Sunday, April 27, 2014

Spring Game...and Earl Morrall

After several weeks away, decompressing after the wild football and basketball seasons, I'm back.

I went to the spring football game yesterday, along with my wife, two kids, and my parents--who drove down to Lansing for the game. It really was an enjoyable way to spend a family get-together, and something a little out of the ordinary to share with my extended family. To make matters even better, we bumped into my sister-in-law and husband at Spartan Stadium, so we were all able to sit together on the west side of the stadium at roughly the goal line.

I can't say I devoted as much time to analyzing the play on the field as I perhaps would have had I been alone. I spent most of my time spending money on food (cotton candy, soda pop, nachos, hot dog, peanuts) to keep the kids happy, chatting with family, and just generally enjoying the sunny April afternoon.

From what I could tell, though, the defense will be strong again. I was looking forward to seeing Damion Terry and he did not disappoint. Terry lined up at slot receiver/flanker in his first play on offense and scored a touchdown with an exciting mix of speed and shiftiness. He also played quarterback for the both the Green and White squads and displayed a strong arm and maneuverability. Terry will be one to watch in 2014.

The spring game also afforded an opportunity to celebrate the 2013 season and what this 2013 senior class achieved in their four seasons at MSU. A great halftime video montage on the scoreboards showed highlights from the Little Giants game against Notre Dame, through all the wins over Michigan, and the bowl game victories culminating in the Rose Bowl. It's been an amazing journey for this football program and one I quite frankly never thought I'd see in my lifetime.

2014 should be another excellent year for MSU football, but the only way 2013 can be topped is if the team goes undefeated and wins a national title (or perhaps loses one game and wins a national title). I don't expect that to happen. It's not that I don't think it can happen, it's simply that to expect such a lofty achievement is setting ones self up for potential disappointment if it doesn't occur.

I don't know how much I'll be poking around on this blog until football season. I'd like to do a season-ending wrap up of what has been a truly great year of MSU sports, but I can't guarantee I'll get to that.

I should close this post with a salute to Earl Morrall, a great Spartan football player who died two days ago at age 79. Not many players have won a Rose Bowl AND multiple Super Bowls. Morrall did both. As an All-American quarterback at Michigan State, he led the Spartans to a 1956 Rose Bowl win, and then played an incredible 21 seasons in the NFL: a career that spanned parts of three decades. It was in the twilight of his NFL career that Morrall enjoyed his greatest professional success. At age 34, he was the 1968 NFL MVP. Morrall had a splendid season replacing an injured Johnny Unitas that season, and quarterbacked the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III against the Jets. Though the Colts lost to Joe Namath and the Jets, they went on to win Super Bowl V two years later where, once again, Morrall replaced an injured Unitas.

As a member of the Miami Dolphins, Morrall won championship rings in Super Bowl's VII and VIII. In the Dolphins' undefeated 1972 season, Morrall once again had to step in for an injured star quarterback, this time Bob Griese. Morrall started 11 of the Dolphins' 17 games that year, beginning in game five of the regular season and extending to the AFC championship game--when, due to a poor performance against the Steelers, he was lifted in favor of a healthy Bob Griese. (Though looking at Morrall's stats from that game, they were not that much different from Griese's). Still, not bad at all for a 38-year-old "has-been" who had been claimed by the Dolphins on waivers in April '72 for a paltry $100. Morrall's efforts that season earned him the AFC MVP award and NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

Earl Morrall stuck around for another four season before hanging up his spikes for good in 1976, thus ending a career that proves that, with perseverance and a little bit of fate mixed in, an athlete can be a late bloomer and achieve great success when conventional wisdom would suggest the opposite.

Farewell to a great athlete and a great Spartan. Rest in peace, Earl Morrall.

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