Former NFL MVP Earl Morrall, who played 21 seasons in the league, earning the odd distinction of being the greatest backup quarterback of all time, has passed away.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered his condolences in a statement, via the team's official website:
The Miami Dolphins family is deeply saddened by the passing of Earl Morrall today. Earl not only left an indelible mark in Dolphins history with his play on the field during the Perfect Season Super Bowl VII Championship team, but also was extremely active in the community as a player and Dolphins alumnus. He will be greatly missed. Our prayers and thoughts are with his wife Jane, family and friends during this time.
Morrall was 79, and according to his son Matthew, via the Naples News Daily, he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and had seen his health decline in the recent months.
After helping Michigan State win the Rose Bowl in 1956, Morrall was drafted No. 2 overall by the San Francisco 49ers and subsequently traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He was selected to a Pro Bowl with the Steelers but was quickly dealt once again, this time to the Detroit Lions. He continued to make stops throughout the NFL, landing with the New York Giants, Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins.
The latter two were where he would make his greatest impact.
Filling in for an injured Johnny Unitas in 1968, Morrall led the Colts to a 13-1 record and was named league MVP. Although he would lose in the Super Bowl to the Jets, he had a chance at redemption two years later. Filling in for an injured Unitas in the second quarter of Super Bowl V, Morrall helped the Colts to a triumph over the Dallas Cowboys.
According to NFL.com's Chris Wesseling, he remains the only quarterback ever to lead his team to a comeback victory in the Super Bowl off the bench.
Morrall would follow legendary coach Don Shula to Miami, where he filled in for Bob Griese and won nine games as a starter during the lone undefeated season in NFL history.
Shula, via the Dolphins website, talked about his former legendary quarterback:
All Earl ever did was win games for me, whether it was as a starter or coming off the bench. 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.
Morrall later became the oldest quarterback to win an NFL game at 41 years old, as his career spanned three decades.
From his ultimate perseverance, to his unique versatility (he also punted and kicked), to his consummate team-player attitude, there has never been another player like him.
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal recently suggested, via Wesseling, the Comeback Player of the Year award should be named after Morrall, and considering his unbelievable career and extraordinary life, that only seems fitting.