This is a sad story.
Stanley Morgan, 64, once a Volunteer of distinction, a near-legend in 14 years of professional football, is a victim of concussions, maybe more than 30.
Stanley is convinced his brain has been damaged. He says he is struggling with depression, mood swings and memory loss. He has good days and bad days and a few that are impossible.
The good ones are when he feels like getting out of bed and doing something. He is grateful that he can walk and play golf. He can’t run. That hurts. Running was what he did.
From a distance, he can see the $1 billion the National Football League set aside as a settlement of the class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of former players. The fund has supposedly paid out $485 million so far, and another $174 million in claims has been approved. NFL appeals delay conclusions.
Morgan says his claim has been denied. He frets about the probability that he is in the early stages of dementia, another symptom of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease associated with football head injuries.
He manages a faint smile when he says he feels he is a classic case of damaged goods. He has been told not to worry; it is not all that serious.
“A doctor in Tampa told me I am fortunate to have played wide receiver, that I didn’t get hit much out there. I made the acquaintance of some corners and safeties I wish he could meet.”
Stanley Morgan, 5-11 and 176, played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots, a final one with the Indianapolis Colts, 196 NFL games. He caught 557 passes for 10,716 yards and 72 touchdowns. He sometimes tried to block bigger people when he wasn’t the designated receiver. He lost some of those fights.
Stanley carried the ball from scrimmage a few times and returned 92 punts. Once he was not tackled.
Morgan remembers some of the hits, well, the fallout. There was a big blow in Green Bay. Stanley jumped for a pass. A helmet nailed him on the chin. He went down headfirst. He was hauled away on a cart.
When he woke up, he told hospital attendants he had to call home, that Rholedia and their girls might be worried.
Worried wasn’t the word. His wife was making arrangements to somehow bring her husband home.
“The TV announcer had said the hit reminded him of the blow that felled Darryl Stingley.”
Darryl was a Patriot until 1978. As he stretched for a stray pass, Jack Tatum of the Raiders leveled him with a devastating shot to the head. Stingley suffered a compressed spinal cord and two fractured vertebrae. He spent the rest of his life as a quadriplegic.
Morgan was lucky. He just misunderstood some movies.
“Several times, during Monday game reviews, I saw things I had done that I could not remember doing. I suppose there were times I continued playing on instinct, in sort of a subconscious state.”
Teammates laughed at the time. There is nothing funny about it now. Morgan is embarrassed to admit he has thought of suicide.
“They tell me CTE can be diagnosed only after death.”
He plans to donate his brain for testing and research. He wants his wife of 44 years to know the truth, whatever it is, and to have compensation if she is entitled.
Stanley introduced himself to pretty Rholedia McGuire when both were freshmen at the University of Tennessee. He was already star material. She was not immediately impressed.
Later, she was. They married in November of their sophomore year. Eventually, his accomplishments had meaning. She knew the numbers: a scorching 4.36 in the 40; 4,642 all-purpose yards; really big game against Texas Christian, three touchdowns against Maryland and 201 yards at Hawaii.
Interesting that Morgan sees no connection between football in high school or his time as a Volunteer and his current condition. He recalls a troublesome ankle injury but nothing like the violence he encountered in the NFL.
In 1972, Morgan led Easley High to the South Carolina state championship. He came to Tennessee as a natural receiver but became a running back because the team needed one. He played in 43 games of the Bill Battle era, rushed 353 times, gained 1,952 yards and scored 28 touchdowns. He was twice all-SEC.
New England knew he had good hands and could outrun the wind. The Patriots drafted him in 1977, first round, 25th pick. The league wasn’t scattering easy millions back then, but Stanley thought he had struck it rich.
He exceeded expectations. He was fearless. He led the NFL in yards per reception in 1979, 1980 and 1981. In the first half of his pro career, he did things nobody had done. He turned five receptions into 170 yards against the Colts. He caught five passes and gained 182 yards against the Dolphins. That record stood for 17 years.
Paul Perillo of NFL.com says Stanley is among the all-time underrated players.
“For a long time, Morgan was one of the most feared deep threats in football. He averaged 19.4 yards per catch for his career. His numbers compare favorably with Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. But because he wasn’t flying around in January like those two, he’s not in Canton. He should be.”
Pro hall of fame would be nice. Decent health for old age would be better.
“I’m having bad problems,’’ Morgan said.
He sometimes can’t say what he wants to say. He knows his mind isn’t operating right. He lives with headaches.
“I have medication.”
Stanley, if you had it to do over, would you just run track?
“Oh no,” he said. “Even knowing what I know now, I’d do it all over again. I feel like I was put on this Earth to play football. I loved it so much.
“If I had it to do over, I might not be quite as tough. I might settle for a few less yards.”
Stanley was teasing. He never stopped fighting to get a little more from each catch. He never ducked out of bounds.
“If I had it to do over …”
He didn’t bother to finish the sentence.
Marvin West welcomes reader remarks or questions. His address is [email protected].