As the late, great Haywood Harris once said, fathers do not spend backyard play time teaching sons to become middle guards.
Middle guard is not one of the glamorous positions in college football. It is dirty work. The position requires a special kind of man, one whose dedication far outstrips the norm.
Tennessee had such a winner in the mid-1960s. Bobby Morel, 5-9 and 212, was shaped much like a fireplug with short arms and stubby legs and a heart as big as a basketball.
Alas, the old Vol fraternity is today minus a good one. Bobby Morel, 75, died Monday morning at 5. He had an incurable heart condition. He is survived by his wife, Patsy, and daughters Britton, Megan and Hayden.
The Morel home is in Franklin. Bobby was active in Brentwood Methodist Church. For years, he and ex-Vol Albert Dorsey have been in the same Sunday School class.
Morel was a lot more than an old Vol. He once taught seventh-grade social studies at Montgomery Bell Academy. He coached football in 1972-73. He built beautiful, very expensive homes in the Nashville area.
Bobby grew up in College Grove. There should be a stone marker or at least a highway dedication sign.
With a wide smile for punctuation, he once explained that he and the town were a perfect fit. He quoted a description from times long gone – a hundred residents, three cotton gins, two sawmills, two general stores and a wagon maker.
Morel was a perfect fit for the Vols. He was one of the anchors for the ’66 team, third of Doug Dickey’s six. It won eight games.
Maybe you remember: The Vols were No. 8 in the AP poll the week they lost at Georgia Tech, two to one in field goals. A week later, Tennessee lost to Alabama, 11-10. A kick for a UT win, ruled wide right, changed Gary Wright’s life.
The Gator Bowl victory over Syracuse and Larry Czonka was far more fun.
This was an almost great Tennessee team – Bob Johnson, Charles Rosenfelder, Bill Young, Dewey Warren, Richmond Flowers, Johnny Mills, John Boynton, Elliott Gammage, Paul Naumoff, Derrick Weatherford, Jimmy Glover, Richard Pickens, Harold Stancell, Austin Denney, Morel, on and on, tough guys, really tough.
Dick Williams played beside Bobby Morel.
“I’ll never forget the 1966 Auburn game in Birmingham. Bobby, short and stocky, lined up across from Auburn’s great center, Forrest Blue (6-6, 242), and gave him fits. Play after play, he would butt Blue under the chin.
“Blue couldn’t block Bobby. He was so much lower, there was no surface to block. Coaches were yelling at Blue. There wasn’t anything he could do.”
Tennessee won, 28-0.
Williams said Morel was a funny driver.
“He would grip the steering wheel, nod his head and rock his body back and forth as if to the beat of some music only he could hear. I suppose it was nervous energy, as if he was waiting for the snap of the football.”
Robbie Franklin’s fondest memory about Bobby is not from football. It is about marriage.
“Bobby lived about 20 miles from where my girlfriend lived, in Lewisburg. Bobby gave me rides to visit Janet during school breaks.
“I told Bobby that the best thing that has ever happened to me was marrying Janet. Fifty-three years, three wonderful daughters, 13 grandchildren … Bobby Morel helped make all this happen.”
Bob Johnson, hall of fame center, has a very different recall. The Orange and White game of ’66 featured a fierce, nose-to-nose struggle between Bob and Bobby.
“He was hard on me. He was very strong and he played so low, always under a tall center. He got the most-valuable-player award from that spring game. What does that say about who whipped who?”
“Bob moved the football and Bobby moved forward in the same instant. Morel’s helmet sometimes hit just under Johnson’s chin.”
Bobby Morel’s football nickname was Stumpy. He was a warrior, an inspiration, an overachiever who played bigger than he was. The edge of his helmet tore the skin off the bridge of his nose. There was a strip of tape from August through December.
Tough guy gone.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is [email protected]