Just moments before the kickoff of Super Bowl V in Miami's Orange Bowl, Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback Craig Morton knew something was amiss.
"I'm looking out at the field, and I see this gigantic, inflatable Johnny Unitas," Morton recalled. "I say to myself, 'What the heck am I doing playing against this guy?' I mean, it was only a few years earlier I was watching the guy win the greatest championship game ever [the Baltimore Colts' 1958 NFL title game against the New York Giants]. Now, I'm about to go toe-to-toe with him.
"It was tough to get my head around that."
Morton and his Cowboys didn't wilt in the face of Johnny U., but the game certainly wasn't an offensive masterpiece. Baltimore won 16-13, thanks to a last-second field goal by rookie Jim O'Brien. It was a disappointing finish for a Cowboys team that had been dubbed "Next Year's Champions."
The Cowboys rid themselves of that backhanded title a year later by beating the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI. However, by then, Morton had been supplanted by Roger Staubach as the starting quarterback of America's Team.
Still, Morton returned to the Super Bowl stage late in his career when he led the surprising Denver Broncos against -- wait for it -- the Cowboys in Super Bowl XII in New Orleans.
Morton, however, failed in his attempt to exact some revenge, suffering through a forgettable day as co-MVPs Harvey Martin and Randy White crushed the veteran QB in the Broncos' 27-10 loss. Morton was so ineffective that he was replaced in the second half by the "legendary" Norris Weese.
Despite the tough day in the Big Easy, the journey to that Super Bowl remains a lasting and positive memory for Morton.
"Denver became a big-league city during that run up to the Super Bowl," he said. "The emotion leading up to that game was amazing. It's something that I'll never forget. Being part of that was truly special."
Today, Morton is part of another special program, at his alma mater, the University of California, where he is the athletic department's major gift officer.
"I ask for money for a living," Morton quipped. Turning serious, he added, "Cal has become a big-time program, but our facilities trail many of the schools at our level. We've got a long way to go to simply pull even, but we're starting to make some progress."
As the only quarterback to start for two different teams in Super Bowls, Morton understands
he owns a unique place in NFL history.
"Playing in those two Super Bowls was a special honor," he said. "I had a long, fulfilling career in the NFL, but those Super Bowl experiences really made it extra rewarding."
Rudy Klancnik is a freelance writer based in Texas.