Larry Craig Morton (born February 5, 1943) is a former American football quarterback in the National Football League (NFL) for 18 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and Denver Broncos. He played college football at the University of California.
Morton is a 1961 graduate of Campbell High School in Campbell, California, where he played football and baseball. As a pitcher he received offers from major league teams to play in their minor league systems. His football coach at Campbell High was self-promoter Hal Raley, and as a quarterback Morton was voted Northern California high school athlete of the year and was selected to play in the annual California Shrine High School football game.
Morton played college football at the University of California in Berkeley under head coach Marv Levy and assistant coach Bill Walsh, both future NFL head coaches and members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Morton became the starter in the sixth game of his sophomore season in 1962. Back then his nickname was "Big Hummer" and his production dominated the Golden Bears offense output.
As a sophomore in 1962, he played in only five games because of a knee injury, but still managed 905 passing yards, a 54% completion rate and nine touchdowns. As a junior in 1963 he already owned most of Cal's all-time quarterback records.
In his three seasons as a starter at Cal, he never played on a winning team. Morton completed 185 of 308 passes for 2,121 yards and 13 touchdowns in his senior season in 1964, but even with a losing 3–7 record, he was recognized for his talent and contributions by being named first team All-American over other winning quarterbacks. He also received the W. J. Voit Memorial Trophy, given to the best player on the Pacific Coast and the Pop Warner Trophy, given to the best senior player. In the balloting for the Heisman Trophy won by John Huarte of Notre Dame, Morton was seventh, ahead of Joe Namath of Alabama and Gale Sayers of Kansas.
He finished his college career with 4,501 passing yards (a Pac-8 record), and most of Cal's all-time passing records, including:
- Touchdown passes in one game (5)
- Touchdown passes in a season (13)
- Touchdown passes in a career (36)
- Total yards in one game (285)
- Passing yards in a career (4,501)
- Passing yards in a season (2,121)
- Most passing completions and attempts in one game
- Most passing completions and attempts in a season
- Most passing completions and attempts in one game
In 1964 as the starting quarterback for the West, he faced Roger Staubach in the East–West Shrine Game, which was a sign of things to come.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame and the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame.
Morton was the fifth overall selection of the 1965 NFL Draft, taken by Dallas Cowboys, and spent his first four seasons as the backup for Don Meredith, but still received opportunities to play due to different injuries suffered by Meredith. In 1969 he became the starter at quarterback after Meredith's surprising retirement, but suffered a separated right shoulder in the fourth game of the season (which required surgery at the end of the year) affected his passing percentage (dropping from 71.1% to 53.6%).
In 1970, although he was bothered most of the season recuperating from offseason right shoulder and right elbow operations, he led the Cowboys to Super Bowl V where the team lost 16–13 to the Baltimore Colts. This result created one of the most famous quarterback controversies in NFL history, when in 1971, head coach Tom Landry started alternating Morton with Roger Staubach, reaching its extreme against the Chicago Bears, where they alternated plays. After this famous game, Landry settled on Staubach and the Cowboys went on a 10-game winning streak that included a 24–3 victory in Super Bowl VI over the Miami Dolphins.
Morton played all of the 1972 regular season because of a separated shoulder suffered by Staubach, but was replaced during a playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers. Staubach entered an apparently hopeless situation and threw two touchdown passes in the last 90 seconds to win the game 30–28, eventually sealing Morton's fate with the team.
After repeatedly asking for a trade, Morton signed a WFL contract with the Houston Texans, but never played a down with them. He was traded to the New York Giants six games into the 1974 season in exchange for their number one draft choice in 1975 (#2-Randy White) and a second round draft choice in 1976 (#40-Jim Jensen).
New York Giants
After acquiring Morton, the Giants traded their starting quarterback Norm Snead to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a third-round draft choice in 1975 and a fourth in 1976. During his time with the Giants, he struggled along with the team, and had a difficult time dealing with the fans and the media. He was traded to the Denver Broncos in 1977 in exchange for quarterback Steve Ramsey and a fifth-round draft choice in 1978 (#137-Brian DeRoo).
At age 34, Morton revived his career with the Broncos, finishing the season as the second rated passer in the AFC. Although he was suffering in the playoffs from a swollen left hip that needed to be drained, he overcame the injury to become the first quarterback in NFL history to start the Super Bowl for two different teams (Dallas in V and Denver in XII). This was later equaled by Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning, but Morton is the only quarterback to have started two different team's inaugural Super Bowl appearances. Morton was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year for 1977 and selected All-AFC by the Sporting News. He threw a franchise playoff record four interceptions in the defeat, and shares a franchise record 5 interceptions from the 1977 post-season with John Elway.
Morton's best statistical season came in his penultimate 17th season in 1981, when he threw for 3,195 yards and 21 touchdowns and had a 90.5 passer rating. He was a downfield passer not known for his mobility, and is one of the all-time leaders in yards per completion. He also briefly held the record for the most passes completed in a row. His 8.5 yards per attempt that season remains a Broncos franchise record, as do his 54 sacks, and two games where he was sacked seven times each (later matched by Elway and Tim Tebow).
Morton wore number 7 for the Broncos and retired just before the arrival of celebrated rookie John Elway in 1983, who wore the same number and has had it retired in his honor. He still remains as the third all-time passing yards leader in team history with 11,895 and his regular-season record was 50 wins and 28 losses in five seasons. Morton was inducted into the Denver Broncos' Ring of Fame in 1988.
Although Staubach replaced him for the Dallas Cowboys in 1973, Morton played seven more NFL seasons. The Cowboy teammates graduated from college the same year, but Staubach served in the U.S. Navy for four years and retired after the 1979 season, while Morton played through 1982.
|1970||Dallas||San Francisco||W, 17-10||7||22||101||1||0||--||--||--|
|1972||Dallas||San Francisco||W, 30-28||8||21||96||1||2||--||--||--|
Coaching career and later life
Following his playing career, Morton served as head coach for the Denver Gold of the United States Football League (USFL). He was a voter in the Harris Interactive College Football Poll, a component of college football's now-defunct Bowl Championship Series.
In 2008, he co-authored a book with Denver Post writer Adrian Dater entitled "Then Morton Said to Elway..." - The Best Denver Broncos Stories Ever Told. The book was published by Triumph Books.