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Former NFL quarterback Morrall dies at 79

| Friday, April 25, 2014, 2:15 p.m.

MIAMI — Earl Morrall stepped in when the 1972 Miami Dolphins needed him most. Then he willingly stepped aside, earning admiration from his teammates and coach Don Shula.

Morrall, who started 11 games during the Dolphins' perfect season and spent 21 years as an NFL quarterback, died Friday at age 79. He had been in failing health for some time.

“There would be no perfect season, and probably no Super Bowl win in 1972, without Earl Morrall,” Bob Griese said Friday.

When Griese broke his ankle in 1972, Morrall came off the bench and started the final nine games of the regular season.

Morrall won praise from Shula for returning to the sideline without complaint when Griese came back to play in the final two postseason games, including the Super Bowl to cap the only perfect season in NFL history.

Morrall also played for the San Francisco 49ers, Steelers, Detroit Lions, New York Giants and Baltimore Colts, winning three Super Bowl rings. He came off the bench to replace an injured Johnny Unitas and help the Colts win the Super Bowl to cap the 1970 season.

Morrall also was the starting quarterback opposite Joe Namath in the 1969 Super Bowl after guiding the Colts to the conference title and winning the league's MVP award. He struggled in that famous 16-7 loss to the New York Jets, throwing key interceptions, and was benched during the second half for Unitas.

The '72 Dolphins were led by future Pro Football Hall of Famers as Shula, Griese, Larry Csonka and Paul Warfield, but their season might be long forgotten if not for Morrall, then regarded as a journeyman who looked the part with his old-school flattop haircut.

That's why Shula — who also coached Unitas and Dan Marino — held Morrall in special regard.

“Earl stepped in like nothing happened,” Shula said in a 2007 interview. “Then Griese was healthy for the AFC championship game against Pittsburgh, and I put Bob in the second half and he helped us come from behind and win the game.

“Then I had a decision to make, which to me has always been the toughest decision I've ever had to make: who to start in the Super Bowl. Earl had done such a great job to get me there, but Bob was my quarterback going into the season, and he was my quarterback of the future. So I figured as long as Bob was healthy and ready to go, I was going back to Bob.

“So I've always said Unitas, Griese and Dan Marino are in the Hall of Fame, and Earl is in my own personal Hall of Fame.”

Griese said Morrall acknowledged he didn't like Shula's decision.

“He said, ‘I don't agree with you, but whatever you think is best for the team, I'll go along with it,' ” Griese said. “That's the way Earl was throughout his career.

Morrall was the second pick in the 1956 draft. He never was able to hold a No. 1 job for long but developed a reputation as a super sub.

The Steelers traded their 1958 and '59 first-round picks to the 49ers for Morrall and guard Mike Sandusky, then dealt Morrall to the Lions for Bobby Layne after only 14 games.

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