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Jon Morris ’64:
What if...

By Bob Gamere ’62

Jon Morris ’64 When the various news outlets announced their “top athletes of the century” recently, many used the player’s impact on society and the changing of the times as a key. The whole selection process is subjective anyhow, but the lists still managed to tick people off.

The Holy Cross top 10 list is also impossible to pick with any degree of certainty, but it’s fun to try and guaranteed to start arguments. Using the idea of “changing times,” I am obliged to put Jon Morris on my list.

When Jon played, two-platoon football was coming to a close. There aren’t any two-platoons now.

When Jon played, his coach Dr. Eddie Anderson was also a full time surgeon. That doesn’t happen anymore.

Jon says, “When I played at Holy Cross, football was more extra-curricular fun. Now football is more a business.”

When Jon played, the NFL was alone as king of pro football. When he signed with the Patriots of the AFL instead of the Green Bay Packers of the NFL, he helped to bring about equality in the Leagues. There was later a merger and now people can’t tell the difference between old AFL and old NFL teams.

Getting back to Jon on the field, he was a terrific linebacker at Holy Cross as well as an All America center. In the pros he was strictly an offensive center.

I was privy to Morris’ contract negotiations as he finished his HC career with a 9-0 win over Boston College. Jon downed a punt on the BC 2 early in that game and then his defensive charge led to the safety that gave HC the lead and ultimately a big upset.

Jon was drafted by Mike Holovak of the Patriots and Vince Lombardi of Green Bay. Jon handled his own affairs as most players did then. He was very media savvy since his father (John D.) for years was Washington correspondent for the New York Times. At any rate, Holovak negotiates for the Pats. Green Bay had “a guy named Anderson shadow me everywhere,” says Jon. Green Bay at first offered Morris a contract that Jon told me at the time “was a joke.” “They must get people to sign these things right off,” Jon told me then. “But I’m not an idiot.”

Eventually Green Bay came around and matched the Pats offer. Same money, same new car (Pontiac convertible—black with a red top—4 on the floor) and the same no-cut two-year contract.

Then Holovak made the move that sealed the deal for the Patriots. Mike guaranteed Morris that he would start for the Patriots. That, despite the fact the Pats had a pretty good center in Walt Cudzik.

Well, Lombardi couldn’t bring himself to guarantee some rookie that he would start. So Morris took the Pats’ offer.

Only a few of us know that Morris had been guaranteed the starting center’s position. While Morris was with the College All Stars preparing to play the NFL champion Chicago Bears, Cudzik was still with the Patriots in their training camp. I’m wondering at the time what’s going on. Remember, we knew what poor Cudzik didn’t know.

Sure enough, just before Morris reports to the Pats after the All Star game, the Patriots trade Cudzik. Holovak was true to his word with Jon.

But now the kicker to the story. Jim Ringo, who was the center for Green Bay, gets an agent to talk to Lombardi. One of the first agents.

“Mr. Lombardi,” he says, “I’m Jim Ringo’s agent.”

“Is that right?” says Vince. He excuses himself and makes a phone call.

When he comes back, he says to the agent, “If you’re Jim Ringo’s agent you’d better go talk to him and tell him he’s been traded to the Eagles. He’s not a Packer anymore.”

And so, there it is. If Jon had signed with the Packers instead of the Patriots, he would have started and … who knows how many rings? But Lombardi couldn’t bring himself to guarantee the job to Jon.

It has further come out in books about Lombardi that the Ringo’s agent story might have only been a part of the reason Jim was let go by Green Bay. Apparently Lombardi felt Ringo couldn’t play anymore anyway.

Jon now says, “we all have our ‘what ifs’ in life … and that’s mine. Everytime I hear about the frozen tundra of Green Bay, etc…”

Well, anything could have happened in Green Bay. Injuries, whatever. As it is, Jon had a great career with the Pats, has stayed in New England, is married to his wife, Gail, his children have graduated from Holy Cross and Jon has had his own food brokerage business for 30 years.

In my book, Jon Morris is one of the top 10 athletes ever at Holy Cross. If he isn’t, his story sure is top ten.

 

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