Earl Morall, who led two NFL teams to Super Bowl appearances, died Friday in Fort Lauderdale on the 42nd anniversary of the day the Miami Dolphins signed him.
The 79-year-old Morrall was remembered as the backup quarterback who filled in to help lead the Miami Dolphins to an unbeaten 1972 season, but had a long and productive NFL career, throwing 161 touchdowns in 21 NFL seasons. Morrall also led the Baltimore Colts to a Super Bowl berth.
After an All-American career at Michigan State, Morrall played for six different teams in the NFL, including the New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Detroit Lions. Though he may be remembered as the backup on the unbeaten Dolphins, Morrall was also a strong starter and twice named to the NFL All-Pro team.
His finest season came in 1968, when Earl Morrall came in for Johnny Unitas when the Baltimore Colts legend injured his elbow during a preseason game. Morrall would lead the team to a 13-1 record, throwing for a season-best 26 touchdown passes and earning league MVP honors.
But that season ended in heartbreak, with Morrall throwing three interceptions in Super Bowl III after opposing quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed the New York Jets would win. And they did, defeating the Colts 16-7.
Morrall again was thrust into a starting role in Miami in 1972 when starter Bob Griese went down with an injury. After Morrall led the team to a playoff win over the Cleveland Browns, Griese came back to lead the team to a Super Bowl victory.
“I wanted to play as much as anybody, but I told the coach I wouldn’t make waves,” Morrall told The Boston Globe in 2002. “A younger guy might have sulked.”
Morrall had been in declining health in recent years as he struggled with complications from Parkinson’s disease.
“He’s been in a struggle with his health for a while now,” Ryan Richeal, who worked in marketing with the Dolphins from 2003-2009, and helped run Morrall’s charity golf tournament, said via the Daily. “Everybody has been trying to prepare for this. When you have somebody like Earl Morrall who’s a legend on and off the field, it’s still very difficult in the end.”
Earl Morrall died at his son’s home in Naples, Florida.