Earl Morrall, a key contributor in the Miami Dolphins perfect season, had been afflicted with the most serious stage of a degenerative brain disease when he died in April 2014 at age 79, The New York Times reported this week.
Morrall’s family told the newspaper that Morrall had stage 4 CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) when he died.
The disease has been diagnosed in the autopsy of numerous former NFL players over the past 14 years. It has been linked to repeated head trauma, including the type of jarring hits common in football. The disease can cause memory loss and depression.
Boston University has diagnosed CTE in 90 of 94 players it has studied. Another former Dolphins standout, receiver Mark Duper, was diagnosed with signs of CTE in 2013.
Morrall spent the final five seasons of his 21-year NFL career with the Dolphins and started nine games during their 17-0 season in 1972 after Bob Griese broke his ankle in the fifth game that year. Griese returned for the AFC Championship game and Super Bowl.
A former All-American at Michigan State, Morrall was drafted second overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 1956. He was named the AP’s NFL MVP for the Baltimore Colts in 1968, a season in which he replaced an injured Johnny Unitas and led the Colts to the Super Bowl.
After his retirement in 1976, Morrall later became the University of Miami’s quarterbacks coach in 1979 and coached Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde and Mark Richt.
He was elected to the Davie city council in 1989 and eventually became the city’s mayor. A 1992 run for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives was unsuccessful. At the time of his death, Morrall’s family attributed it to complications from Parkinson’s Disease.