By the end of his career, New England Patriots Hall of Fame wide receiver Stanley Morgan held every accolade in the book. He earned All-Pro honors twice, was a four-time Pro Bowler and his 19.2 yards per reception is the most all-time for receivers with 500 receptions or more.
With all of these accomplishments one might ask the question. Why are we calling him an unsung Patriot? The reason for this is because Morgan’s accomplishments today somehow fly under the radar.
A fan came up to Morgan in the middle of one of his returns to New England mentioning how he has been overlooked by the NFL.
“One of the best things a fan said to me was, ‘Stanley the NFL is [not acknowledging you] for some reason I don’t know,'” Morgan recounted. “If Lynn Swann, Lance Alworth can go into the Hall of Fame and your numbers are way better than theirs, then something is wrong with the league.”
Looking at the statistics, Morgan holds superior numbers in many categories with the exception of Alworth’s touchdowns.
- Stanley Morgan: 557 receptions, 10,716 yards, 19.2 yards per reception, and 72 touchdowns
- Lance Alworth: 542 receptions, 10,266 yards, 18.8 yards per reception, and 85 touchdowns
- Lynn Swann: 336 receptions, 5,462 yards, 16.3 yards per reception, and 51 touchdowns.
For reference, his 19.2 yards per reception are better than those two men above, as well as Terrell Owens (14.8), and Patriots fan favorite Randy Moss (15.6). Both are also in the Hall of Fame.
His 10,352 total receiving yards record in New England still stands even with today’s pass happy Patriots. His total receiving yardage is more than tight end Rob Gronkowski had in his career (7,861). In fact, Morgan has only 3,033 yards less than Gronkowski and Julian Edelman’s total yardage combined (13,385).
One would say the numbers are there to justify that he should be in Canton. People can have their opinion on the matter but in the eyes of the NFL, he should not be. Whether that is fair or not is for football fans to decide.
When he began, Morgan originally did not play wide receiver at all.
At the University of Tennessee, he was plugged in at running back and knew right away that it was not the right fit.
“Was I too small to be in the backfield? Damn right I was,” Morgan said with a laugh. “I didn’t want to go into the backfield and that was one of the things that I didn’t like being babbled about.”
Even though he was the best receiver on the team as a freshman, he was ultimately benched because of bias.
“In my freshman year, even though I was the best receiver on the team, I never started, the coach started this white kid that had been playing there,” Morgan said. “His family was donating money to the athletic department so I was pissed about that.”
Morgan had gotten to the point where he wanted to attend another school for a better opportunity. But ultimately stayed because his college sweetheart, now wife, was in Tennessee.
“I came very close to leaving,” Morgan said. “And if it hadn’t been for the girl I was dating at the time who eventually became my wife, I would’ve left because I didn’t want to play running back. I knew I was going to the NFL because that was my dream since I was a kid and I wanted to go as a wide receiver.”
He shifted back and fourth from receiver to receiver his entire college career which in turn confused teams who did not know what to draft him as.
“Teams in the first round that was looking to choose me, they didn’t know what position I was gonna play,” Morgan said. “They didn’t know if I was gonna be drafted as running back or receiver so that was one of the reasons I went late as the 25th overall pick.”
The New York Giants, New York Jets, Denver Broncos, and the San Diego Chargers expressed interest in drafting Morgan but ultimately it was the Patriots that picked the Tennessee alum. While his dream came true and he now was an NFL player, Morgan was upset that he had to play in the cold.
“I’m from the south and I wanted to stay south or I wanted to go out west,” Morgan said. “And when New England drafted me, I was like, ‘Damn I would hate to go up there’ and I didn’t want to go but I had no choice.”
The cold did not stop Morgan. The wide receiver set and broke records in his entire career as a Patriot. This included his single-game yardage record which he set in 1978 against the Baltimore Colts with 170 yards and broke in 1981 with 182 yards. This was also a Patriots single-game record that stood for 17 years.
He also topped 1,000 receiving yards a franchise record three times. At this point in the league’s history, Morgan said this rarely happened as the NFL and the Patriots in particular preferred to run the ball. So much so that in 1978, the team ran for 3,165 total yards which still stands as the most yardage recorded in one season in NFL history.
“[The New England Patriots] didn’t throw the football back then,” Morgan said. “If we threw the ball 20 times in a game, that was a lot compared to today. We had coaches that believed if you couldn’t run and control the line of scrimmage, you can’t win and that was it. Anybody that played New England in the 70’s knew one thing, and that was we were going to run the the football whether you stopped it or not.”
Morgan had the best season of his career in 1986 which coincidentally is also the number of his jersey. Morgan tallied 84 receptions for 1,491 yards and 10 scores. That year was also the same season as the Patriots’ Super Bowl against the Chicago Bears. Even with it being a lopsided game losing 46-10, Morgan still felt the energy.
“Right from the jump, you felt like you were playing in the ultimate game,” Morgan said about the Super Bowl. “Not a lot of us actually realized that which was good because we could concentrate on the little things that went along with the offense.”
Looking back at his career, he dished out superlatives to a few of his former teammates including the best cornerbacks he ever went up against.
“The best cornerbacks I ever faced were the ones I was with at practice Mike Haynes and Raymond Clayborn,” Morgan said. “They played me hard at practice and when I got to game time, it was pretty easy for me.”
Like Tom Brady is to Julian Edelman, there is only one quarterback Morgan says he would want throwing him the ball.
“[Steve Grogan] kept us together and I would ride with him to the end,” Morgan said. “[Tony] Eason started the  season, and when he got hurt Grogs stepped in and took us to the promise land. If I were to go into battle, I would take Grogan with me.”
Even with all of the great players that have come after him like Brady, Edelman, Gronkowski, Moss, Wes Welker, and Deion Branch, fans still remember Morgan and come in droves to see him at signings which makes the Patriot great smile from ear to ear.
“It feels great because they haven’t forgotten me,” Morgan said. “They remember what I’ve done on the football field and what I had done for the team.”
Morgan looks at the league today and wonders just what kind of stats he could have put up in this era of the NFL.
“There are only one or two receivers out there that have my speed,” Morgan said. “I don’t know what kind of numbers I would have put up if I was getting the ball 10, 20 times a game, there’s no telling what kind of numbers I would have put up.”