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Steamin' Stanley
Austin Murphy
September 09, 1987
Just when it looked as if he was all washed-up, the Patriots' Stanley Morgan made a splashy comeback
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September 09, 1987

Steamin' Stanley

Just when it looked as if he was all washed-up, the Patriots' Stanley Morgan made a splashy comeback

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In the off-season, Morgan finally had the pinkie fixed. "They fused it," he says, holding up a digit with a zipperlike, vertical scar. Doctors bent the finger slightly, simulating a football's contour, then fused it that way, making it look like a third thumb. "I'll never be able to bend it again, but so what? It feels great." Berry challenged Morgan to show up for the following summer training camp in the best shape of his career. Morgan responded.

"I was excited about playing football again," he says. His daily regimen began with a morning jog. At noon he would drive to the Memphis State campus, where, in the teeth of midday heat, he would run sprints on the university's track. Morgan played racquetball, he lifted weights—concentrating on strengthening his hams—and reported to camp at 174 pounds, his weight as a rookie.

In the first game of the season Morgan had seven catches against the Colts, the seventh a 43-yard touchdown on which he was knocked senseless. The game ensured that he would be mostly double-covered for the rest of the season, but it didn't seem to matter. He had seven catches for 161 yards and three touchdowns against the Seahawks. On what might have been a fourth, Seahawks cornerback Dave Brown, the burnee on those three scores, hit Morgan so hard the Steamer's helmet flew off. Undaunted, Morgan came back with 6 catches for 125 yards against Miami, 7 for 162 against the Jets, 5 for 107 against the Bengals and 8 for 121 against the 49ers.

Ernest Gibson, a Patriots defensive back, empathizes with Morgan's victims. "I cover Stanley in practice. You give him a cushion, but he eats it up. He's got a deceptive stride. Maybe people don't think he's that fast." Morgan ran a scorching 4.36 40 in college. In the intervening decade he has "slowed" to 4.5.

Morgan's triumphant moment last season came in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 22. Like the Turkey Day debacle in 1984, this game was nationally televised: Pats-Dolphins on Monday night for the AFC East title. New England and Miami were tied with :44 to play, and the Pats had the ball on the Dolphins' 30, first-and-10. Grogan, disdaining a series of careful running plays to set up the field goal, asked Morgan in the huddle if he could get open. "Sure," said the Steamer. Morgan split wide right. "The d-back was in a bump-and-run. All I had to do was beat him at the line," Morgan says. He did, blazing up the right sideline as Grogan arched a 30-yard pass onto his fingertips. "Nothing wrong with that coverage," says Berry. "Stanley just ran a perfect route."

There are plenty more where those came from, figures Morgan. "Who's to say how old you should be when you start slowing down?" he asks. "I don't believe in this numbers thing. I think I have a long time to play."

Can Morgan, 32 this season, come up with an encore to last year's remarkable act? Well, he was at the Memphis State track over the summer, four or five days a week. "In the dead afternoon," he says, "when the sun is blazing and you know you're getting a workout." Will the Steamer be ready? Bet your glutes on it.

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