Former Dolphins quarterback Earl Morrall dies at 79
APR 25, 2014 2:10p ET
Former Miami Dolphins quarterback Earl Morrall has died at the age of 79.
Morrall was an integral part of the 1972 Dolphins, the only undefeated team in NFL history. Morrall threw for 1,360 yards and 11 touchdowns while starting nine games that year in place of Bob Griese, who suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle five weeks into the season.
Despite his 9-0 record as starter, Morrall was replaced by Griese in the second half of the AFC championship game. Griese would go on to start Super Bowl VII, but Morrall's value to the team that season was not overlooked as he earned the inaugural NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
"I was very saddened to learn about Earl’s passing," said former Dolphins coach Don Shula in a statement released by the team. "He was someone who was as good a person as he was a player. When I think about Earl, what stands out the most is what a competitor he was on the field and how special he was off it."
Morrall was born May 17, 1934, in Muskegon, Mich., and played baseball and football while at Michigan State University. Although he had an opportunity to play professional baseball, Morrall chose a career in the NFL.
San Francisco selected Morrall second overall in the 1956 draft. He lasted only one season with the 49ers before being dealt along with guard Mike Sandusky to Pittsburgh in exchange for linebacker Marv Matuszak and two first-round picks. Just over a year later, the Steelers traded Morrall to the Detroit Lions for quarterback Bobby Layne.
In 1968, after seven seasons in Detroit, Morrall was traded to the Baltimore Colts, where Johnny Unitas was the unquestioned starter. However, when Unitas suffered an arm injury in the team's final exhibition game, Morrall was thrust into the starting lineup. Morrall experienced the most prolific season of his career -- 2,909 yards passing and 26 TDs -- leading the Colts to Super Bowl III and winning the NFL MVP award.
While Super Bowl III would end in a loss to the New York Jets, Morrall redeemed himself in Super Bowl V, leading the Colts to a last-second victory over the Dallas Cowboys after replacing an injured Unitas once again.
The Colts waived Morrall following the 1971 season. The Dolphins claimed him, reuniting Morrall with Shula, who had coached the quarterback during their respective stints in Baltimore.
"All Earl ever did was win games for me, whether it was as a starter or coming off the bench," Shula said. "What I remember the most, of course, is what he did in 1972 when he replaced Bob Griese after Bob's injury and kept our Perfect Season going until Bob returned in the playoffs.
"But Earl won a lot of games for me in Baltimore as well. And he did it in such a humble way -- he was a great team player who would do whatever was asked of him. And he was an outstanding leader who inspired confidence in his teammates."
Morrall retired after the 1976 season, finishing with a 63-37-3 record as a starter. He threw for 20,809 yards and 148 touchdowns over 21 seasons.
"If he had a tip when I was playing and he was on the sideline, he would always make it a point to come up to me and let me know what he saw," said Griese via a statement released by the Dolphins. "And it was the same way when I was hurt and he was playing. He would always come over to me when things weren't going well and would always ask what I saw or what he was missing. We had a great relationship and we were a better team because of it.
"There would not have been a perfect season without Earl Morrall. My wife, Shay, and I want to extend our condolences to the entire Morrall family. He will be missed."
After retiring from the NFL, Morrall joined the University of Miami coaching staff in 1979. Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde were among the quarterbacks he tutored during his tenure.
Morrall eventually went into politics and served as mayor of Davie, Fla., in 1992.