In his storied and well-traveled 21 NFL seasons, Earl Morrall played only a handful of games against the Jets. Yet he and the Green & White will forever be linked in football lore.
Morrall is the crewcut Baltimore QB whom the shaggy-maned Joe Namath outdueled in Super Bowl III to shake, rattle and roll the football world.
Morrall, who died Friday at 79, was of course not the only Colt who lost to Broadway Joe and the Jets on Jan. 12, 1969, but that day at the Orange Bowl was still a bitter ending to his sweet 1968 season. After Johnny Unitas was injured in the final preseason game that year, Morrall stepped in and led the Colts to a 15-1 record, including two playoff wins, en route to being named the NFL's MVP.
All he had to do to attain pigskin immortality was to guide his 17½-point-favorite Colts to one more win over those upstart Jets of the AFL. But Namath, his defense and the football gods had other ideas.
Namath led a second-quarter, 80-yard drive to Matt Snell's TD run and Jim Turner's field goals and the defense did the rest. Morrall got the first eight drives that day before Unitas, his right arm still not fully back from the muscle tears suffered in the summer, finished up.
On Morrall's possessions, Baltimore had two missed field goal tries by Lou Michaels, two three-and-out series, and four turnovers. Three of the giveaways were first-half interceptions in or near the Jets' end zone, by Randy Beverly, Johnny Sample and John Hudson, setting the second-half table for the 16-7 triumph.
Morrall did get some measure of revenge in the next four years, playing in six games against the Jets, all victories for the opponents. One of the wins was his start against Namath in the Dolphins' 28-24 comeback to go 10-0 during their 1972 undefeated season.
"All Earl ever did was win games for me, whether it was as a starter or coming off the bench," Don Shula, who was Morrall's coach with Baltimore and then with Miami, said Friday in a statement released by the Dolphins.
"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."
It's always tough to say goodbye to the worthy opponents of the past, but that's what we have to do today to Earl Morrall. Our condolences go out to his family and teammates.
Here are the seven games Morrall played against the Jets from 1969 to 1975 (home team in CAPS):