It’s easy to get lost in the recent success of the New England Patriots. The Patriots have been the best team in football for the majority of the millennium, and it’s easy to forget about some of the stars that came before Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Throughout the 2018 off-season, the New England Patriots office of Last Word on Pro Football will chronicle a different Patriot legend. Last week, former Patriots linebacker Nick Buoniconti was covered. This week, we will focus on longtime Patriots center Jon Morris.
Jon Morris: New England Patriots of the Past
Before the Patriots
Morris was a gifted athlete long before arriving at college. In high school, Morris was a three-sport athlete, excelling at football, basketball, and baseball. He decided that football was his passion, and went to the College of the Holy Cross to pursue football.
Morris was a two-way player in college, playing both center and linebacker. His athletic play immediately gained him nationwide praise as one of the best centers in college football. Morris spent three years as a collegiate athlete, getting better and better with each passing year. His college career peaked his senior year, when he was an All-American. Additionally, Morris was also the captain of the Senior Bowl team.
Creating a Legend in the AFL
Interestingly enough, Morris’ Patriots career almost never happened. Morris first entered the league in 1964, before the National Football League and American Football League combined to form one unit. During the draft process, the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, led by legendary head coach Vince Lombardi, selected Morris with their second draft pick.
However, the then-Boston Patriots selected Morris with their third pick in the AFL draft. Obviously, Morris could only play for one of these teams, and he ended up choosing the Boston Patriots. The Patriots were lucky that Morris chose them over the Packers, as he went on to have one of the greatest careers in the history of the AFL.
Morris played in all 14 games of his rookie season, and immediately became known as one of the most dominating centers in football. Morris took home the team’s Rookie of the Year award in 1964, while also winning All-AFL honors and a spot on the AFL All-Star team.
The Holy Cross product would go on to show that he was no one-year wonder, either. Morris was selected to every AFL All-Star team from 1965-1969, being named All-AFL each year. The center was an absolute iron-man, as he never missed a game during his AFL tenure.
The AFL merged with the NFL prior to the 1970 season, and Morris went down as one of the best players in the AFL’s history. His great play and long list of accomplishments earned him the honor of being named Second-Team, All-Time All-AFL. The First-Team selection, Oakland Raiders center Jim Otto, played four more AFL seasons than Morris.
Continuing the Legend in the NFL
The biggest effect of the NFL merger was that competition had never been better. The best members of both leagues now faced off, meaning Morris had to truly face the best of the best. Once more, Morris showed that he was one of the best centers in football, regardless of the league in which he played. Morris was selected to his first and final Pro Bowl in the 1970 season. In doing so, he became the first Patriot to be selected to the AFC Pro Bowl.
Morris would play 128 games for the Patriots before joining the Detroit Lions in 1975. While he wasn’t the dominating force he once was, he was still one of the better centers in the league. He played three seasons in Detroit, earning Lions Offensive Player of the Year in 1975. Morris spent the 1978 season with the Chicago Bears before retiring after 15 years in the league.
Life After Football
Much like fellow Boston Patriot Gino Cappelletti, Morris remained connected to the Patriot football scene after his retirement. Starting in 1979, Morris served as the primary color commentator for the Patriot radio games. Morris would eventually relinquish the post in 1987 after receiving a better offer with NBC Sports.
Morris had an incredible impact with the Patriot organization, both on and off the field. New England recognized his contributions to the team in 2011, when they selected him as a member of the New England Patriots Hall of Fame.