Correction to This Article
In some editions, a Jan. 28 Sports article about former Miami Dolphins running back Eugene "Mercury" Morris incorrectly said that the film "To Kill a Mockingbird" was set in Mississippi. It was set in Alabama.

Long After His Retirement, Morris Still Making Claims

By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 28, 2007

PRINCETON, Fla. He always found comfort in the lonely fight.

Eugene "Mercury" Morris, a star running back for the 1972 Mia mi Dolphins, has a favorite movie: "To Kill a Mockingbird." He has watched it countless times, ever engrossed by the fix that was in for Tom Robinson, an African American man accused of raping a white woman in an early-20th century Alabama town. In the heavy, hopeless air of that courtroom, Tom Robinson sits by himself facing a system too big to beat with only his lawyer, Atticus Finch, at his side.

"The guy was on trial where he simply could not win," Morris said.

At night, in a two-story house half an hour south of Miami, Mercury Morris sits at his kitchen table and sees himself as a real-life Tom Robinson fighting all alone. He is 60 years old, and football has left him with a spine that had to be fused together with pieces of a dead man's bone. Several doctors have told him the injury has destroyed important nerves and this gives him, on occasion, debilitating headaches that drive him to the bedroom in the middle of the day, where he must pull down the blinds and pile towels across his face

He also said that the National Football League, or more specifically, its retirement plan, will not acknowledge that the headaches are a result of the injury and thus is denying him benefits he believes are his. He will not accept this explanation. And for the last 20 years, he has waged a one-man war against the plan.

"Which is just the way I like it," he said.

This is an issue gaining momentum among the league's retired players, especially those hitting middle age as old injuries turn into more debilitating problems and who feel the retirement plan is not helping them with mounting medical bills. And at this Miami Super Bowl, it seems to be a topic the league would rather go away.

Late last year, an appeals court awarded the estate of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster more than $1.5 million in disability pay from the plan. It was the first successful challenge of the plan's rules and it has given hope to many of the players who feel left out.

Which was all Morris needed.

'He's Too Smart'

Morris moves about the house with the energy of a man two-thirds his age, scouring wrinkled copies of the retirement plan with the significant sections marked by adhesive strips. Always by his side is a red, hardbound copy of Webster's dictionary and he often looks up words, parsing their usage to see if the author has a hidden meaning. He examines everything for mistakes. He catches even the smallest discrepancy, colors it with a yellow highlighter then announces it as an "aha!" moment. Often giving it a name such as "the Smoking Gun."

Morris talks fast, words spilling like roaring rapids, harder and softer, rising up and down in bursts that can last for 10 minutes or more.

"He's so immersed in it he's hard to follow," said Bernie Parrish, the founder of the NFL Players Association and a leader in the fight for bigger retirement benefits. "It took me awhile to get it all but he knows what he's talking about. He's so versed in it I had to keep asking him and taking notes."

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