George Morris: ACC Football Legend

Nov. 7, 2007

By Wilt Browning
Special to theACC.com

A special guest at a Georgia Tech football game two years ago, George Morris stepped into an elevator at Grant Field and nodded a greeting to two young men who already were there as he did.

“Aren’t you George Morris?” one of the young men asked.

“The same,” Morris answered.

There was silence between the three for a moment as the elevator rose en route to the appointed floors.

“Mr. Morris, do you reckon you could play today?” one of the young men asked.

The former Yellow Jacket All-American linebacker did not hesitate now.

“I don’t know. I’m 75 years old now,” he quickly responded. “But if we’ll play without face masks, I’ll give it a try.”

George Morris. To question the credentials of George Morris even good-naturedly is perhaps not to understand the legend of the man who will be honored as part of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Legends class of 2007 at the Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship weekend in Jacksonville, Fla.

His football pedigree is unmistakable.

The game that will be played in Jacksonville to determine the ACC championship will be markedly different from the game Morris knew in his time at Georgia Tech in the early 1950s for two reasons.

“The development of the face mask,” he said, “and the blocking rules that allow holding. Those two things changed the game more than anything else. It’s a different game with that cage in front of your face.”

Of course, Morris would not have first-hand knowledge of that; he never wore a face mask.

So dynamic was Morris on a team loaded with dynamic stars and a dynamic coaching staff that it is likely that Morris would have succeeded on the field with or without face masks. Not only does he have a first-team All-American certificate for his wall, he also is a member of the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame.

Yet such honors have not left him isolated in the lore of Georgia Tech football. “I played with seven other guys over two years (1951 and 1952) who made somebody’s All-American team,” he points out with pride. In 1951, there were guard Ray Beck and defensive tackle Lamar Wheat. A year later, there were center Pete Brown, halfback Leon Hardeman, tackle Hal Miller, end Buck Martin, defensive back Bobby Moorhead, and Morris.

Over those two years, it was a team that won a national championship and compiled a two-year record of 23-0-1. “Duke tied us,” he remembers. “They had a great football program in those days, but we were able to handle everybody else.”

The tie with Duke came in 1951 when the Blue Devils scored 14 points against Morris and his defensive teammates, the most points Tech would yield in a single game in two years. Baylor also scored 14 points in Tech’s 17-14 Orange Bowl victory. It was the same score as the victory over Florida early in the1952 regular season.

George Morris, one of the stalwarts of the Bobby Dodd-coached Georgia Tech teams of the early 1950’s, earned All-America honors as a linebacker in leading the Jackets to a perfect 12-0 record in 1952 and a combined mark of 23-0-1 during the 1951 and 52 seasons including wins in the Orange and Sugar Bowls. A member of the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame, he was also honored as an Academic All-America in 1952. He also earned first-team all-conference honors in 1952 and was drafted in the second round by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1953 NFL Draft. Morris currently resides in Atlanta, Ga.

If more confirmation is needed, the 1952 Yellow Jacket team for which Morris, then a senior, served as a captain, was referred to by no less than Bobby Dodd himself as “the best team I ever coached.”

“I got a thrill (recently) out of listening while they interviewed the Boston College coach (Jeff Jagodzinski). What a wonderful season they’re having. And he was saying that, yes, he had inherited a pretty good football team, but that he had told them when practice started, `Let’s have some fun and win some football games.’

“That sounded like Coach Dodd. He believed in letting us have fun. That was his approach. He wasn’t a man who had a lot of rules, but he always said there were two things that would make him unhappy – if you don’t give 120 percent because when you give all you’ve got you don’t beat yourself, and no mental mistakes.”

Morris said that Dodd’s preparation for the season and for each game as it came along also was years ahead of the times. “He believed that if he recruited good players and they have shown him they’re good players, they don’t have to prove it all the time in practice.

“He didn’t want anyone getting hurt in practice, or when the game had been won.

“We should have won,” Morris said. “We had all that talent – not only All-Americans but I expect that in my three years of varsity football I played with 20 guys who made all-conference – but we had great coaches too. Our coaches were Coach Dodd, Ray Graves and Frank Broyles, and all three of them are in the National Foundation Hall of Fame.

“When you have good players and great coaches, great things are going to happen.”

Things such as back-to-back undefeated seasons which came after the Yellow Jackets finished at 5-6 in 1950. “We really should have been 4-7,” Morris said. “We beat Georgia that year and we had no business beating them.”

Deep into that season, Tech also lost to Alabama, 54-19, at Grant Field, a memory that was vindicated only in the classy Bobby Dodd manner in each of the two following seasons.

“I learned two things about Coach Dodd that day when we lost to Alabama,” Morris said. “We were down 35-0 at halftime, and Coach Dodd was still the same man in the dressing room. No yelling and cussing, no shouting, just the same even disposition that you saw all the time.

“A year later in Birmingham, we were beating Alabama pretty good and most of us thought that Coach (Red) Drew had run up the score on us the year before. We’d really jumped on them this time and we asked Coach Dodd to just let us go.

“Coach just said, `No. We’ve got enough to win, and we’ve still got to play Georgia.”

It was in the academic part of his players’ lives where the legendary coach would allow no letting up.

“I think that was because Coach Dodd himself did not graduate from college,” Morris said. “Most people don’t know that. But I heard Coach Dodd make a talk to an Atlanta civic club one day and he said, `You’re looking at a third-semester sophomore from the University of Tennessee.’

“I think that’s why he felt so strongly about education. At a time when most schools were building Taj Mahal dormitories for their football players, Coach Dodd broke up our athletic dorm at the end of the 1950-51 school year. He said that we’re segregated enough already from regular campus life.

“And sure enough, we found out that there really were people walking around campus who didn’t have big necks and big wrists.”

One could even meet some of them on elevators.

Wilt Browning is a special contributor to theACC.com. He spent more than 40 years as a sports editor and columnist in the Southeast. He worked for the Greenville News, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, the Charlotte Observer, the Greensboro News & Record and the Asheville Citizen-Times. His numerous awards include five North Carolina Sports Writer of the Year honors. He is also the author of five books, including Come Quittin’ Time which was released this summer.

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