But what if Brees’ recovery takes longer than we are being told? Or horrors! what if he comes back and suffers another injury, this time ending his season? Are we comfortable enough with Teddy Bridgewater leading the Saints into the annual New England Patriots’ Invitational? Well, backup quarterbacks have done it before, most recently when Nick Foles took over for Tyler Wentz during the 2017 season and then shocked the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. But my favorite backup rags-to-riches quarterback took over for the No. 1 guy twice during the season and led his teams into Super Bowls. And his story has some very interesting parallels with Teddy Bridgewater.
His name was Earl Morrall and, like Bridgewater, he was named to the Pro Bowl early in his career despite lackluster statistics. In 1957 with the Steelers, Morrall was tapped for the all-star game despite completing only 48% of his passes and throwing 12 interceptions against 11 touchdowns passes. Eleven years and three teams later, Morrall, then 34, took his signature crewcut hair style to Baltimore as the backup to legendary Johnny Unitas, the reigning league MVP.
But Unitas, who was a year older than Morrall, tore an arm muscle in the final preseason game, and Morrall led the Colts to a 13-1 record and the playoffs. After dispatching the Vikings and Browns to win the NFC title, the Colts were upset by the New York Jets 16-7 in Super Bowl III, still the NFL's greatest upset. Morrall was named NFL MVP that season but next year went back to the bench.
Two years later, Morrall again relieved an injured Unitas in Super Bowl V and rallied the Colts to a 16-13 victory over Dallas. Unitas was injured again during the 1971 season and Morrall was 7-2 as a starter although the Colts lost the conference title game to Miami. Morrall was released after the season, and was signed by his old Colts coach, Don Shula, who had moved on to the Dolphins.
Morrall, then 38, backed up young star Bob Griese for five games, but Griese was injured and Shula once again called Morrall out of the bullpen. It was arguably the greatest season in NFL history as the Dolphins went undefeated, winning all 14 regular season games and two playoff games before edging the Redskins, 14-7, in Super Bowl VI. In his career, Morrall was 22-1 as a starter in the two seasons he led teams to the Super Bowl.
Teddy Bridgewater has a ways to go to top that, but he is 4-0 after becoming the Saints’ starter. He has not dazzled the statistical line while subbing for Brees and even ranks behind other backups such as Kyle Allen of Carolina, Gardiner Minshew of Jacksonville and Mason Rudolph of Pittsburgh (who is injured) in the traditional methods of rating quarterbacks, But the most important statistic is winning, and there is where Bridgewater has excelled.
Like Earl Morrall, Bridgewater replaced an aging legend with a steady, workmanlike game enhanced by good receivers, a good offensive line and a solid defense. Could Steady Teddy achieve the same Super Bowl glory as Earl Morrall if called upon? Nothing personal, but most Who Dats hope he never gets the chance.
Jim Miller's new book, "Integrated: the Lincoln Institute, Basketball and a Vanished Tradition" is now available from the University Press of Kentucky or at Amazon.com.