Looking closely at the Morgan situation
So football talk in Charlotte has gone from Superbowl to toilet bowl after the loss to the Dirty Birds this past Sunday. As a fan it is such a body blow to have all this hype and optimism coursing through your system only to have those passionate fires doused by an icy cold bucket of mediocrity. It is however not a new sensation and actually this past Sunday got me thinking about another day back in 2003 that had very much the same feeling.
It was October 19th, 2003. The Panthers were back home to host the Tennessee Titans after an amazing 23-20 road victory against the Indianapolis Colts. The cats were a perfect 5-0 and playing in Charlotte on a beautiful October day against the 3-3 Titans. Superbowl talk began in earnest. However the game got off to a disastrous start. After winning the coin toss and electing to receive, Brad Hoover fumbled the kickoff return and the Titans recovered deep in Panther territory. They scored on the drive and pretty much never looked back en route to a 37-17 shellacking of the Panthers.
Moreover than the defeat, my most lucid memory about that game was the fact that Dan Morgan was knocked unconscious after the second play. He was diagnosed with a concussion later in the week but was cleared to play the following game against the New Orleans Saints on October 24th. In that game he was taken out again with what some called another concussion or what Dan himself called Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS) from the previous week. Dan also said he decided to play in the victory against the Saints because he had never had a concussion before and did not know what the symptoms were.
So ok, lets just take Dan at his word and agree that prior to October of 2003 he never had any sort of significant head trauma. And I will even take him at his word that he did not actually suffer another concussion in the New Orleans game on that collision with Joe Horn. But I cannot escape the fact that if the trauma in the Titans came was severe enough to actually cause PCS, it should at the very least count as 2 concussions. We then move to the 2004 season where Dan was again knocked out of the October 31st loss to the Seattle Seahawks and diagnosed with concussion number three. And now we come to the home opener last Sunday and he is faced with concussion number four that we know about.
There are many who are looking over at Will Witherspoon now with the St Louis Rams saying that the Panthers messed up by giving Morgan the big contract and not him. But according to Pat Yasinskas blog it was more of a case of Dan coming to the table first to make a deal
Since second guessing seems to be the most popular sport in Charlotte this week, let’s do some more. The other popular bit of revisionist history that’s getting lots of play is the fact the Panthers kept linebacker Dan Morgan and let Will Witherspoon go. You can make a very strong argument that was a mistake. But just so you understand how it happened: The Panthers were talking contract extension with both linebackers during training camp last year. Offers were on the table to both and Morgan happened to be the first to accept, and that pretty much ended any chance of Witherspoon re-signing. The Panthers were going to pay big money to only one linebacker, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they paid the right one.
I do not think anyone can honestly look at the decision to sign Morgan as one based in ineptitude. It was a risk based assessment by Marty Hurney and the front office. On the one hand you have player, who in college was injury free, get a few concussions and ham string issues in his history with the Panthers. On the other you have this guy who defensively makes tons of plays and it always around the ball. In hindsight we can all see as clear as day that the concussions and extended absence during to the PCS were probably an early indication that things are only going to get worse for him. If you are hell bent on trying to assess blame for his continued tenure with the team, it would better be directed towards the medical staff who keep clearing him to play.
But as a certain NFL head coach is fond of saying, it is what it is. To me the reality of the Morgan situation is that he is a liability to himself and the team if he continues to play this game. Consistency is the key to championships and it is hard to get there when the status of your middle linebacker is in question each week. The team needs to begin looking forward to who the next full time starter is going to be at the position. For Dan, he has a life of family and prosperity that could vanish into the painful realm of disability with one more violent shake of the noggin. His love of the game and toughness can not be questioned by anyone. However to truly show himself to be a man of honor and commitment to his family, his fans and his team he needs to make the toughest call of all. The call of retirement from football as a player.