Earl Morrall, a 21-year NFL veteran who played quarterback for six NFL teams and was the league’s MVP in 1968 while filling in for an injured Johnny Unitas with the Baltimore Colts, has died, according to the Associated Press. He was 79.
Morrall was the second overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1956 NFL Draft after earning All-America honors at Michigan State. Morrall, however, played just one year for the 49ers, primarily as their punter, as a rookie, although he did start four games at quarterback and completed 48.7 percent of his passes for 621 yards and a touchdown with six interceptions.
He was traded prior to the 1957 season to the Pittsburgh Steelers and was traded again a year later as part of the deal that sent Bobby Layne from the Detroit Lions to Pittsburgh.
Morrall was with the Lions for six years before he was traded to the New York Giants in 1965 and was dealt to the Baltimore Colts in 1968 to back up Unitas.
But Unitas was hurt in the Colts’ final preseason game and Morrall led Baltimore to a 13-1 record and earned All-Pro honors as well as winning the Most Valuable Player award, throwing for a league-leading 26 touchdowns and 17 interceptions while completing 57.4 percent of his passes for 2,909 yards. The Colts beat the Vikings and Browns to reach Super Bowl III, but were upset by the Jets. Morrall was yanked from the Super Bowl after going 6-for-17 with three interceptions.
But two years later, Morrall relieved an ineffective Unitas to help the Colts to their first Super Bowl title, throwing for 147 yards in Super Bowl V against Dallas.
In 1972, at age 38, Morrall filled in for an injured Bob Griese and led the Dolphins to nine victories during their perfect season. He also quarterbacked the Dolphins to playoff wins over Cleveland and Pittsburgh before he was replaced by Griese for Super Bowl VII against Washington.
He retired after the 1976 season at the age of 42, having started 102 games at quarterback over a 21-year career.
Despite modest stats in 1972, Morrall earned first-team All-Pro honors for his role in Miami’s perfect season and he was also named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. Much as was the case when he went to the Colts, Morrall had been acquired prior to the 1972 season off waivers from the Colts.
It might have been the best $100 (the NFL waiver claim fee at the time) the Dolphins ever spent.
Morrall went on to become the quarterbacks coach at the University of Miami in 1979, working with future NFL signal-callers Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde. He also served for several years on the city council in Davie, Fla., eventually serving as mayor (h/t Baltimore Sun).