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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SUPER BOWL XXI CHAMPION 1986 NEW YORK GIANTS

Super Bowl XXI Giants 39-20 over the Broncos.  I was one of those that was all set for the Bears to repeat as champions …yada yada yada….who’s got the ring?  On the way out to Pasadena, they blew out The Team of the 80s 49ers 49-3 in the divisional playoff. The NFL’s worst playoff beating of the decade. Then shut out division rival Washington 17-0 for the NFC Championship. Are you kidding?? They came through the playoffs with a combined score of 66-3. Talk about dominant.

So they were off to Super Bowl XXI in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl. There is something about the Super Bowl being played in the Rose Bowl. It just has a regal look and feel to it.

sbxxiWhen the Giants mauled (dont know if thats a strong enough adjective) the 49ers 49-3 in the NFC Divisional Playoff, you knew the Washington Redskins were going to be in deep trouble in the championship round. Sure they had upset the Bears but that was with 3rd or 4th string QB Doug Flutie.  I don’t ever like to say in sports that it was over but you would have had to field an all star team to stop them because they were comin’!!

Hosting the NFC Championship, a fierce swirling wind became the story of the game. The Giants won the coin toss and took the wind. The Redskins couldn’t run and came out to 3 straight 3 and outs. Subesquently they had 23, 27, and 28 yard punts into the wind which led to the Giants playing on a short field. They took a 17-0 first half lead and the game was over.

Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor,was not only the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, he was league MVP also. In his prime and comin’ off the corner, he just terrorized opponents. It was only the second time a defender was NFL MVP. The first?? Alan Page of the Minnesota Vikings in 1971. He had his greatest season with 20.5 sacks and countless plays where he ran down runners from behind on the line of scrimmage. The play he chased Reuben Mayes of the Saints from behind… yet I digress

Other hatchet men on that defense?? All Pro Leonard Marshall at DE had 12 sacks that year & nearly beheaded Jay Schroeder on one sack in the NFC Championship.  Pro Bowl NT Jim Burt held down the middle and knocked Joe Montana out cold in the divisional playoff.  Carl Banks totally owned the strong side dominating opposing TEs.

super-bowl-logo-1986Crafty George Martin, Harry Carson, Gary Reasons formed a formidable defense and get this:  With all this talent and being the leagues #2 defense in 1985, they drafted LB Pepper Johnson (5 rings player and coach) CB Greg Lasker, DE Eric Dorsey, NT Erik Howard, and CB Mark Collins in the draft!  Collins was the reason the Giants could handle the 49ers for the next 7 years because he shut down Jerry Rice better than any corner over Rice’s career.

This is before we even get to Phil Simms or Joe Morris who ran for 1,516 yards and 14TDs that year…but really that defense at its peak was just frightening.

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