RICHMOND, Va. -- The old-school players drew his attention, as they always have. Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris didn't grow up watching them, but he takes advantage of learning about them whenever he can. So when the Redskins spent a few hours at the Pro Football Hall of Fame last week -- a day before they played Cleveland -- Morris checked out his football ancestors.
It wasn't the first time he's visited the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. But it did provide him another chance to watch players he's grown to love, for their games and more. He watched video clips of players such as Gale Sayers, O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Walter Payton among others. He paid homage to his Washington lineage and checked out, among others, former Redskins quarterbacks Sonny Jurgensen and Sammy Baugh.
"I prefer old-style running backs," Morris said. "Those are the guys I like. I don't have a problem with the newer backs, but those are my favorites. I used to watch clips on YouTube. I didn't have the privilege of watching those guys growing up. It's just cool to see their stats and see what type of guys they are and read a quick bio on them."
Morris wasn't the only Redskin watching videos of ex-players, but he is among the most interested. And one man stands above for him: Payton. It goes beyond football for Morris, who said he's seen all he can of Payton. A big part of that admiration stems from Payton's off-field impact as well.
"It's an honor to play running back when guys like that come through this league," Morris said. "It's cool to see how he has an influence on people even though he's gone."
That influence is felt on the field, too, in the form of his style more than the position he played. That's why Morris calls him his favorite player.
"It's because of the way he played. He played every play like it's his last play and never shied away from contact," Morris said. "You see clips from him and he could easily just walk in [to the end zone] and he'd just go at guys. He wanted that contact. He wanted to assert himself, 'Hey, I'm Walter Payton, you're gonna respect this.' I carry myself like that as well, whether it was in high school or college, and now I get to play in the NFL. I still carry myself like that. I don't shy away from contact. I don't go looking for it, but I don't shy away."
Morris always has had a sense of history. And some of those backs have been drawn to him: During his rookie season, he received a request for a jersey from Campbell. And at one point after rushing for 200 yards in a division-clinching win over Dallas in 2012, Morris paid tribute to John Riggins and took a bow, something Riggins did at the end of a 1983 playoff win.
The Campbell jersey swap still amazes him.
"That was an awesome experience," he said. "I was like, 'What, you're a fan of me? No, I'm a fan of yours.' He's another one of those older guys that I love watching. His thighs were probably four of mine put together. He was impressive and I always remember the run against the Rams when he plowed into the guy and knocked him backwards and then kept going. He was a hard runner."
It's hard to match what Campbell or some of the other backs did. Morris, though, is off to a good start in his career with 3,962 yards and 28 touchdowns in his first three seasons. He'll be a focal point again this season as the Redskins are expected to deepen their commitment to the running game. And while Morris' career keeps pointing forward, he'll always take time out to look backwards.
He admits he has a running backs bias, but will watch some others, including the old Redskins as well as former Bears linebacker Dick Butkus. Morris checked them all out during the visit to the Hall of Fame. Some teammates, barely in their adult years, played games on Madden. Morris capitalized on a chance he won't always have.
"It was cool," he said. "It was interesting to know what it means to play in the NFL. It's not just playing a game, it's paying homage to the guys who came before us. We're standing on the shoulders of giants. They opened doors for us. Me being African-American, guys like Ernie Davis and all of them who paved the way for us. They made it so it's possible for us. I'm definitely not a numbers guy so I can't tell you the stats. But it's just so I know what it took to be here and it makes you appreciate that much more. I feel more people should do that, even guys who are now in little league or high school. They should start learning what it took for them to be able to do what they do."