MIAMI — Earl Morrall stepped in when the 1972 Dolphins needed him most. Then he willingly stepped aside, earning enduring admiration from his teammates and coach Don Shula.
Mr. Morrall, who started 11 games during that perfect season and spent 21 years as an NFL quarterback, died Friday at 79. He had been in failing health for some time.
"There would be no perfect season, and probably no Super Bowl win in 1972, without Earl Morrall," Bob Griese said Friday.
When Griese broke his ankle in 1972, Mr. Morrall came off the bench and started the final nine games of the regular season. He won praise from Shula for returning to the sideline without complaint when Griese came back to play in the final two postseason games, including the Super Bowl to cap the only perfect season in NFL history.
He also played for the 49ers, who made him the second overall pick in the 1956 draft, Steelers, Lions, Giants and Colts, winning three Super Bowl rings. He replaced an injured Johnny Unitas and helped the Colts win the Super Bowl to cap the 1970 season, and he was the backup to Griese on Miami's 1973 title team.
He also was the starter opposite Joe Namath in the 1969 Super Bowl after guiding the Colts to the conference title and winning the league's MVP award. He struggled in that famous 16-7 loss to the Jets, throwing key interceptions, and was benched during the second half for Unitas.
The '72 Dolphins were led by such future Pro Football Hall of Famers as Shula, Griese, Larry Csonka and Paul Warfield, but their season might be long forgotten if not for Mr. Morrall, then regarded as a journeyman who looked the part with his old-school flattop haircut. At 38, he was the oldest on the team.
Griese said Mr. Morrall acknowledged he didn't like Shula's decision but accepted it: "He said, 'I don't agree with you, but whatever you think is best for the team, I'll go along with it.' That's the way Earl was throughout his career. He was the most popular guy in the locker room because of his personality. He always had a smile, a good word, a pat on the back, whether he knew you or didn't. He was just an upbeat good guy."
The Michigan native also quarterbacked Michigan State to two Rose Bowl wins and was an infielder in the 1954 College World Series.
cowboys: The club learned last month it won't be punished for not listing QB Tony Romo on the injury report before its Week 16 game against Washington, when he suffered a herniated disc that required surgery. "They were cleared because they did not violate the rules," league spokesman Greg Aiello said Friday via email.
Panthers: The team exercised the fifth-year option on QB Cam Newton's contract. By exercising the option on his rookie deal, the Panthers will have more time to work out a longer contract. Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, is slated to make $3.37 million this season and would receive $14.67 million in 2015 if he doesn't sign an extension.
All-11: The league, which aims to resurrect the Tampa Bay Bandits with a new spring pro league in 2015, has scrapped plans for a nationally televised showcase game next month at Raymond James Stadium. Mike Keller, the league's president, said the All-11 league decided to drop scheduled showcase games in Tampa and Dallas and focus on preparing for the league's first season in spring 2015. The league is expected to announce its eight initial franchises in the next few weeks, Keller said, with continued plans to have the Tampa Bay Bandits playing at RJS.
Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.