 21-year career, Morrall led his teams in passing attempts just 5 times. Each of those 5 seasons was for a different franchise: the 1957 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 1963 Detroit Lions, the 1965 New York Giants, the 1968 Baltimore Colts, and the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

3) Morrall’s backups on the 1957 Pittsburgh Steelers were future Hall of Famer Len Dawson and future Congressman and Vice-Presidential nominee Jack Kemp. After moving to the American Football League, both men played in 7 Pro Bowls.

4) Morrall backed up 4 Hall of Famers in his career, Y.A. Tittle, Fran Tarkenton, Johnny Unitas, and Bob Griese, and was traded for another, Bobby Layne.

The Curious Career of Earl Morrall

Earl Morrall, Part One
Earl Morrall, Part Two
Earl Morrall, Part Three
Earl Morrall, Part Four
Fun Earl Morrall Facts