However, there’s a difference. In his whole Hall of Fame career, John Riggins never rushed for as much yardage in any game as Morris did on Sunday night in Washington’s 28-18 NFC East-clinching victory over the Dallas Cowboys — 200 brutally rugged yards on 33 carries, with three scores.
Perhaps no running back could offer a more stunning contrast in personality to the flamboyant Riggins and Clinton Portis than the modest Morris, who is a kindred spirit to humble, tumbling, clawing Larry Brown, the supposedly undersize runner who led the Redskins to a Super Bowl 40 years ago.
“I’ll never be a star. I’ll always just be Alfred,” said the 5-foot-9, 218-pound Morris, an anonymous sixth-round draft pick from Florida Atlantic. “When I came in, nobody knew who I was. I wouldn’t ever change. I couldn’t change even if I tried.”
On a night when the victor’s reward was a home game next Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks to start the playoffs and the loser’s booby prize was Season Over, Suckers, Morris had a night of power running, balanced determination, cut-back brilliance and sheer rugged spinning, scrambling endurance that will stand with the best of Riggins, Portis, Brown or any other running back in the Redskins’ canon.
Asked if, even in his two Super Bowl-winning years in Denver, he had ever experienced anything like the Redskins’ rebirth from 3-6 to finish 10-6, Coach Mike Shanahan said, “Never even close to that, to be honest. . . .
“The guy who separated himself from the rest of the pack [tonight], that was Alfred.”
Oh, that it was. In a winner-take-all, division-title-or-go-home game for both teams, this was not a game for quarterbacks with glamour names and reps.
The Redskins’ superb rookie, Robert Griffin III, played for the second straight game with a knee brace for his strained right lateral collateral ligament and clearly did not have his normal speed. He completed 9 of 18 passes for just 100 yards, but had the grit to run designed plays six times for 63 vital rushing yards. With no turnovers, he played a key role — but a complementary, not a starring one.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo played down to his playoff reputation (a 1-3 record) with three interceptions, two in the first quarter and the third with three minutes to play and the Redskins only ahead 21-18. His 55.9 quarterback rating will follow the 8-8 Cowboys back to Dallas as they end their third straight season without a playoff visit.
After that final interception by Rob Jackson at the Dallas 25-yard line, the Cowboys knew what was coming: Morris. Six times he ran the ball up the Dallas gut, with one incomplete RGIII pass in the middle. His final hammer blow reached the end zone.
The game to the Redskins, the glory to him. Not that he would touch it.
No Redskins runner has ever begun his career with anything remotely like the 1,613-yard explosion of this runner with the large legs, the slopping shoulders and a general appearance that would allow him to walk anywhere in town without anybody thinking, “NFL player.”
“I guess you could call me a fan of Clinton,” said Morris, who broke Portis’s single-season Redskins rushing record. “He told me [he] hoped I’d break his record. I’m just thankful. This is a humbling experience.”
If Morris won the lottery, was named MVP and discovered that an unknown relative had died and left him Australia in his will, Morris would consider it a humbling experience. He has to endure the praise of others.
“Alfred makes runs that are blocked for three yards into seven-yard gains,” said Griffin. “He gets those hard yards. We told him if he broke a couple of long ones, he’d get 200 yards. This time, he did.”
On one 17-yard score, Morris blasted toward the middle of the line, sucked the whole defense to him, then bounced outside in a blink to the left and scored almost untouched, or even unattended. In the fourth quarter, with the Redskins ahead 14-10, he ran a typical Shanahan stretch play to the left, then cut back violently into the Cowboys pursuit and found a crease through the entire wave. Suddenly, he had the middle of the field, and the last 20 yards, all to himself.
Afterward, Morris hardly looked winded, though that’s impossible. He’s already renowned within the Redskins for treating every practice run like a Sunday game situation. Apparently, it has just built stamina.
“If we had to play tomorrow, I’d be ready,” he said. “People ask, ‘Are you ready?’ That’s like an insult. I’m already ready.”
Stop the presses: semi-boast!
Now, the impact of this win will begin to sink in. This changes the Redskins’ place in the NFC East, and NFL. But, along with other unexpectedly delightful developments in the Washington sports scene, it may have a more general and salubrious effect.
For generations, the fortunes of the Redskins have had a large impact on Washington’s mood. If a Redskins franchise that went 15-33 the previous three seasons can become the hottest team in the NFC after seven straight wins, what task is beyond D.C.? Come on, how tough can a “fiscal cliff” be?
Wins like this have a deep resonance in the Washington area. Long ago, after one momentous Redskins victory over the Cowboys, the porches along Lexington Place NE were filled with our neighbors, all of them trying to set a world record for racket. One woman pounded a metal pot with a metal spoon while her husband let out those piercing two-fingers-in-the-mouth whistles. (Sometimes you just can’t control your parents.)
Little that happens in neighborhoods throughout the vast Washington area matches the sense of Redskins community on such days or nights. In the past, and perhaps in this Redskins team’s future, there are even bigger games and larger victories. For generations, sharing those moments has been a core experience of Washington life. It’s just been kind of quiet around here for 20 years. Not any more.
Get out the pots. And start whistling again.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/