Nearly seven years ago, in his book ". . . And Every Day You Take Another Bite," Larry Merchant selected an all-funny pro football team. Bert Lahr and Jerry Lewis were the wide receivers; W. C. Fields was the tight end; the tacklers were Bob Hope and Godfrey Cambridge; the quarterback was Craig Morton.
That was not one man's opinion. For years, with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, Morton was the one quarterback the Redskins - and others - wanted most to play against in an important game, the passer most likely to pass away victory.
Now Morton seems to be getting the last laugh.There are only three unbeaten teams in the National Football League at the moment - and Morton's Denver Broncos are one of them. His passing numbers are third base in the American Conference, ahead of such as Terry Bradshaw's, Ken Anderson's and Ken Stabler's.
Just last Sunday Morton was matched against the allegedly immortal Oakland Raiders and Wonderfully Wicked Wanda's close friend, Stabler, who if not the best quarterback in the NFL is no worse than 1A. Surely, veteran Morton watchers said, their hero would return to Denver a mile high bust.
Instead, Morton threw as many completions as Stabler threw interceptions - seven - and the Broncos kicked the Raiders in Oakland by 23 points. What in the name of Al Davis is going on here?
"I heard all those stories about how poorly he played with the Giants," said Bronco coach Red Miller. "But if you don't surround your quarterback with talent, of course he's going to look bad. Our offense is improving. It's not the best in the league, but we're getting better.
"Morton had given us the leadership and experience the offense needed. Here's a guy who comes to a new team and in his first year is the over-whelming choice as team captain. Craig has been just super."
Morton had been acquired formt the Giants in exchange for the Broncos' regular quarterback, Steve Ramsey, in one of those offseason swaps that figured to benedit neither team, like, say, Duane Dow for Mike Wolfe. And Ramsey managed to disappear rather quickly.
"But Craig in a structured situation should do well," said the Cowboys' Tex Schramm, who chose Morton in the first round of the 1965 draft and watched him endure all manner of adversity, including two shoulder operations, before trading him to the Giants 10 years later for a first-round choice who became Randy White.
Until this season, Morton was not one of life's winners. The Redskins always insisted he would botch some especially significant play - and that proved true more often than not.
Once Morton had uncluttered running room for a first down late in a game at RFK Stadium but instead threw an incompletion on third down and the Redskins rallied for victory behind Sonny Jurgensen.
In a Monday night game in 1973, Morton relieved Roger Staubach and, with the scored tied late in the fourth quarter, threw a pass that Brig Owens intercepted and returned 26 yards for the winning touchdown for the Redskins.
"Oh, no, Craig," Don Meredith was heard to mutter from the television booth just as the play was developing, "Son, I though I taught you better."
And wh can possibly forget Morton last season with the Giants in RFK? With time to execute a believable throwaway, he allowed himself to he tackled for a safety by Ron McDole - and the Redskins eventually won by two points.
Also, Morton threw the interception to Mike Curtis in the final minute of Super Bowl 5 tht enable the Colts to beat the Cowboys 16-13, with a field goal with five seconds left in the game. But enough Morton is having a splendid season so far, or it appears that way on first glance at least - and several reasons are named Lyle Alzado, Joe Rizzo, Bill Thompson and Otis Armstrong.
In truth, Morton is more successful by passing less. Tie Bronco defense has been spectacular, the runners - including almost Redskin Jon Keyworth and D.C. high-school star Lonnie Perrin - more than adequate. And Rick Upchurch also provides good field position with his kick returns.
THis is what Schramm meant by "structured situation," because Morton has thrown fewer passes (96) than any regular quarterback in the entire league except Jim Plunkett. Though Morton has completed 54 per cent of his passes, scored three touchdowns and thrown for three, the Denver offense is just 12th in the AFC in passing.
And yet the Broncos lead the AFC in scoring differential.
Significantly, the passing leaders in the AFC and NFC, respectively, are the 2-3 Cincinnati Bengals and the 2-3 St. Louis Cardinals. The 1-4 Seattle Seahawks are third in passing in the AFC and the Colts, with Bert Jones, only ninth.
So while Morton is more successful he is not necessarily a reborn quarterback. As it says somewhere in George Allen's coaching manual, quarterbacks usually are given too much blame in defeat and too much credit in victory.