Bob Griese on the death of former Dolphins teammate Earl Morrall

Earl Morrall, right, stepped in for starting quarterback Bob Griese when the latter was injured early in the 1972 season.

Earl Morrall, who died Friday at the age of 79, served as backup to Bob Griese for the Miami Dolphins from 1972 until his retirement after the 1976 season.

Morrall, the 1968 NFL MVP, was 38 when he joined the Dolphins after being claimed on waivers. Although his price was high for a backup quarterback — $90,000 per season — coach Don Shula was adamant that the team needed him, and owner Joe Robbie obliged.

The move paid off in Morrall’s first year with the team as he was called into action when Griese went down with a broken leg in the season’s fifth game. The Dolphins, 4-0 at the time, won that game and then the next nine that followed with Morrall as starter to complete an unbeaten regular season.

Morrall started the team’s first two playoffs games before giving way to Griese in the second half of the AFC Championship Game during a tight contest with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Dolphins pulled out the victory 21-17 and Griese was subsequently named starter for the Super Bowl, a 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins that completed a 17-0 season.

While Morrall was not pleased to lose the starting job for the Super Bowl, he didn’t create a big fuss. For his contributions for the Dolphins that year, Morrall was named the inaugural NFL Comeback Player of the Year.


Griese shared his thoughts on Morrall in a statement released by the Dolphins:

"When Coach Shula brought Earl down from the Colts, he called me to alert me he was picking him up. I told him it sounded like a great move, even though I had never met Earl before that. But I did know about him because of what he did in Baltimore and even before that, since we both played in the Big Ten, and I thought it was a great pickup.

"We lockered next to each other. Our equipment manager, Danny Dowe, got a rocking chair and put it in front of Earl’s locker because he was so much older than the rest of us. We all had folding chairs, but Earl had a rocking chair. And if he wasn’t the first guy off the field, by the time he got to his locker, there was always someone else sitting in that chair — me, Zonk (Larry Csonka), Mercury (Morris), or one of the defensive guys. But Earl didn’t care — he just laughed and pulled out a folding chair for himself. That’s the kind of person he was — always a team guy.

"And he proved that on the field as well. 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. 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.

"Like me, a lot of my teammates also didn’t know much about Earl when we got him before the start of the 1972 season, and when I got hurt early that year, many of the guys were concerned how well the offense would function with Earl running it. Well, Earl continued the drive and without missing a beat led us to a touchdown, and everyone immediately knew we were in good hands.

"Just to show you what kind of guy he was, when I finally got healthy coach Shula put me back in during the AFC Championship Game. Earl’s competitiveness came out — he felt he could win the game. He told coach Shula he didn’t agree with the move but also told him he would back him up 100 percent. Earl wanted to play and he wanted to help us win, but above all, he wanted to be a team player.

"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."