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Earl Morrall stepped in when the 1972 Miami Dolphins needed him most. And then he willingly stepped aside, earning enduring admiration from his teammates and coach Don Shula.
Morrall, who started 11 games during the Dolphins' perfect season and spent 21 years as an NFL quarterback, died Friday at age 79. He had been in failing health for some time.
"There would be no perfect season, and probably no Super Bowl win in 1972, without Earl Morrall," Bob Griese said Friday.
When Griese broke his ankle in 1972, Morrall came off the bench and started the final nine games of the regular season. Morrall won praise from Shula for returning to the sideline without complaint when Griese came back to play in the final two postseason games, including the Super Bowl to cap the only perfect season in NFL history.
Morrall also played for the 49ers, Steelers, Lions, Giants and Colts, winning three Super Bowl rings. He came off the bench to replace an injured Johnny Unitas and help the Colts win the Super Bowl to cap the 1970 season, and he was the backup to Griese on the Dolphins' 1973 championship team.
Morrall also was the starting quarterback opposite Joe Namath in the 1969 Super Bowl after guiding the Colts to the conference title and winning the league's MVP award. He struggled in that famous 16-7 loss to the Jets, throwing key interceptions, and was benched during the second half for Unitas.
49ers stand by Smith
San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke is committed to supporting linebacker Aldon Smith like a family member in the wake of his latest legal trouble and keeping Smith around for the long haul, too.
"You continue to work as you would with any family member, you continue to work until they leave you no choice," Baalke said Friday in his annual sitdown with media leading up to the draft. "Does character matter? It does."
Regarding a May 3 deadline whether to exercise Smith's 2015 contract option, Baalke gave all indications he hopes to have the menacing pass rusher in a Niners uniform well into the future, for 2015, "and '16, and '17 and '18."
Smith was arrested April 13 at Los Angeles International Airport. Police say the 24-year-old NFL star was randomly selected for a secondary screening and became uncooperative with the process, telling a TSA agent that he had a bomb. The district attorney has referred the case for misdemeanor consideration.
Broncos close camp
The Denver Broncos are closing their training camp to fans this summer because of ongoing construction at team headquarters in Englewood, Colo. Instead, they'll have three open practices at Sports Authority Field: July 27, July 30 and Aug. 2.