Monday, December 25, 2006

50 GREATEST GOLDEN BEARS - #7 - CRAIG MORTON

#7 - CRAIG MORTON - QUARTERBACK (1962-1964)
This particular subdivision of the 50 Greatest Golden Bears is filled with champions - players whose teams won conference championships and bowl games. Larry Craig Morton never played on a winner; during his tenure as Cal's starting quarterback the Golden Bears went 8-21-1.

In fact, all those Cal teams had was #4. Every opponent knew that they could double the receivers and rush the quarterback without much fear of any other weapons on the Cal side. And still Craig Morton still completed pass after pass - enough passes to rewrite the Cal record book in virtually every category except rushing by a quarterback. Over his career Morton completed 355 of 641 passes for 4,501 yards and 36 touchdowns.

Morton's Cal career started slowly; he was injured in pre-season practice returning punts (which shows just how inept Cal's leadership was back then) and played only four games in a dismal 1-9 season. But even on an over-matched squad, he showed flashes of brilliance, completing 274 yards against Penn State and guiding the Bears to a near upset (21-23) of Rip Engle's 9-2 squad.

As a senior Morton shone against the best competition in near upsets of Big Ten powers Minnesota and Illinois. Against the Illini, rated 3rd in the nation behind Dick Butkus, Morton threw for 251 yards, but came up just short in a 20-14 loss. The Gophers surrendered 257 yards, and Morton later torched UCLA for 288 yards through the air, breaking his own Cal record in the process. For the year he completed 60% of his passes against defenses designed to stop him and only him (the Bears never had a running back exceed 520 yards rushing in any of Morton's seasons on the varsity).

After Morton directed Cal to an upset win over Navy in 1964, Midshipmen coach Wayne Hardin called Morton the best college quarterback he had ever seen. Hardin would know; the year before his Middies featured a Heisman winner named Staubach behind center. A member of the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame, Morton also earned the 1964 Pop Warner Award as the most valuable senior football player on the West Coast.

Morton was a first-team All-America choice by several services, who selected him over Heisman winner John Huarte of Notre Dame. He finished seventh in the Heisman balloting, but the professional scouts weren't interested in the views of the Downtown Athletic Club. They rated the 6'4"/210 Morton one of two top QB prospects in the NFL draft, along with Alabama's Joe Namath. Morton went 6th to the Dallas Cowboys, and directed them to a Super Bowl in 1971. When his star was eventually eclipsed by teammate Staubach, he moved on to Denver and led the Broncos to their first Super Bowl appearance in 1978; of course, the opponent was Stabuach's Cowboys, who pummeled Denver 27-10.

Today Craig Morton remains connected to his alma mater, soliciting major gifts on behalf of the Athletic Department, and participating (as the "Cal" vote) in the Harris Interactive college football poll.

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