Despite being drafted No. 2 overall in the 1956 NFL Draft out of Michigan State, quarterback Earl Morrall wasn’t the ideal starter for the San Francisco 49ers. As a senior in the NCAA in ’55, Morrall led Michigan State to a 9-1 record, a Rose Bowl victory and an All-American selection. The superb senior season led to San Fran drafting him with the No. 2 pick in the draft that season, thought he spent just one season with the Niners’ franchise.
Unfortunately, the former NFL backup QB Earl Morrall has passed away at the age of 79, due to continued health problems.
As a rookie, the former consensus All-American started just four games for the 5-6-1 Niners, primarily as the franchise’s punter. The 30-year old Y.A. Tittle served as San Fran’s starting quarterback, while the future star QB Morrall served as the team’s primary punter, making 45 of the team’s total 59 punts that season, for an average of 37.9 yards/punt.
In addition to his punting stats as a rookie, Morrall threw for 621 yards, 1 TD and six picks (48.7 comp. %) as a rookie for the Niners, in just four total games.
Lets face it, it wasn’t until Morrall’s eighth season in the league until he finally got regular starts at the quarterback position in the NFL.
In his first seven pro seasons as a quarterback, Morrall (400/833, 48.1 comp. %, 5,867 yards, 100 TD, 49 INT) put up impressive numbers despite backing up signal callers such as Hall of Famers Tittle and Bobby Layne. Morrall’s most infamous season perhaps came in 1958, in which he passed for 2,909 yards, 26 TDs and just 17 INTs while filling in for the Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas under center for the Baltimore Colts. Morrall went 13-1 for the Colts, leading them to a Super Bowl appearance and being named as a Pro Bowl and All-Pro quarterback over 14 starts. Though his favorited Colts fell to one of the biggest underdogs in NFL history (Joe Namath’s New York Jets in SB III), it was still a pretty impressive season coming from a 34-year old backup quarterback.
Overall, the QB/P put up 21 NFL seasons as a professional quarterback and punter for six different teams (Detroit, Miami, Baltimore, New York Giants, Pittsburgh and San Francisco), and the three-time Super Bowl champion (once with Colts, twice as Bob Griese’s backup in Miami) played a huge impact on the history of the NFL.
Rest in peace, Mr. Earl Morrall, one of the greatest backup quarterbacks in NFL history.
Photo: USA TODAY Sports