By Rick Gosselin
Talk of Fame Network
The best team in the NFL must continue its championship quest with a backup quarterback.
The Arizona Cardinals sit atop both the NFC West and the NFL with an 8-1 record but lost starting quarterback Carson Palmer for the season in that ninth game with a torn ACL in his left knee. But Arizona’s championship hopes did not leave the field with him.
Not if you believe in Drew Stanton.
Or the ghosts of Jeff Hostetler and Earl Morrall.
Don Shula won an AFC title in 1971 with the Miami Dolphins but lost the Super Bowl. He added some quarterback insurance in 1972 when he claimed the 38-year-old Morrall off waivers from the Baltimore Colts.
Five games into the 1972 season, Shula cashed his policy. Hall-of-Fame quarterback Bob Griese departed the lineup with a fractured ankle and would miss 11 consecutive starts — but Morrall won them all, right up through the AFC title game. Griese returned to the lineup in the Super Bowl as the Dolphins closed out their perfect 17-0 season with a victory over the Washington Redskins.
Morrall was named first team all-pro that season and went to the second and final Pro Bowl of his 21-year career.
It was also the second time Morrall delivered for Shula in a backup capacity. In 1968, when Shula was head coach of the Baltimore Colts, he traded a fourth-round draft pick to the New York Giants for Morrall, this time to serve as quarterback insurance for Hall-of-Famer Johnny Unitas.
After an elbow injury in the preseason finale sidelined Unitas, Morrall steered the Colts to a 13-1 record and an NFL championship, although the Colts would lose to the Jets in the Super Bowl. Morrall was named the NFL MVP that season.
Shula was a firm believer in having a quality backup, which is why he sought out Morrall twice.
“You’ve got to have a guy ready because you just don’t know in this game when the starter is going down,” said Morrall in a 1991 interview. “You see it time and time again. There is value in that position.”
The New York Giants found that out in 1990. Phil Simms quarterbacked the Giants to an 11-2 start but suffered a foot injury in the 14th game, a loss to the Buffalo Bills. Hostetler stepped in and led the Giants to five consecutive victories – the final two games of the regular season, the two games of the NFC playoffs and finally the Super Bowl against the Buffalo Bills.
Hostetler was in is seventh NFL season, all with the Giants and all as a backup to Simms. He knew the offense and coach Bill Parcells had confidence that he could deliver. And Hostetler did.
The same with Morrall. He knew Shula’s offense from Baltimore, which gave him value to the Dolphins.
And Drew Stanton knows the Bruce Arians offense. That’s why Arians signed him in free agency in 2013. Stanton spent the 2012 season with Arians at Indianapolis. Arians was the offensive coordinator of the Colts and Stanton the backup quarterback to Andrew Luck. When Arians became head coach of the Cardinals, he brought Stanton to Phoenix with him.
Arians didn’t need Stanton in 2013. Carson Palmer stayed healthy and the Cardinals finished 10-6. But this is the second time Stanton has come out of the bullpen this season for Palmer. Stanton started three consecutive games after Palmer suffered a shoulder injury in the season opener against San Diego. Stanton did not turn the ball over a single time in those three starts and the Cardinals beat the Giants and 49ers before losing at Denver.
Palmer returned in the fifth game and stayed there until his knee injury last weekend. Stanton came on in relief and rallied the Cardinals in the fourth quarter for a 31-14 victory over St. Louis. His 48-yard bomb to John Brown gave Arizona the lead for good.
Morrall, by the way, went to Michigan State. So did Stanton. Even though they were born 50 years apart, Stanton knows the legend of Earl Morrall well.
“I absolutely know who Earl Morrall is,” Stanton said. “First of all, he’s from Muskegon (Michigan), which is where both my parents are from. And around Michigan State he’s a legend. I never saw him play, obviously, but from what I’ve been told he’s the greatest quarterback in school history – really athletic and ahead of his time for the position. As a pro quarterback, if you’re looking for someone who really delivered when he got tapped on the shoulder as the ‘next man up,’ there’s probably not a better example than him.”
The Cardinals are now hoping Stanton can follow in his footsteps.