(Updated with print version)
As he remembered it, Frank Broyles’ first day of work as a Georgia Tech assistant football coach in 1951 was also the same day that Larry Morris first practiced with the Yellow Jackets. They were two Decatur Boys High grads trying to impress coach Bobby Dodd.
Said Broyles, later head coach and athletic director at Arkansas and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, “He immediately showed that he could play college ball just as he could high school.”
Over the next four seasons, Morris only surpassed that first impression. Morris died Wednesday at the age of 79, his place as an all-time great in Tech history firmly in place.
“As a player and as a human being, he was one of the best,” said Pepper Rodgers, a teammate and later a Tech coach.
The Morris playing résumé paints a broad picture of his dominance. A four-year starter and a two-way player at center and linebacker, Morris was three times first-team All-SEC and a team captain as a senior. He was a bright star during the peak years for Dodd, when the Jackets had a 40-5-2 record over Morris’ four seasons, won two SEC titles, four bowl games and a share of the 1952 national championship with a 12-0 record.
“He was quiet and always trying to please and do his part without being a standout or trying to show off,” Broyles said. “He was very much a team player and he encouraged everybody by the way he practiced and played.”
Playing alongside George Morris (no relation), he was a punishing linebacker, agile, smart and full of fury. As a Jacket, he may have been at his best in his final game against rival Georgia, on a rain-soaked field in Athens. He played the whole game and was credited with 24 tackles as Tech held off the Bulldogs 7-3 on Nov. 27, 1954.
“The entire Tech team had to play inspired football to win this one but victory would not have been possible without one Larry Morris, who played the defensive game of his career,” wrote Harry Mehre, the former Georgia coach who later was a football analyst for the Atlanta Journal. “Morris was everywhere, including rushing the passer. He stopped plays over the middle, off the tackles and around ends.”
He was later named to the All-SEC 25-year team spanning 1950-1974 and in 1992 was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, one of 12 Tech players to be enshrined. A Decatur native, he is one of the best players the state of Georgia has ever produced, a standout at the high school, college and pro levels. The seventh overall pick of the 1955 NFL draft, Morris played 12 seasons for the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears and Falcons. He was the MVP of the 1963 NFL championship game for the Bears. He was known as “the Brahma Bull.”
`“One tough guy,” said Dick Inman, a teammate of Morris’ and a member of his wedding. “He had no fear on the football field and basically he was kind of a gentle person.”
Morris, married to wife Kay for 55 years, went on to success in insurance and real estate. In 1980, the NCAA gave Morris one of its highest honors with a Silver Anniversary Award, given to former athletes for their achievements in college and in the 25 years since the end of their college playing days.
“When they were on top, they were very giving people,” Inman said.
However, perhaps due to the brute force Morris both delivered and received over dozens of games and hundreds of practices, dementia captured his later years. A 2007 AJC column by Furman Bisher said that Morris had showed advanced signs of the disease in the 90’s, and that he was unable to carry on a lucid conversation. Care for Morris and poor business decisions blamed on the dementia wrecked the family’s finances.
Said Inman, “He has had a long struggle.”