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Harvard Great Performances: Carl Morris ’03

10.9.20

A Harvard player catches a ball at eye level.

Eighteen seasons after his final reception for the Crimson, Morris still has a firm hold on almost every significant Harvard pass-catching record. Photograph by Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images


Eighteen seasons after his final reception for the Crimson, Morris still has a firm hold on almost every significant Harvard pass-catching record. Photograph by Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

If these were ordinary times the Harvard football team would be back on the road and back to Ivy play this Saturday at Cornell. Instead, we’ll make another trip to yesteryear with a look at the Crimson’s most prolific pass-catcher.

For a program whose home-field dimensions necessitated the invention of the forward pass, Harvard football was curiously slow to take to the air. Most gridiron followers know how, in 1906, when President Theodore Roosevelt, A.B. 1880, LL.D. 1902 (a huge Crimson football fan, by the way), commanded that the sport be made more open in hopes of reducing its violence, the first proposal was to widen the field. This, however, was impossible because of one huge obstacle: Harvard Stadium, opened in 1903, literally was set in stone (or at least concrete). The next idea was to legalize the forward pass. This notion stuck.

Great (Gridiron) Performances
Missing touchdowns? In a season without games, football correspondent Dick Friedman reprises past Crimson glories: epic plays, players, and records. Online weekly at www.harvardmagazine.com/topic/Sports

 

But for two-thirds of a century, the Crimson was mostly ground-oriented. The first significant Harvard air pair was the class of ’68 duo of quarterback Ric Zimmerman and end Carter Lord. The Joe Restic era (1971-93) achieved liftoff, producing receiving stars such as All-America Pat McInally ’75 and Jim Curry ’78. But under coach Tim Murphy, Harvard has been jet-propelled. The turn of the twenty-first century brought a passel of pass-catchers, among them Colby Skelton ’98, Terence Patterson ’00, and Carl Morris ’03.

Ah, Carl Morris—a name to reckon with. A two-time Ivy League player of the year (2001 and ’02), he holds almost every significant Harvard receiving record. His 245 career receptions put him 68 ahead of second-place Corey Mazza ’07, and Morris and Mazza are tied with 28 career receiving touchdowns. Almost two decades later, Morris’s statistics still stagger. Quite simply, Carl Morris is the Jerry Rice of Harvard football.

At six-foot-three and 215 pounds, Morris was too big for most defensive backs, and too fast for the larger safeties and cornerbacks. Leaving nothing to chance, he assiduously studied his opponents’ tendencies. “I was big into tape,” he says. Morris had two other major advantages: his primary quarterbacks were Neil Rose ’02 and Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05, among the most illustrious in Crimson history. 

Now living in Virginia and working as a regional manager in medical sales for 3M, Morris declines to choose one single performance as his greatest. Here are his final four, in chronological order: 

The Coming-Out Party. At Brown on September 23, 2000, Morris, then a sophomore, and Rose (making his first start) announced themselves. Early in the game, by his own account, Morris did not help his signal-caller. “I played probably the worst half of football you could play as a receiver and proceeded to be throttled by the coaching staff,” he recalls. “Fortunately, in the second half I woke up.” And how: After the break he caught 10 passes for 220 yards. The most significant were two fourth-quarter grabs. The first was a 63-yard touchdown pass-and-run; the second, a little over two minutes later, went for an 80-yard score. With 21 fourth-quarter points, the Crimson rallied from a 31-21 deficit for a 42-37 road win.

The Comeback. On October 27, 2001, the Crimson stood 5-0 when lightly regarded Dartmouth invaded the Stadium. This was freshman Fitzpatrick’s first start—“kind of the beginning of Fitzmagic,” says Morris. Shockingly, the Big Green jumped out to a 21-0 lead. “I don’t think we started the game with the right mindset,” admits Morris. Thinking of a possible perfect season, “we let ourselves look down the road a little bit. Fortunately, we were able to right the ship at halftime.”

The comeback began on a Morris touchdown pass—one he threw. “We ran an option,” Morris says. Taking the snap at the Dartmouth 35, Fitzpatrick pitched to Morris, who looked downfield for the intended receiver—who had fallen down. “I was kind of stuck out there and I just heaved it across the field to Sam Taylor [’02] and he was able to bring it in.” Dartmouth 21, Harvard 7. 

Continues Morris: “On the next kickoff Xavier Goss [’03] caused a fumble” at the Dartmouth 32. “On the next play Fitzie threw a fade to me and we scored again.” Dartmouth 21, Harvard 14.

“On the ensuing drive we held them to a three and out and they punted to me and I had a pretty decent return. Then Fitzie threw it straight up top to me for a 40-yard completion, and Nick Palazzo [’03] banged it in for the tying score. Three possessions, lightning speed, and we were back in it. From that moment on we were completely dominant.”

In the second half the Crimson held the Big Green to 27 yards of total offense. The final score was Harvard 31, Dartmouth 21. It remains the largest comeback for a victory in Crimson history. Morris had 11 catches for 153 yards, plus the touchdown toss that jump-started the three-touchdown fusillade.

The Catch. Two weeks after the Comeback, the Ivy title and perfect seasons were on the line in a battle of 7-0 teams when Penn visited the Stadium. Again, the Crimson fell behind, this time by 14-0. The Crimson forged a tie on two touchdowns, the second of which came on a third-quarter 20-yard Rose-to-Morris touchdown pass. Then, at the opening of the third quarter, Morris made a sensational play that turned the game around. 

The Crimson had the ball at its own 38. Morris was flanked to the right, covered by Penn’s Stephen Faulk. At the snap Morris headed downfield. Rose pump-faked. “That particular route was a double move,” says Morris. “It was designed to bait [Faulk] into jumping at a short pass, and then I was gonna go by him.” That’s pretty much what happened.

Rose threw the ball deep…possibly too deep. On the run, Morris tried valiantly to keep the ball in sight. “From your left shoulder toward your right shoulder, there’s a blind spot,” he says. “You can’t get your head around fast enough to keep pace with the ball. You’re tracking where you think it should end up and you’re hoping it ends up in that spot. It was a situation where I kind of put my hands out, and I was tracking it, and the ball just hit my hands.” This was the Harvard football equivalent of Willie Mays’s immortal over-the-head catch in the 1954 World Series.

The ball secured, Morris still had 20 yards to go and Faulk to beat. “As I was running I could kind of tell he was coming in my periphery and I had the instinct to duck and fortunately he went high,” says Morris. Unable to follow the move, Faulk went sprawling past. “I was able to walk the last few yards into the end zone,” Morris says. Harvard was ahead for good. The next week the Crimson beat Yale to complete its first undefeated, untied season since 1913.

The Biggest Day. On November 2, 2002, Morris, by now a senior, and Harvard visited Dartmouth. The Crimson held off a scrappy Dartmouth team 31-26, but that wasn’t the real story. Morris caught 21 passes from Rose for 257 yards, both Harvard single-game records.

Twenty-one receptions! Kids playing touch football don’t catch that many.

The only one unaware of his accomplishment was Carl Morris. “A lot of what I recall about this game is what I’ve been told,” he says. “I got a concussion in the fourth quarter. The whole following week is kind of spotty. When I looked at the stat sheet, I couldn’t fathom the possibility of having a day like that.

“I’ve never even seen a tape of the game,” he continued. “I hear it was a good day and on paper it looks like it was a great day, but that is about the extent of my knowledge.” 

He’ll just have to take everyone’s word for it.

Missed any of contributing editor Dick Friedman’s previous Great Performances stories? Read about ace wide-reciver Terence Patterson ’00legendary quarterback Barry Wood ’32, or hard-hitting All-America Endicott Peabody ’42.

For more Harvard football content, check out Bloomberg News Radio. They will be rebroadcasting classic Harvard games of the Coach Tim Murphy Era through the fall. (Read “Murphy Time,” Friedman’s profile of the coach, here.) We hope you’re enjoying and the series, and we’ll see you next week!

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