HAIL AND FAREWELL TO THE BRAHMA BULL
The Chicago Bears have long been known for their linebackers. Names like Bronco Nagurski, Bulldog Turner, Clyde George, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher have struck shear terror in the minds of opposing ball carriers for nearly a century now. For a short while, you could add the name of Larry Morris to that list.
Who is Larry Morris you say? And, what does he have to do with Laurens County?
Well, I will tell you.
Larry Morris was born two weeks before Christmas in Atlanta, Georgia in the dark depression year of 1933. As a member of the Decatur High School football team, Morris led the Bulldogs to undefeated seasons in his junior and senior seasons.
Morris signed a scholarship to play football for his hometown Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. It didn't take very long before Morris made a solid impression on his coaches. Tech Assistant Coach Frank Broyles, later an iconic coach at Arkansas, instantly knew that Morris was going to be an outstanding player. In his freshman season, Morris cracked the starting lineup in the SMU game and never looked back.
"As a player and as a human being, he was one of the best," Pepper Rodgers, a teammate and later a Tech coach, told a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Morris's winning ways in high school continued in college. The Yellow Jackets boasted a record of 23-0-1 in his first two seasons, claiming two SEC championships along with the 1952 National Championship banner.
Named thrice to the all-SEC team, team captain Morris put an exclamation point on his career at Tech in the 1954 Georgia game. Playing both ways at center and linebacker, the "Brahma Bull" was credited with two dozen tackles in the Yellow Jacket's 7-3 victory at Sanford Stadium in Athens. Morris' superlative game earned him National Lineman of the Week honors.
"Morris was everywhere, including rushing the passer. He stopped plays over the middle, off the tackles and around ends," wrote Harry Mehre, former Georgia coaching legend.
Larry Morris, a member of the 1953 and 1954 All American teams, was selected by the Los Angeles Rams as their 7th pick in the 1955 NFL draft, making him the 3rd highest pick in Tech history.
Morris played for three seasons in the exciting surroundings of Los Angeles and Hollywood in the mid 1950s. In his rookie season, the Rams, under head coach Sid Gilman, lost to the Cleveland Browns in the championship game. Morris started twelve games in his rookie year, but saw limited action in the 1956 and 1957 campaigns. Morris was traded in the 1959 season to the Chicago Bears, coached by the legendary George Halas.
December 29, 1963 was a bitterly cold, 10-degree, bright and sunny day in the not so friendly confines of Wrigley Field, Chicago. On that day, Larry Morris became a legend in the long, legendary annals of Chicago Bears history when the temperature was hovering around ten degrees.
The Bears'stingy defense, known as "The Monsters of the Midway" and coached by future Redskins head coach George Allen, were ranked by ESPN as the 9th best defense in NFL history. Their opponent was the New York Giants, the league's best offensive team. Giant quarterback Y.A. Tittle was averaging nearly three touchdown passes per game.
"I was so tired I knew I was going to get caught,'' the fleet -footed outside linebacker recalled.
After the Giants regained the lead in the second quarter, Morris sacked Tittle, damaging the Hall of Fame quarterback's knee, forcing him out of the game until the end of the half. With an ineffective Tittle at quarterback, the Giants failed to score in the second half and the Bears went on to a 14-10 victory in the 1963 NFL Championship game.
"I hit him just as he tossed that pass. His left leg was rigidly set on the ground and I slammed him just at the knee, " Morris recalled.
"The first time it didn't hurt too much, but the second time it really hurt. I felt it pop," recalled of the Hall of Fame quarterback who was rendered virtually ineffective after the Morris hit.
It was the first televised game that I remember seeing on TV. I was only seven and alas, I was a Giants fan.
Morris played for two more seasons with the Bears before demanding a trade to the new team in his hometown, the Atlanta Falcons. After many batterings, heavy bruises and knee injuries, Morris retired after the 1966 season, the team's first season in the league.
Larry Morris earned his share of accolades in his sixteen-year career in football. He was runner up to the NCAA Lineman of the Year in 1953, a two-time All American, a three-time selection to the All-SEC team and a member of the NFL 1960s all-decade team. Inducted into both the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame, Morris was also the recipient of the highly coveted NCAA Silver Award for outstanding contributions since his graduation from college.
After leaving football, Morris was elected to represent DeKalb County in the Georgia legislature. Morris went on to establish a highly successful real estate and insurance business in the Atlanta area.
One of Larry Morris' personal real estate holdings was Laurens Hill, the old Harvard plantation house on Georgia Highway 26, southwest of Dudley. Morris and his wife Kay restored the 1840 mansion into their summer farm home.
But, as they say, all good things come to end. Football, which brought fame to Larry Morris, wound up destroying his life. After twenty years of playing in high school, college and in the pros, Larry's brain was bruised and battered too many times. Like other former pro football players of his day, Morris suffered early dementia and spent the last two decades of his life a shell of the former outgoing, personable and a successful businessman he was. In fact, it was his illness which led to the financial ruin of his family.
Peace finally came to Larry Morris and his family, who had been tormented by the ravages of his injuries. Morris died on December 19, 2012. A memorial service was held last Friday.
Former teammate and close friend, Dick Inman, recalled, "One tough guy, he had no fear on the football field and basically he was kind of a gentle person."
I still remember my one conversation with Larry, some twenty years ago. It was right before his induction into the College Hall of Fame, which fittingly will move to his hometown in Atlanta in 2014. I don't quite remember what was said, but I do remember that he was just like those who knew him best, a real gentleman.
So hail and farewell to "The Brahma Bull," may you always be the hero you always were.