Morris was a legend

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:04 AM ET

Frank Morris won the Grey Cup so many times, it would be more than appropriate if arrangements were made to have the trophy buried with him.

Or at least have it present at his funeral.

Edmonton has lost a two-way football player and multi-sport legend in Morris, a Hall of Fame member of the Eskimos first glory gang with Jackie Parker, Johnny Bright, Normie Kwong and Rollie Miles.

He was 85.

While those 1954-55-56 Eskimos teams will live forever in the annals of Canadian sport, it wasn't the first or the last dynasty Morris would be a major part of.

During his playing career there were only two teams to have won three Grey Cups in a row and Morris played both ways for 60 minutes a game with of both of them.

He was a member of the 1945-47 Toronto Argos before he became an Eskimo for the three in a row run under coach Pop Ivy. But if that wasn't accomplishment enough, Morris would become the architect, in terms of Canadian content, of the greatest CFL dynasty ever: the five-in-a-row Eskimos of 1978-82.

Back when Jim Donlevy was coaching the U of A Golden Bears he saw all of this coming together and, in 1974 he foresaw the future.

"You can ask any college coach in the country 'Who is doing the best job?' and the answer without fail would be 'Frank Morris of the Eskimos'," he said.

"It's really incredible. On the basis of what the Eskimos are doing right now they might be building a dynasty that could last forever. Frank Morris is finding the people and Norm Kimball is wheeling and dealing for draft choices. These guys have the Canadian college draft by the jugular. All you can do is shake your head, smile and applaud."

Morris and the Grey Cup were almost synonymous. If it hadn't been that he missed 17 consecutive seasons after his playing career - most of which he spent out of football working in jobs such as plumber's helper, car salesman, radio sportscaster and distillery representative - you could have called it a marriage with the Grey Cup.

In all, Morris played with or helped construct teams that went to 20 Grey Cups and won 13 before he retired in 1988.

"I had an absolute ball," Morris once told me of his playing career. "I played every sport in the business. I threw fastball in 1942 in the world tournament in Detroit, played pro baseball in the Quebec league, played for the Edmonton Mercurys hockey team that won the Olympic gold medal in 1952 but I couldn't go to the Olympics with them because I was a pro, one of my real regrets.

"I played with the Argos, who were just a super bunch of guys who loved to party with each other and then go out and beat somebody's brains out. And then I came here to the Eskimos and virtually walked into the same situation.

"And then to have the career I had with the Edmonton organization ... I ended up in the Grey Cup game what seemed like every second year of my life. I had an absolute ball."

Morris was a beer salesman in Toronto during the off-season and one day he dropped into a place called the Town Tavern on a regular call and found a bunch of his football pals in a serious discussion.

Annis Stukus was there. And Bill Briggs. So was Mike King. And Don Durno. And Doug Pyzer.

Stukus, the old Argo who was hired as the first coach of the Eskimos in 1949, was there on a scouting mission. He signed them all, including the offensive guard/defensive tackle/beer salesman who had wandered in.

But it was in recruiting and drafting that Morris found his true calling after all those years out of football.

"He had an incredible ability to project a young player's future development both on and off the field," said five-in-a-row coach and later GM and CEO Hugh Campbell yesterday.

"At the heart of our team were players that Frank studied as boys and predicted their contribution as men.

"When discussing a university player, Frank would accurately tell us the height, weight and speed the player would have three years later at age 25.

"He'd also tell us what kind of leader he'd be and what kind of role he'd take in the community.

"Frank could actually see the future. His happy personality brought much joy and laughter to our lives. His contribution was the very foundation of our team."

When his old teammates look back at the Frank Morris they knew as a player, he had a rather different relationship when it came to young football talent at the time.

Kwong loved to tell how Morris would put his arm around the shoulders of a rookie in the shower and tell him how good he was looking during training camp - while at the same time he'd be peeing on the poor kid's leg.

Like the dozens of Eskimo greats from a later era who in some way owe their careers to Morris, those young men would learn to love the guy who is survived by his wife Dorothy, six children, 13 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

As current Eskimos CEO Rick LeLacheur so perfectly summed it up yesterday: "We've lost a true Canadian sports icon."

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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