FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Jon Morris had given up hope the call would come. No matter how much he coveted entry into the Patriots Hall of Fame, he figured he had no chance to get in via fan voting. After all, most of those on the Internet were too young to have seen him play, and who would vote for a center anyhow?
But then the phone rang earlier this year and it was team owner Robert Kraft on the other end alerting him his time had finally come. Morris chuckles now describing how Kraft asked if he would accept his invitation to be inducted.Scott Barboza/ESPN Boston
Jon Morris tried on his red Patriots Hall of Fame jacket on Thursday.
"I’m tremendously overwhelmed because I was nominated several times and didn’t win through the fans' vote," Morris said Thursday while appearing at the Patriots Hall of Fame in advance of Saturday's induction. "I really never thought there was much chance I would win through the fans' vote -- since most of the fans that are voting were not born when I played. So when the senior committee came along, it just caught me by surprise. I had given up hope, I really had. I was very, very disappointed that I would never make it, but all of a sudden I get this phone call."
It's not hard to see how much the honor means to Morris, particularly as he tried on the red Patriots Hall of Fame blazer on Thursday. He was supposed to take it right back off for final alterations; Instead, he wore it through the entire media interview, as if unwilling to give it back even for a moment. When the topic turns to his favorite memories with the Patriots, he immediately puts Saturday's impending induction near the top.
"[The induction] is one of them, I promise you that," said Morris, who joins quarterback Drew Bledsoe in this year's Hall of Fame class. "I played on some teams that didn't produce a lot of memories back in my day with the Patriots."
But he did highlight one other moment for his playing days: A December 1996 issue of Sports Illustrated that featured Patriots running back Jim Nance on the cover (even though it's just him and a bunch of Bills defenders; no offensive linemen in sight).
"Jim Nance led the league in rushing before the merger," Morris explained. "That game against Buffalo, he ran for 110 yards and his picture was on the cover of Sports Illustrated that next week. That, to us, was a huge deal because we were the Patriots -- everyone was making fun of us because we were the AFL and everybody was saying we were not as good as the NFL. Then there’s Jim Nance on the cover of Sorts Illustrated; It was just very special."
Morris was a star in his own right. The franchise's very first All-Pro player, Morris earned seven Pro Bowl honors from 1964-1970. He played 11 seasons for Boston/New England before closing out his career with Chicago and Detroit. He jokes now about how Andre Tippett wearing his No. 56 and said he told Tippett to call him whenever "their number" got retired (Tippett was enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame in 2008).
The Patriots could use someone like Morris now with starting center Dan Koppen sidelined by a broken ankle suffered during a Week 1 win over the Dolphins. Morris was watching the national broadcast from his home in South Carolina and lamented the injury, noting he suffered a similar one that essentially ended his playing career in New England.
Asked if players today are different from his era, he immediately agrees.
"It is a different game," he said. "I didn’t play against too many guys that weighted as much as Albert Haynesworth weighs... I was considered one of the biggest centers in the league at 255 pounds. I might be a strong safety today, except I'm slow."
Today, speed notwithstanding, he's a Hall of Famer and Morris is humbled to be back in Foxborough.
"[The Kraft family] really made me feel like a part of the organization and I still feel that way, and I don’t even live here," said Morris. "It's just wonderful what they've done. You can see the results of it -- three Super Bowl rings don't happen by chance. You see it starts at the top."