Unsung Players: Joe Morris

From time to time there are players where we wonder how their careers could have tuned out if… Those ifs come in the form of injuries, had the player had a different coach who would have utilized him more, to if they had better talent around them. Then in some cases you can have a player that is a supernova burning bright for a brief period of time. Enter Joe Morris…

Morris stiff arms Alvin Walton in the 1986 NFC Championship Game

Morris stiff arms Alvin Walton in the 1986 NFC Championship Game

For those of us old enough to have enjoyed decades of pro football, we still remember the era of the super back. The power and speed of an Eric Dickerson, toughness and fury of a Walter Payton, or the electrifying burst of a Tony Dorsett. Several prototypes come to mind and Morris at 5’7 190 lbs and a straight line runner, just didn’t fit any.

He was the epitome of a ball carrier. One who could only get the yardage a given play was designed for. However as New York Giant Head Coach Bill Parcells was establishing his power running game in the early 1980s, he decided to move Rob Carpenter to Fullback which inserted Morris into the line-up. Morris had more of a burst and once he gelled with the offensive line, he may have given us the best 2 year stretch of any runner in the history of the NFC East. Morris evolved into a runner.

We’ll take a look at the numbers in a second but here is a glimpse at his play in 1985:

After powering the Giants to a wildcard finish in 1985, they had bigger aspirations for 1986. Could he have an encore performance to rival his breakout 1985??

In 1985, Morris rushed for 1.336 yards and a career high 21 touchdowns. He followed that up in ’86 with 1,516 yards and 14 more trips to the endzone. When you look at the best two year period v. other great NFC East backs of his era, the numbers will surprise you.

  • Joe Morris ’85 &’86: 635 car. 2,852 yds 35 TDs
  • Emmitt Smith ’94 & ’95: 745 car. 3,257 yds 46 TDs
  • Tony Dorsett ’80 & ’81: 620 car. 2,831 yds 15 TDs
  • John Riggins ’83 & ’84: 702 car. 2,586 yds 38 TDs
  • Wilbert Montgomery ’78 & ’79: 597 car. 2,732 yds 18 TDs
  • Ottis Anderson ’79 & ’80: 632 car. 2,957 yds 17 TDs

The only two that outscored him were Riggins in ’83 and Emmitt in ’95. Ironically those are the years that each set the NFL record for touchdowns in a season. Along with Smith and Riggins,  Morris powered his team to a Super Bowl win in his 2 year period. It’s also surprising he had a better two year total than OJ Anderson when he was with the Cardinals. In another ironic twist it was Anderson who replaced Morris in 1989 after Joe broke his foot. An injury that subsequently ended Joe’s career.

Morris didn’t finish with a Hall of Fame career (5,585 yds 50TDs) but he did power the ’86 Giants to their Super Bowl XXI championship. He developed into a power runner despite his size and was as good a running back the NFL had ever seen. Up until Tiki Barber, this was the New York Giants best running back and it’s worth taking a look back.

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