This is a series based on the question posed above: players that are worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame but for some reason have not been.
Who is the greatest backup QB in NFL history?
What two-time league MVP as a QB isn’t in the Hall of Fame?
What QB, who was a part of two of the biggest events in NFL history and possesses three Super Bowl rings, isn’t in the Hall of Fame?
Earl Morrall—QB, six different teams, 1956–1976
He was a highly touted athlete who led his Muskegon Michigan high school football team to a state championship in 1951. He set off a determined recruitment by several top colleges, whose efforts to recruit him caused his high school principal, George A. Manning, to complain that Morrall’s education was suffering.
He eventually chose Michigan State and played three seasons for the Spartans, leading them to a 9-1 regular season record in 1955. He capped his senior year with a victory over the UCLA Bruins in the 1956 Rose Bowl game.
Earl Morrall played shortstop and third base on the Michigan State baseball team and played in the College Baseball World Series. He caught the attention of MLB scouts and was poised to be drafted to play Major League Baseball, but chose to play football in the NFL.
He was drafted No. 2 overall in the 1956 draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He was traded on September 16, 1957 along with guard Mike Sandusky to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for linebacker Marv Matuszak and two first-round draft picks.
Marv Matuszak was a two-time Pro Bowl player and AFL All-Star during his 12-year career. He is also the father of defensive end John Matuszak, who helped the Oakland Raiders win two Super Bowls.
Despite the high cost of the transaction, the Steelers traded Morrall just over a year later to the Detroit Lions in order to obtain future Hall of Famer Bobby Layne. Morrall would play six seasons for the Lions, having his best season in 1963 by throwing for 24 touchdowns and 2,621 yards.
The following year, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in an October 18 game against the Chicago Bears. He spent the offseason rehabilitating from his injury before he was dealt to the New York Giants as part of a three-team transaction on August 30, 1965.
Taking a leadership role during a Giants’ rebuilding phase, Morrall threw for 2,446 yards and 22 touchdowns that season, yet he found himself seeing spot duty over the course of the next two years.
Starting quarterback John Unitas, considered by some to be the best quarterback ever, went down with a elbow injury on his throwing arm in the final preseason game. Earl Morrall became the starter.
He proceeded to lead the Baltimore Colts to a 13-1 record, added two playoff wins and won the league MVP award.
He threw for 2,909 yards and 26 touchdowns with 17 interceptions that season; he also had the highest passer rating in the league at 93.2 during the regular season. His performance was so impressive that coach Don Shula decided to keep him in the starting lineup after Unitas was healthy enough to play.
The Colts had won 10 games in a row, including four shutouts. In those 10 games the Colts allowed only seven touchdowns. Then the Colts avenged their sole loss of the season by crushing the Cleveland Browns 34-0 in the NFL championship game.
The Colts offense ranked second in the league in points scored. The Colts defense led the league in fewest points allowed (144, tying the league record at that time) and ranked third in rushing yards allowed 1,339. After winning the NFL championship game the media touted the Colts as “the greatest team in pro football history”.
The Colts were favored by 18 points.
However, in one of sport’s greatest upsets, the Colts lost 16-7 to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III, with a second-quarter interception of a pass by Morrall symbolizing the team’s luck on the day.
Wide receiver Jimmy Orr was wide open near the end zone on a double reverse pass which we now call a flea flicker, but Morrall’s throw went elsewhere and was picked off to stymie the Colts’ momentum.
Two years later, Morrall again replaced an injured Unitas in Super Bowl V, but the occasion proved to be much happier, as the Colts won 16-13 over the Dallas Cowboys on a 32-yard Jim O’Brien field goal as time expired.
Earl Morrall was claimed off waivers for $100 by the Miami Dolphins on April 25, 1972, reuniting him with his former Colt head coach, Don Shula, who said, "I happen to have a good memory. I remember what Earl did for me in 1968."
Don Shula’s words proved prophetic when history repeated itself: Morrall replaced the injured Bob Griese for the Dolphins during the team’s October 15 win over the San Diego Chargers.
The win gave Miami a 5-0 record; Morrall, building on that win, led the Dolphins to the first undefeated season ever. He started 12 of the team's 17 games.
He led the team to a win in the team’s first playoff game against the Cleveland Browns, and then struggled mightily against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game that led to the return of Bob Griese.
His efforts didn’t go unnoticed, as he was named American Football Conference Player of the Year, as well as winning the inaugural NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. He played with the Dolphins for four more seasons before retiring in 1977.
Career Highlights and Awards
- Pro Bowl Selection (1957 & 1968)
- Super Bowl Champion (V,VII,VIII)
- 1972 NFL Comeback Player of the Year
- 1968 AP NFL MVP
- 1968 UPI MVP
- 161 touchdowns, 148 interceptions
- 20,809 yards
- 74.1 career QB rating
In a career that lasted for 21 seasons he played for:
- San Francisco 49ers (1956)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (1957-1958)
- Detroit Lions (1958-1964)
- New York Giants (1965-1967)
- Baltimore Colts (1968-1971)
- Miami Dolphins (1972-1976)
Here is a guy known as the greatest back-up quarterback in league history. It would be nice to see him come off the bench and be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.