There may have been no player more respected in the Big Red locker room than Wayne Lee Morris. The six-foot-200 pound running back was a quiet, unassuming leader who did whatever the coaches asked of him.
The Cardinals selected Morris in the 5th round of the 1976 NFL draft out of Southern Methodist University. But the team was already stacked at running back with Pro Bowlers Terry Metcalf and Jim Otis as well as solid backups Steve Jones and Jerry Latin. Morris was hardly guaranteed a roster spot.
“In high school they had me starting on the varsity as a sophomore,” he told Tom Barnidge of the St. Louis Post Dispatch after the draft. “In college, I joined the varsity as a freshman. Now I’m trying to join it again. I hope this is one more stepping-stone.”
Morris was well-known in Dallas. He rushed for 3623 yards in three seasons at South Oak Cliff High School and was named an All-American in three different publications.
At SMU, he was the nation’s top freshman rusher with 884 yards and went on to set the school’s career rushing record. He ran for 154 yards in his first varsity game against Wake Forest and racked up 202 yards against Texas his senior season.
Morris knew that he would once again have to prove himself in the NFL.
“I think the hardest part of all this is going to be the mental stress,” he told the Post. “The wait (for the college draft) was unreal. I’m anxious to get going.”
“I was hoping to be chosen somewhere in the first five rounds, and I made it—just barely. Now, what I must do is prove that I have the overall abilities a back needs to be successful in this league.”
“It’s a challenge and I’ll have to excel. But I’ve always wanted to excel in whatever I tried.”
Morris had spent all 22 years of his life in Dallas, but he was pleased for the opportunity to join the Cardinals.
“I lived in Dallas,” he said, “but I know all about the Cardinals. Heck, everybody’s heard of Terry Metcalf. He’s the best thing since candy.”
Morris was a workout machine. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, in the months preceding his first training camp, he followed this daily routine: tennis in the morning; 2-1/2 miles of running (with a 30-pound weight vest) in the afternoon; and Olympic-type weight lifting in the evening.
It didn’t take long for Morris to make his mark with the Big Red. In his first preseason game, he rushed for 62 yards and a touchdown in a 13-12 win over the New York Jets in the annual Shriners Hospital Charity game. He was voted MVP.
“This was a big moment for me,” Morris said after the game. “You want so badly to excel in a game like this. I guess for a rookie I did okay.”
Morris gave praise to the Big Red offensive line.
“The blocking was ungodly. They are fantastic. The first-string line is excellent and the second line is great.”
Morris made the team and had a solid rookie season rushing for almost 300 yards and scoring 4 touchdowns. Those numbers pleased almost everyone except Morris and his father, Floyd Sr.
“He’s my hardest critic,” Morris told Doug Grow of the St. Louis Post Dispatch after the season. “I might think I played well and he’ll grade me at 75 (on a 0-100 scale). But he knows the game and he’s a scholar when it comes to understanding conditioning.”
Floyd Sr. was a former star at Prairie View College. He turned down a contract offer from the Green Bay Packers because Wayne’s older brother, Floyd Jr. was on the way.
Floyd Morris taught his sons at a young age that the price of success was high. When Wayne was in elementary school, his father would drive him through workouts until he collapsed. During the offseason Floyd Sr. held the stopwatch as his son ran mile after mile.
“When he said I was ready, I knew I was,” Wayne said.
And ready he was. In 1977 Wayne was the Cards second leading rusher and scored 9 touchdowns. He rushed for 95 yards and scored four touchdowns in a 49-31 win over the New Orleans Saints on October 23. Two weeks later he would have the best game of his career rambling for 182 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
After accepting congratulations from teammates and coaches, Morris called home in search of his father’s approval. Floyd Sr. told the Post Dispatch of the conversation he had with his son after the game.
“He called and said, ‘Daddy, I’ve been looking for a long time for a 100 (grade) from you. What did you give me?'”
Floyd Morris Sr. said. “I gave him a 98 and he asked me why. I told him that whenever you’re fortunate enough to get to the 1-yard line with the ball, you’ve got to hold on to it.”
Indeed Wayne did fumble at the Vikings 2-yard line in that game. And Floyd deducted two points on the 100-point scale.
“Maybe I should have given him a 100,” Floyd said, “but once you give him 100, he can’t get any better and you can always get better.”
Despite his tough exterior, Floyd Morris Sr. admitted that he was a happy and proud father.
After Terry Metcalf’s departure for Canada in 1978, Morris became the starting halfback, however he was ineffective for most of the season. That changed late in the season against Redskins when he got the start at fullback filling in for injured Jim Otis. Morris set a club record when he carried 36 times and racked up 123 yards. He followed that up with an 81-yard performance against the Eagles, before injuring his knee and being placed on injured reserve.
In 1979, Jim Otis retired, but the Cards added OJ Anderson and Theotis Brown in the draft.
“I’m glad we have as many good running backs as we do,” Morris said in training camp, “because the competition is going to make me a better player. There is a real feeling of confidence among the running backs. In a tight situation, I feel I can get the yards we need. Or Ottis can get them or Theotis… We all believe in ourselves. And this is a good bunch of people.”
There seemed to be a weekly debate in St. Louis on who should start at fullback for the Cardinals. The veteran Morris, or the 2nd round pick Brown? Coach Hanifan wouldn’t admit it at the time, but it was a pain in his side.
Morris was able to hold off Brown for the starting fullback position for most of the next two-plus seasons before Theotis was eventually traded to Seattle in 1981. Coach Hanifan wouldn’t admit it at the time, but the debate was a thorn in his side.
“He (Brown) has been competing and he wants it,” Hanifan told the Post Dispatch late in the 1981 season, “but he’s faced with a young man who also is a competitor and who also wants it. And the other fellow (Morris) doesn’t make mistakes.”
After the Brown trade, someone asked Hanifan how Theotis could be a starter one day and traded for future draft picks the next.
“Wayne Morris didn’t play bad football when he was in there,” Hanifan said. “Come to think of it, I don’t think he’s ever played a bad football game in his life.”
Morris rushed for 23 touchdowns from 1979-1982 and was a devastating blocker for OJ Anderson. Wayne was named the James Conzelman award winner in 1981 for the player who has given the greatest effort throughout the season.
Assistant coach Dick Jamieson introduced Morris to the St. Louis Quarterback Club as a guy “who has gone over two years without making a fumble (230 carries). He’s a real pro who plays the same every week, which is hard and well.”
Morris was named the team’s MVP in 1982 after another solid season blocking for OJ. He also set the club record for career rushing touchdowns (35). But his contributions went beyond his responsibilities on the field. He was an inspirational force in the locker room, as well as a peacekeeper when tempers flared between teammates.
“Wayne is one of our team captains,” Coach Hanifan told the QB Club crowd, “and when you speak of captains, everything you think of when you of the term, Wayne Morris stands for.”
Wayne Morris retired before the start of the 1984 season. He decided to remain in Dallas with his critically ill brother, Floyd Sr. who was suffering from diabetes. He did offer to come back to the Cards that October, but with the emergence of Earl Ferrell at fullback, Coach Hanifan decided to decline Wayne’s offer.
“I told Wayne that I really tossed and turned about this, but I had to think of the team,” Hanny told the Post Dispatch. “With our present injury situation, there’s no way I could bring him back at this time without hurting us at another position.”
“I think the world of the guy (Morris), and he’s been a great player for the Cardinals,” said Hanifan. “He’s been a hell of an example for everyone. His the most unselfish I’ve ever been around. Wayne epitomizes the word ‘team.’ He lived and played by that principle.”
Morris later signed a contract with San Diego to finish out the 1984 season and retired for good in 1985.
Coach Jamieson summed up Wayne’s time in St. Louis.
“Wayne may have felt down deep, ‘I wish to hell I could run the ball a little more.’ But he’d never say that. He wasn’t caught up in the me-first syndrome as some athletes can be. Some backs or quarterbacks or receivers feel that regardless of how the team is doing, I’ve got get my five catches or 15 carries for contract time. Wayne, pleasantly, wasn’t like that. I think it was a sincere thing, that he felt for the team to function you should be that way.”
“Wayne was willing to play special teams and volunteered to do it,” said Jamieson. “You have young guys come on the ball team and they’re trying to decide how they’re supposed to act. When you have a guy like Wayne, it’s easy for me to say, ‘Don’t tell me you can’t do it. Here’s a guy who’s been doing it a lot longer than you’ll ever do it.’… Wayne became a very big leader without (consciously) assuming a leadership role.”
The Cardinals may have been able to replace Morris in the lineup, but they couldn’t replace him on the team. As John Sonderegger wrote in a Post Dispatch story in 1984, “no matter how dark the hour, and there were times when it seemed as if the Big Red clock was stuck on 3 a.m. during Morris’ eight years with the club, he always had a smile and positive thought.”
Wayne finished his Cardinals career with 3375 yards and 37 rushing touchdowns which is still second in franchise history. He was unassuming, unselfish, a team leader, and a forgotten Big Red star.