Retro Steelers: Bam Morris Blows Up Defenses, Then Career in Pittsburgh
In 1992, Barry Foster posted the best rushing season in Steelers history with 1,690 yards, announcing the return of the Pittsburgh running attack after being dormant for years since the days of Franco Harris.
By 1994, injuries had limited Foster's production to only 11 games and half the effort of his record breaking season.
Fortunately for the Steelers, they had just drafted a running back during the third round of the NFL draft that year.
At Texas Tech, he had rushed for 1,752 yards during his junior season, shattered the Southwest Conference record and earned the 1993 Doak Walker Award as the best running back in the nation.
By birth his name was Byron Morris. His bruising running style earned him a different name.
In his rookie season with the Steelers, "Bam" Morris rushed for 836 yards while starting in six games of the 15 he appeared in. Despite Foster's injury, the Steelers still had a viable running attack and pushed through the '94 season and into the playoffs. Although billed as favorites to reach the Super Bowl, the Steelers fell to the San Diego Chargers in Pittsburgh, 17-13.
Although the year had ended in disappointment, the future for Morris looked bright going into the 1995 season. But after reporting to training camp clearly overweight and not in the football shape he was in the year prior, the Steelers split Morris' carries with the recently signed Atlanta Falcon running back Erric Pegram on their way to an appearance in Super Bowl XXX against the Dallas Cowboys.
Morris' performance in the championship game was admirable in the loss to the Cowboys, 27-17. He rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown against the league's ninth-ranked defense which also stopped him on three straight carries for no gain during the third quarter.
Less than two months later Morris would become more infamous for another stop. This one was made by the police after Morris appeared to be swerving in traffic, which would have been one thing. But when the police found five pounds of marijuana in his truck along with cocaine, Morris not only found himself six years of probation (along with a $7,000 fine and community service), but also out of a job in Pittsburgh by June.
The Steelers, having already dealt with the Morris' lack of commitment during the previous offseason, quickly made the decision to release Morris following his guilty plea. Morris' arrest and later dismissal opened the door for the Steelers to sign the running back that would become the face of the Pittsburgh running attack for the next ten years: Jerome Bettis.
Morris would go on to play for the Baltimore Ravens for two seasons before being released after the 1997 season. In 1998, he only played two games for the Chicago Bears before once again being cut. He would play out the rest of 1998 with the Kansas City Chiefs and play in 12 games during the 1999 season.
In August of 2000, Morris' world would finally come crashing down as he pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges and sentenced to 30 months in prison. But that was only the beginning, as in 2001 he was also found guilty of violating the parole he was sentenced to after his 1996 arrest. His sentence was ten years in prison.
Morris spent nearly five years in the Huntsville Texas State Prison before being released early in 2004.
He had stated in 2006 (h/t Real GM Football) that he wanted to try and make a comeback to the NFL, but it never materialized. Ultimately, what Bam Morris' story became was another cautionary tale to young athletes living a fast life on the edge.
In honest hindsight, the Steelers didn't lose out by Morris' own self destruction. Bettis proved to not only be more reliable as a bruising yet fast running back but also be a viable face of the franchise for years. But with the promise he showed while filling in for Foster in 1994, it is a wonder to the possibilities if Morris had only been more dedicated going into 1995. Hypothesize all you want. Maybe they win Super Bowl XXX. Maybe they don't.
Regardless, we'll never know what Bam Morris' career would have been like if his choices had been different. He'll forever remain a "what if?" in Steelers history during an era where they were beginning to re-establish their dominance in the NFL
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