By Zane Miller

After being drafted with the fifth overall pick of the 1965 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys, quarterback Craig Morton initially spent his career playing second fiddle to starter Don Meredith. However, Morton played well in the few appearances he did get, winning three games with a total of 19 touchdown passes. In 1969, following Meredith's retirement, Morton would finally get his chance as Dallas' main signal caller, an opportunity which he took full advantage of.

Morton led the Cowboys to an 11-2-1 record in 1969, although they fell to the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the postseason, before providing the team with their first visit to the Super Bowl in 1970, though they would lose to the Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts. Despite these successful stints, Morton again found himself on the bench by 1971, being supplanted by young phenom Roger Staubach. After getting limited playing opportunities for the next two and a half seasons, Morton requested a trade and was eventually sent to the division rival New York Giants.

The Giants of the mid-1970's were far from the juggernaut that had dominated in decades prior. Rather, they are remembered as one of the most dysfunctional teams in NFL history, and Morton would suffer the consequences upon his Giants debut in 1974. Going 1-6 after taking over as starter midseason, Morton turned the franchise around slightly the next season with a 5-9 showing, before this too collapsed with a 3-11 record in 1976. After this nightmare, Morton would be traded to the Denver Broncos for the 1977 campaign, in exchange for the team's most recent starter in Steve Ramsey. Although the trade backfired for the Giants, with Ramsey never playing a regular season game with the team, the deal on the Broncos would turn out to be one of the best in franchise history.

Morton played his best game of the season on December 4th on the road against the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans), passing for a pair of touchdowns and 187 yards as the Broncos won it 24-14.

The Broncos had easily their best season in franchise history to that point, winning the AFC West title for the first time in franchise history to enable them to qualify for their postseason debut at a 12-2 record. Morton took the reins for all 14 games of the season, with his turnaround from a disastrous 1976 allowing him to win Comeback Player of the Year honors.

Morton ended the 1977 campaign with 14 passing touchdowns to finish ninth in that category, two behind eighth-place Jim Zorn of the Seattle Seahawks, while placing 13th in passing yardage with 1,929, 58 short of Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini in 12th.

On December 24th, the Broncos had home field advantage for their first round matchup against the AFC Central-winning Pittsburgh Steelers. After being tied 14-14 at halftime, the Broncos blew past Pittsburgh in the fourth quarter, winning 34-21 after scoring 13 unanswered points. Although Morton threw for just 164 yards, he would find tight end Riley Odoms and wide receiver Jack Dolbin for a touchdown each.

On January 1st, 1978, the team would kick off the new year by remaining at Mile High Stadium to face their division foe in the Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders in the AFC title game. This time, Denver jumped ahead at halftime with a 7-3 advantage, before a rushing touchdown from fullback John Keyworth and a touchdown pass from Morton to wide receiver Haven Moses allowed the Broncos to stave off a pair of fourth quarter touchdown passes from Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler to take a 20-17 victory, advancing to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. Morton had one his best performances of the season, throwing for two touchdowns and 224 yards.

On January 15th, 1978, Super Bowl XII would match the Broncos with Morton’s former team, the NFC-winning Cowboys at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. Denver struggled to get anything going offensively in the first half, being shut out 13-0 after a touchdown run by the Cowboys’ Tony Dorsett and a pair of Efren Herrera field goals. Although Broncos kicker Jim Turner would get the team on the board with the opening points of the third quarter, a Dallas touchdown drive shortly thereafter would effectively seal their fate as the Cowboys cruised to a 27-10 win, securing their second Super Bowl title in franchise history. Morton had, by far, his worst game of the season, throwing for just 39 yards and no touchdowns with four interceptions, before giving way to backup Norris Wease.

Morton stayed in Denver for the remainder of his playing career, making two more postseason appearances in 1978 and 1979, though the team would be unable to recapture the success from their Super Bowl run with exits in the second and first rounds respectively. Morton had one more standout season in 1981, as he finished fourth in the MVP race, before retiring after an injury-riddled 1982 season.

It didn't take long for Morton to emerge in the pro football ranks once again after his retirement, as he took over as head coach of the United States Football League's Denver Gold for the final six games of the 1983 season as well as the full 1984 schedule. There he would lead the Gold to a 3-3 record to close out the year at 7-11, before improving the team to a 9-9 finish in 1984. However, neither of these seasons resulted in a postseason appearance, and Morton was not retained for the 1985 campaign.