Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan on August 27, 1998 · Page 85
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Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan · Page 85

Detroit, Michigan
Issue Date:
Thursday, August 27, 1998
Page 85
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August 27, 1998 PAGE. 7 MICHIGAN'S ALL-TIME QBS Free Press sports writer Mick McCabe ranks the five best quarterbacks to come out of Michigan high schools and star in. college andor pro football: 1. Earl Morrall, Muskegon. For many years he was the state's all-time passing leader. He followed a brilliant career at Muskegon with a fine career at Michigan State. Then it was off to the NFL, where he nlauprt 91 'v j seasons and was with three Super Bowl teams. Gary Danielson III ' 1 ilfcMM Jim Ninowski I j ( Rick Leach hm fts- , 1 ! i Gary Hogeboom 2. Gary Danielson, Dearborn Divine Child. As a junior he led Divine Child to victory in the last Goodfellows Game, and he had a sensational senior season. He starred at Purdue and eventually made his way to the Lions (1976S4). 3. Jim Ninowski, Detroit Pershing. He is probably the best QB ever from the Detroit Public School League. He followed Morrall at Michigan State and went on to join him in the NFL, where they were teammates with the Lions for two years. 4. Rick Leach, Flint Southwestern. He never played pro football, choosing a career in baseball. But he was a terrific high school quarterback and then started for four years at Michigan. 5. Gary Hogeboom, Grand Rapids Northview. He started only one season of varsity football in high school, but had a spectacular senior season. He was even better at Central Michigan and went on to a 10-year pro career with three teams. Morrall came to the rescue of NFL champs George puscas i as ,r;4 f Scott Mitchell, the frequently criticized Lions quarterback, will be patient, he might stiH have a chance of winning the hearts and admiration of thou sands of football followers. Sure, he's running out of time. This will be his ninth season in the National Football League. He has made a lot of money but accomplished little. Already, some among the Lions seem eager to replace him. But they ought to remember the man who haunts their past. It might be a mistake to dump Mitchell. Remember Earl Morrall, a Muskegon native who went on to take Michigan State to a Rose Bowl title and later shared in three Super Bowl triumphs? He was the most successful quarterback this state ever produced, but alas, his great moments were not with the Lions. He won his championships for the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins. Morrall was a 1955 All-America at Michigan State who finished fourth in the Helsman Trophy voting. The San Francisco 49ers drafted him in the first round, but he struggled with them and then the Pittsburgh Steelers. Two games into the 1958 season, the Lions, defending NFL champions, were without a victory. They lost their opener at Baltimore and a week later were lucky to get a tie at Green Bay. . Without warning, the team's braintrust stunned the players and their fans by trading quarterback Bobby Layne to the Steelers. Morrall was among the players Pittsburgh sent to Detroit Nobody really expected him to replace Layne, because the Lions had Tobin Rote, who had taken them to a rousing 59-14 title victory over Cleveland in 1957. But Rote struggled in 1958, winning only four of 12 games, and Morrall became the Lions' quarterback the next season. They got worse, going 3-8-1. Morrall had problems. He never was the most accurate passer, and privately, his coaches were concerned about the long-range future. "We'll never be able to win another championship with Morrall at quarterback," coach George Wilson concluded. So it was no surprise when the Lions acquired Jim Ninowski, another former Michigan Stater, from the Cleveland Browns to be their ". r Hit ,rs if ;!: IJ "iff t.-a---- z f 3r iCt if fVl ffl r .TV" V -Ui' n "K''r t GARY ROTHSTEINSpecial to the Free Press Earl Morrall at home in Florida: "I've still got the crew cut I've had since I was a kid. I can't give it up now. If s coming back in style." quarterback in 1960. But Ninowski also failed to revive the Lions, and the job was returned to Morrall in 1961. He didn't fare much better (8-5-1), and the following year the Lions went to Cleveland again got Milt Plum, who went 11-3. Morrall was the starter again in 1963 (51) and Plum in 64 (7-5-2). If this sounds as though the Dons were caught up in a frantic search for adequate quarterback-ing, it's true and continues nearly 40 years later. Morrall was rescued by Don Shula, who had been a Lions assistant coach in 1960-62 and became the Baltimore Colts' head coach in '63. Before the 1968 season, Shula obtained Morrall, who had gone from the Lions to the New York Giants three years earlier. It was the making of player and coach: Time and again, Morrall, by then' a backup, saved his team in times of heavy trouble. With Morrall backing up Johnny Unitas, the Colts re-established themselves as one of the NFL's top teams. They won the NFL championship in 1968, when Unitas missed most of the season because of a sore elbow and Morrall led the league with 26 touchdown passes. The Colts, and Morrall, then lost to Joe Namath and the New York Jets, champions of the American Football league, in Super Bowl III. Two years later, Morrall was back in the Super Bowl again, replacing Unitas, who was injured late in the first half. The Colts beat Dallas, 16-13, on" a Jim O'Brien field goal with five seconds left. Morrall was a champion. And not for the last time. Shula had become the Dolphins' coach in 1970, and in 72 he brought Morrall to Miami. Morrall would be there to rescue the Dolphins if the starting quarterback faltered or was hurt The highlight of Morrall's career followed such a rescue. In 1972, Bob Griese suffered a broken leg, and Morrall replaced him. What followed was the finest season any team has produced in the NFL Morrall helped the Dolphins to an unbeaten regular season (14-0), and Griese came back from his injury to complete the only perfect season in league history with a 14-7 victory over Washington in Super Bowl VII. The Dolphins also won the Super Bowl the next year, 24-7 over Minnesota. Morrall's final season was in 1976, ending a 21-year career, second-longest in the NFL to George Blanda's 26 years. He left with three championship rings among his collection of mementoes. Until I told him a few years ago, Morrall had no idea why the Lions had cast him aside, that Wilson and his assistants were convinced they could never win with him. "You mean the Lions really thought that of me?" he said. The trading of Morrall is significant today because it illustrates how cosily incorrect talent judgments can be in football. "George, Wilson kept x rotating quarterbacks," Morrall said. "Plum had a good year in 1962, then they changed to me, and we won only five games. So in 1964, they went back to Plum again and two years later, Karl Sweetan had replaced everybody. "All that shifting of quarterbacks became a major factor on the team. You need a steadying influence at quarterback, and you can't get it with constant change. It divided our players." Morrall has seen and played for many coaches, and he has thought some about them. "1 thought then, and I still tliink, coaches can be too hasty about changing quarterbacks," Morrall said this week from his home in Davie, Fla., a Ft. Lauderdale suburb. "A quarterback needs confidence to play well, and the only way he can get it is by playing." Morrall considers Shula "a coach I came to believe was the greatest in the history of the National Football League. There's something about that man that is always so right "He was so very thorough in preparing his team. He kept you focused and emphasized detail. There was no stalling about him; he went out and met every problem head-on, and when you went out to play a game, you went believing you were going to win, no matter who you were playing." After retiring from the Dolphins, Morrall became owner of Arrowhead Golf Course in suburban Miami. He sold it recently and now markets computer-equipped golf carts and leads a life of quiet leisure with his wife, Jane, and family. Two sons and a daughter live in the area. Morrall, 64, has changed little physically from the distant seasons of 1953-55 at Michigan State. "I've still got the crew cut I've had since I was a kid," he said. "I can't give it up now. It's coming back in style." And what became of those championship rings? "I wear the '72 ring just because it was the perfect season, and I played 12 of the 17 games," Morrall said. "Even now, people wonder how I felt after taking the Dolphins to a 17th game in the Super Bowl, only to be replaced by Bob Griese, who had recovered from a broken leg. "Of course, I was surprised and hurt But there was no debate about it with Shula. He said Griese had the job when he got hurt and now he's ready to play. So that was it "The 1973 season when we won again, I took the two diamonds out and made a ring for my daughter and gave the re-made championship ring to my son. "The 1970 ring we won at Baltimore the first one I had the diamonds made into a ring for my wife, and made the championship ring over for another of my sons."

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