Longtime NFL quarterback Earl Morrall dies at 79

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Earl Morrall, a quarterback who played for six different teams over 21 NFL seasons and helped get two different teams to the Super Bowl, has died at the age of 79.

Morrall is best remembered for his years under coach Don Shula, whom he played for on Super Bowl teams both in Baltimore and in Miami.

With the Baltimore Colts in 1968, Morrall was the NFL’s regular season Most Valuable Player, leading the league with 26 touchdown passes and leading his team to a 13-1 record. That season is, however, remembered mostly for the Colts’ upset loss to the Jets in Super Bowl III, a game in which Shula benched Morrall for Johnny Unitas.

But Shula thought highly of Morrall, and in 1972, after Shula had left Baltimore to coach the Dolphins, he brought Morrall with him. That year Morrall started most of the season after Bob Griese went down with an injury, and Morrall helped the Dolphins go 17-0, the only perfect season in NFL history.

He was an unbelievable guy,” Shula told the Miami Herald today. “There were no negatives with him. He was the best guy in the locker room. Great in practice. And on the field he made big plays in big games. He was just a fine human being and that transcended everything else. It wasn’t just about his career. In everything he tried, people recognized what a fine individual he was.”

After a stellar career at Michigan State in which Morrall led the Spartans to a victory in the Rose Bowl (and also played for their baseball team in the College World Series), Morrall was selected by the 49ers with the second overall pick in the 1956 NFL draft. But Morrall lasted just one season in San Francisco, and played more punter than quarterback, before he was traded to Pittsburgh. A year later he was traded again, this time to Detroit in exchange for Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne, and he lasted seven seasons with the Lions. In 1965 he was traded again, this time to the Giants, and although he played well in his first season in New York, the team phased him out as it began a rebuilding effort in 1966.

But once he finally found himself traded to a good team with a coach who knew how to use him, Morrall thrived with the Colts in 1968, and he thrived again with the Dolphins in 1972. During the 1975 season the 41-year-old Morrall became the oldest player ever to start and win a game, and he stuck around as a backup in Miami through the 1976 season before retiring just weeks short of his 43rd birthday. Although he spent much of his time in Baltimore and Miami as a backup to future Hall of Famers in Unitas and Griese, he’s remembered fondly by longtime fans of both teams as a player who exuded greatness when his team needed it.

42 responses to “Longtime NFL quarterback Earl Morrall dies at 79

  1. While Bob Griese gets all the acclaim for quarterbacking the Dolphins to their perfect, 16-0 season in 1972, it was Earl Morrall who did most or much of the QBing that season. But that was back before ESPN and the network’s it’s all-about-the- “franchise QB” propaganda had kicked in. Those were the days.
    RIP, Mr. Morrall.

  2. RIP Earl the Pearl, you had an admirable career and even more importantly you were an admirable individual!

  3. The Morrall of this story is, if you haven’t established yourself as a starting quarterback by the age of 35, don’t give up. You still have 10 good years ahead.

  4. There is no perfect season without this underrated journeyman. Earl was always a consummate professional & the ideal back up QB. Don Shula knew he was a special player. RIP Mr. Morall.

  5. I feel really old now. I remember him well as a kid. R.I.P. Earl and thank you for your N.F.L. contributions and my boyhood memories.

  6. Rest in peace Earl.

    He had a great career, and hopefully his performances and prominent role in the Dolphins 1972 undefeated season, as well as the Colts 1968 season.

  7. Remember him as a good guy who had a great year as a starter when Unitas was injured early in the season, but he had a bad SB and Shula stuck with him too long, possibly out of loyalty for a good season. Had Shula pulled him earlier for Unitas, Colts probably would not have lost that game to the Jets.

  8. RIP Earl. Baltimore has lost two great Earl’s now!

    As a Baltimore Colt fan, he was stellar as Johnny U’s backup. Hated when he went to Miami with Shula, but he was such a good guy you were happy for his success there.

  9. My first wife and my first son were born in Baltimore, I was a long time fan, until Miami got the Dolphins, I still remember earl being pull for Bob after his leg injury, he left with class, way to many player today have no idea what that word means. RIP Earl. Bill

  10. I have many memories of this great man. That season in ’68 when he took the reins of The Colts and had the year of his life was truly amazing. I vividly remember, as a senior in high school watching SB111. Sometimes I STILL can barely believe what actually happened that day. At that point in history, The Colts were as close to a CERTAIN pick as anything could have been, and yet, The Jets won and I can still picture Broadway Joe running off the field giving the “we’re # 1 signal.” RIP Mr Morrall.

  11. I met Earl a few years back. He was a truly nice person, and talked football with me for 10-15 minutes. RIP Earl.

  12. What great memories I have as a kid watching him on the field for the Dolphins. He was like a coach on the field. He was also a nice and gentle man off the field. The NFL could use a few guys like him to offset all the cry-babies and monster egos. Old School!

  13. Why are so many people giving thumbs down to posts paying tribute to the life of Earl Morrall??? Some people have no respect.

    Morrall was all class and whether he was in Baltimore or Miami he was all about the TEAM. He basically led two teams to Super Bowls but wasn’t able to play in either one because the QB he was replacing got healthy. Yet he never complained, and he was always ready when his number was called.

    Thoughts and prayers to the Morrall family.

  14. This is sad. Earl was a friend of my father’s. He was a great guy. He was underrated as a player. I don’t think his stats accurately reflect how good he was. There are two kinds of players in the NFL. Pro football players and Professional football players….Earl was a Professional.

  15. After he retired from the NFL, he was QB coach at U of Miami. He coached Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinnie Testaverde. Not too many QB coaches can claim three players at that level.

  16. RIP Earl Morrall, the definition of a Professional QB, a long time backup who was always prepared and performed well as a starter when needed whether it be long or short term, a Pro’s Pro.

  17. I’m old enough to remember Morrall in the 75 season, but not earlier. Didn’t he play through the AFC title game in 72 because of Griese’s injury? And didn’t Shula go with Griese in the Super Bowl anyway? Since Morrall continued to play for Miami I’m assuming there was no hard feelings, but he couldn’t have felt good about being replaced for the SB after guiding the Dolphins undefeated most of the season.

  18. To All the thumbs down absolutely no class…Met Earl at the 30 and 40 yr Dolphins Anniversary party,He was very friendly and just a great guy RIP Earl.

  19. It’s funny how some of the greatest clutch players of all time are also very humble. Earl was always selfless and humble, respectful of his teammates, coaches and opponents. He never was one to brag, but would instead prepare and then kick the opponent’s keisters on the field. Wish there were more players with his type of dignity and grace in today’s sports.

  20. RIP Earl, one of the greats, never called attention to himself, a true professional. A scarcity these days.

  21. I was a kid when he was at Miami and was already an old man, with a crewcut, but he took care of Miami when Griese went down. Props to him, as he was clutch when he needed to be. RIP Earl Morrall, they don’t make them like you anymore. 👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍

  22. I was seven years old when the dolphins won that superbowl and they we’re my favorite team, outside of the Saints. I do remember beating the colts the year they went unbeaten 44 to 0 Earl wore the colts out that day. He wasn’t a bad QB didn’t know much about him as a person but my prayers go out to his family

  23. RIP Earl. Thank you for all your past NFL efforts and for your contributions to the 1972 Dolphins undefeated season. Your memory will live on forever.

  24. IMHO he’s the greatest backup QB of all time (the NFL Network’s show “Top Ten Backup QBs” lists Tom Brady as number 1…ridiculous! Brady is NOT a backup!) and no way do Dolphins go undefeated without him. RIP!

  25. Dolphin nation owes a huge debt of gratitude to Earl. Without him, there likely wouldn’t have been the only undefeated season in the history of the NFL. I know the thumbs down A++++++s are hating on the 17-0, too bad. Just a shame that it comes at the expense of one of the all time great team first guys to ever play the game.

    The Dolphin jerseys should have a 15 patch this year in memory of a team mate who helped put them on the map.

    For the thumbs downers on this article; there’s a special place for you. Enjoy watching the undefeated season over and over, for eternity.

  26. He was a gog in that bruising Dolphin TEAM when Griese got broke he stepped in and the machine thundered on until the Griese was ready to go again. What that man achieved will never be forgotten he is what all the championships teams have had to have. RIP

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