Morris gets the call that many will never receive

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 7:51 AM ET

Chris Morris said more at his press conference and at his special ceremony at the 45th Eskimo Annual Dinner than he did in his entire career.

He told the dinner crowd of how he found out about the honour.

"The phone rang and it was Rick LeLacheur," he said of the Eskimo president and CEO.

"Joe McGrath had just got hurt. I'm thinking he must be out of his mind," he said of his first thought of the Eskimos wanting him to come out of retirement.

"Then he told me I'd been selected to go on the Eskimo Wall of Fame.

"I thought maybe it was a joke then I thought, no, he couldn't be that cruel." At his press conference he talked about what it meant to him.

"If anyone would have given me a choice as to, at the end of my career, what I would want the most, this would have been it. Looking at those names up there when I was a rookie, it wouldn't have crossed my mind that I would have this opportunity."

Gold. Great quote. Where was that stuff when he played?

Tomorrow night, No. 60 goes to the Wall of Honour as the quiet giant of Eskimo history.

AN EXAMPLE TO FOLLOW

And one of the more inspirational stories of the 60 seasons being celebrated this year even if he was never a go-to guy for the media in the Eskimo locker room.

Morris was a high school dropout. He became a high school teacher and is now a high school assistant principal. He spent his 14-year career here as his own personal Stay In School program.

But he admits he isn't the best example in the world in terms of inspiration. This is a guy who got serious about school because he decided he wanted to get serious about football. The result was that he made himself a total pro from the get go.

"High school, for me, was just about playing football. The last year of high school was the only year I did any work in high school. It almost stung me.

I dropped out in grade 12 and worked construction. The money was pretty good. But it opened my eyes. Getting up at 5 a.m. and digging in the dirt was real good for me.

I went back to high school and figured if I got my marks up, that football could open a few doors for me." There wasn't, he points out, a college in Canada which would have accepted him with his marks.

"I dedicated myself for that year and it wasn't easy. I had a lot of buddies that wanted to go here and there. I couldn't. It gave me a pretty good perspective with the kids I'd end up teaching. I was nobody special in school, but when I paid the price I got through. I believe if you pay the price you can do just about anything you want." Today Morris is assistant principal at Harry Ainlay High School where he also is an assistant coach of the football team.

Getting his head together was one thing. The body was next.

"I was heavy in high school. I was about 330 pounds. I thought that's what I should be. I'd look at a guy in the NFL and see that he was 320 and I thought I was there.

EYE-OPENER

"When I got to the University of Toronto I realized it's not just weight, a lot of it is composition. There's a big difference between being 300 pounds and being 300 pounds in shape. I went from about 330 to 280.

"I wanted to be good. Football has always been important to me. I didn't want to look bad or to play bad. I was a starter my first year but I didn't play the way I knew I could or should.

"So I really went to work with my weight. I did it all. Weight room. Running. Basketball. I just kept going and going and going. I had a coach who used to say 'What did you do to make yourself a better football player today?' "Both with high school and with training, I'm glad I did it. If I hadn't my life would have been dramatically different."

Morris didn't have a free ride though college like an American scholarship player and he thinks that gave him some dedication, too.

"Four nights a week I worked as a bouncer to pay my way through college."

HE'S GOT GAME

Suddenly Chris Morris was becoming the football player he wanted to be.

"I had a great year my second year of college and in my third year I made All-Canadian and was chosen the best lineman in the country."

The next honour was to become one of two Canadian players named to attend the East-West Shrine game.

"That was an excellent experience. When I came to Edmonton, I'd already been exposed to a higher level of football. It gave me a jump start toward playing in this league."

At the dinner, the Eskimos brought in former quarterback and current Kansas City Chiefs scout Bruce Lemmerman, who was scouting Canadian content for the Eskimos, and was responsible for drafting Morris.

"Football is made up of characters and character," said Lemmerman.

"The one thing the Eskimos have always been good at is identifying character. Chris Morris had character."

Not many Canadian players get to start in their first regular season game.

"It was a challenge for me. The game was a lot faster than I was used to but I thought I could play. Trevor Bowles got hurt in training camp and I started taking the starter reps and I took them for the rest of my career," he said.

But at the dinner he admitted he wasn't filled with confidence thanks to the local media.

"There's nothing like Edmonton for football. It's a different thing for a rookie.

"When I came to camp and saw the five established starters and I knew that no chance in hell I was going to beat out one of those guys.

"Then Bowles gets hurt and the media is saying the Eskimos have a good team if Chris Morris doesn't screw it up.

"They were saying everything was in place except for me.

"And I could tell offensive line coach Bill Macdermott was concerned. He was really worried about Stew Hill with the BC Lions."

Morris survived. And then thrived. He loved his first year in the league.

LOVIN' EVERY MINUTE

"When you're young, you just love anything to do with it. You'd pay to play almost. That's how much you like playing. I was like a puppy dog. I really enjoyed that first year.

"And I had success. We had a good team. We had good players. We lost the western final but other than that, my first year was everything I thought it would be."

The following year, in 1993, he won his first Grey Cup.

"I didn't leave my room at that Grey Cup. I was really focused. I thought about everything.

"It was like that with the entire team that year. Halfway through that season we just pulled together and decided we were going to win the Grey Cup. It was amazing.

"The thing is, you don't really appreciate it when you're young. I thought we'd win it over and over again. I thought I'd have three or four Grey Cup rings in no time."

Morris ended up with three Grey Cup rings, but had to wait until 2003 and his final season, in 2005, to win Grey Cups again.

"For the longest time there I didn't even wear the ring because when I did it reminded me so much of the success we didn't have. We hadn't won for so long it was almost embarrassing. One replay after the other we didn't get over the hump. It was really frustrating.

"The worst was when the 1997 Grey Cup was in Edmonton. We had a great team that year. That one hurt the most.

We should have been in that Grey Cup game. That one was devastating."

Morris said at the turn of the century he could see something happening again.

"I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, I could really see us back to building something really good here again."

Having a shot at winning a Grey Cups again kept him going.

"When I came into the league I wanted to play for 10 years because I thought 10 years was a benchmark of a solid career in this league. I'd always looked at guys and felt that way about them."

FOURTH ALL TIME

He ended up with a 14-year career - fourth to Rod Connop (274), Sean Fleming (268) and Dave Cutler (254) in games played by an Eskimo with 237.

He said his favourite football game was beating Doug Flutie and the Stampeders in a playoff game in Calgary when Flutie and friends froze.

"It was like minus 53 with the wind chill and your spit froze before it hit the ground. I remember that horse in Calgary being crumpled up like it was dead on the sidelines."

His favourite Grey Cup was 2003.

"We lost it in 2002. We were beat by a team we were better than.

"We were a team determined to make up for that, a team with a common bond and goal."

Morris is the 25th Eskimo to have his name and number on the Wall of Honour.

"There was no tougher warrior ever," said LeLacheur.

"It's very fitting that in our 60th season No. 60 is going up."\


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