(Detroit Free Press) -- Earl Morrall, a Michigan State All-America quarterback and the signal caller for the Spartans' first two Rose Bowl victories, died Thursday, at age 79, according to the Naples (Fla.) Daily News and later the Associated Press.
"He's been in a struggle with his health for a while now," Ryan Richael, who worked in marketing with the Miami Dolphins in 2003-2009 and helped run Morrall's charity golf tournament, told the Daily News. "Everybody has been trying to prepare for this. In the end, when you have somebody like Earl Morrall, who's a legend on and off the field, it's still very difficult in the end."
Morall, a Muskegon native, was a consensus first team All-America as a senior in 1955 — also finishing No. 2 in the nation in punting average (42.9) and finishing fourth in Heisman Trophy voting. He led MSU to wins in its first two Rose Bowl appearances, on Jan. 1, 1954, and Jan. 2, 1956, both against UCLA.
He was a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 1956 and went on to a 21-year NFL career, playing in four Super Bowls and winning three. Morrall also played for Detroit, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Miami and the New York Giants.
Morrall, acquired by the Lions from Pittsburgh in a trade for Bobby Layne, played for Detroit in 1958-64, starting 26 games. He threw for 24 touchdowns and 2,621 yards in 1963.
Morrall was NFL MVP in 1968, leading the Colts to a 13-1 regular-season record and an appearance against the Joe Namath-led Jets in Super Bowl III. New York won the Super Bowl, 16-7, in an upset. Morrall started for the Colts again in Super Bowl V and this time Baltimore won, beating the Cowboys, 16-13. Johnny Unitas had injuries both Super Bowl seasons for the Colts.
Morrall started nine of the 14 regular-season games for the 1972 Dolphins, the NFL's last team to finish undefeated and the only one of the Super Bowl era. Bob Griese broke his ankle in Week 5, and Morrall started the rest of the regular season. Griese returned as the starter for the Super Bowl win over the Redskins. Miami won the Super Bowl again the following season.
"He was an unbelievable guy," former Dolphins coach Don Shula told the Miami Herald. "There were no negatives with him. He was the best guy in the locker room. Great in practice. And on the field he made big plays in big games.
"He was just a fine human being and that transcended everything else. It wasn't just about his career. In everything he tried, people recognized what a fine individual he was."