by Ron Borges
Talk of Fame Network
If justice is swift, at least once in Hall of Fame history injustice may have been swifter.
The forward pass was invented to move the ball forward fast. Few wide receivers in pro football ever did that more effectively than Stanley Morgan yet he has never been a Hall of Fame finalist.
There are an assortment of reasons why some players “fall through the cracks” as the years pass. Morgan, for example, is entering his 20th year of eligibility yet has never been discussed by the full committee. It is likely a large number of the 46 Hall of Fame voters today never saw him play, a problem compounded by the fact he is one of the wide swath of players who never played on a championship team. The latter is something few individual players can control in a team game like football yet is one that seems to have a determinative value far in excess of what it should.
Of the 287 members of the Hall of Fame more than 70% played on either an NFL or Super Bowl champion. To a degree that might seem obvious but it begs the question: why should a great player be penalized for having been the victim of poor ownership, bumbling coaching or the inability to switch teams, as was the case before free agency?
Lastly, the passing game has changed so much that numbers have begun to lose their comparative meaning if not put in some sort of context. In Morgan’s day throwing the football was not an extended handoff, as Bill Walsh once described it. It was about throwing “The Bomb,” to receivers being battered from the line of scrimmage all the way downfield. There was no such thing as a free release. Despite that pounding there have been few bombardiers more dangerous than Stanley Morgan.
The New England Patriots drafted Morgan in the first round in 1977, converting him from a college running back at Tennessee (where he still holds the school record for all-purpose yards) into an explosive wide receiver with world-class speed. In his first six years in the NFL, Morgan AVERAGED 22.6 yards per catch and each of those seasons averaged 20.9 or more. No receiver has come close to duplicating that since and none are likely to.
A few comparisons. In Jerry Rice’s first six years he averaged 17.6 yards per catch. In James Lofton’s BEST six years he averaged 18.9 yards per catch. Both are Hall of Famers. Randy Moss’ best seasonal average was 19 and Marvin Harrison’s only 14.5, two likely Hall of Famers from whom you can see how the passing game has become more about possession than explosion.
After 13 NFL seasons, Morgan retired with 557 catches good for 10,716 yards, an average of 19.2 yards per reception. Only two of 23 Hall of Fame receivers, Paul Warfield (20.1) and Bob Hayes (20), averaged more. Morgan also had 38 100-yard receiving games, which ranked fourth all-time when he retired, behind only Don Maynard, Lance Alworth and Steve Largent. All three are in the Hall.
“Stanley Morgan is one of the most feared long ball threats in history,” renowned Sports Illustrated football writer Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman once wrote of Morgan in 2007 and the numbers make the case.
Of all receivers with 200 career catches or more, Morgan ranks 87th in total receptions yet 33rd in total yardage and 10th in yards per catch. He is the only player in NFL history with 500 or more catches to average over 19 yards per reception. What is most remarkable is he put up those kind of numbers despite playing much of his career on teams that primarily ran the ball at a 2:1 ratio over throwing it.
Does Stanley Morgan belong in the Hall of Fame? That may be debatable. What is not is that he earned the right to have his case heard.
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Photo courtesy of New England Patriots