Autumn mellows for Johnny Morris after two remarkable Chicago careers

JOHNNY MORRIS CELEBRATED his 88th birthday this week.

Ol' No. 47 is hale, well and missing Dick Duchossois and Arlington Park. Duchossois and Morris had an extraordinary friendship.

These days, he primarily plays the ponies via the TV racing channels at his northwest suburban home. That game, he admits, never gets easier.

It was 59 years ago this fall that he and Mike Ditka were establishing a new NFL record for receptions by teammates. Morris caught 93 passes for 1,200 yards (in a 14-game season) while young Iron Mike - age 25 - complemented that upgraded solo standard with 75 catches and 897 yards.

Still, the defending champion Bears slipped to 5-9. That meant a deflating sixth-place finish in the seven-team Western Conference.


• Some key players appeared to get older overnight;

• George Halas, 69, stubbornly refused to put a succession plan in place that would have assured fresh wizard George Allen of becoming the Bears next head coach;

• Willie Galimore, the defense-stretching breakaway threat, was killed along with teammate Bo Farrington in a July car crash near the Bears training camp in Rensselaer, Ind.; and,

• A dandy QB controversy developed between incumbent Bill Wade and slingshotter Rudy Bukich.

MORRIS AND DITKA MADE IT CLEAR that they preferred Bukich. That, even though it was Wade who had game-managed the Monsters's frigid 14-10 win over the New York Giants in the 1963 championship game at Wrigley Field.

The reason?

"Rudy threw a harder ball, a faster ball," Morris told The Daily Herald. "That's not taking a thing away from Bill Wade. He was a very good NFL quarterback. But with defenses getting more sophisticated, the windows to cut and catch became even tighter."

"The Papa Bear" disagreed - and the team and its fan base paid the price.

With Wade starting, the Bears were 2-8. When Bukich was at the throttle, they won 3 of 4.

A MESSAGE IN A BATTLE about the season to come happened in Week 3 - Sept. 27 - at Baltimore. The Colts, with prime-time Johnny Unitas and Don Shula, 34, in only his second season as an NFL head coach, dismantled the Bears, 52-0.

That final remains the largest losing margin in franchise history.

More studious Bears trackers were looking up that fact prior to last weekend's predictable debacle at Kansas City. Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes could have coasted past that point differential had they wanted. Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy would have beamed even more broadly.

For true buffs of historic convergence, less than two hours after the Bears-Colts game ended, all three major American TV networks pre-empted scheduled programming. Instead, they carried the public release of the curious findings of the Warren Commission on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

It was quite a day for upbeat TV in Chicago. An aviation disaster at O'Hare would have completed the dark trifecta.

MORRIS NOW STANDS as the greatest sports/media icon in the history of Our Town. No top-tier Chicago athlete followed between-the-lines heroics with as stellar a career in TV news.

"Any part of that that might be true is because of Jeannie," he insists, referring to forever soulmate Jeannie Morris, who died of cancer in 2020. "She drove any successes I had. There's not a day that I still don't miss her."

He bookended two tours at WBBM-Channel 2 around a stay at WMAQ-Channel 5. He was smart, competitive and had an evolved telegenic poise that rivaled Johnny Carson.

Memorable talents like Tim Weigel and Chet Coppock and Mark Giangreco and Bruce Roberts all took runs at being King of the Hill in Chicago TV sports.

But only Johnny Morris conquered on both sides of the camera.


News that Pat Ryan and family have bought a minority interest in AFC Bournemouth of the English Premier League will do nothing to diminish speculation that Ryan Sports Ventures will be the next controlling owner of the Bears. (Did members of the McCaskey family ever hear Sheryl Crow's "A Change Would Do You Good?") ...

The line for today's nonsense between the Bears and the Broncos has dipped to DEN -3 (CBS, noon; Andrew Catalon and Tiki Barber). Weighing sweet onions at Mariano's would make for more compelling entertainment. Multiple CBS affiliates have asked not to carry the game, including all Michigan stations, Green Bay and Des Moines. ...

The Connor Bedard Overture Tour continues tonight with the Blackhawks pre-seasoning at Detroit (NBCSCH, 6 p.m.). Other than being The Captive Sports City's final glimmer of hope in 2023, there's no expectations whatsoever regarding the Vancouver teen. ...

The slap-shtick flameout of Seiya Suzuki and the Cubs in Atlanta woke up some September echoes. But apparently they couldn't find any self-respecting black cat in the southland to prance across the foul area. ...

Peter Skoronski - the Maine South/Northwestern OT who lucked out of a rookie season with the Bears - is on the mend after emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix. But he won't play today with his Tennessee Titans as weak dogs (+ 2 ½) vs. the visiting Bengals. ...

And Matt Preston, on the new South Side frivolity: "Have the White Sox added 'Unsolved Ballpark Shootings Night" to their 2024 promotional calendar yet?"

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears each week on Sunday and Thursday. Reach him at All communications may be considered for publication.

Former Chicago Bears Gary Fencik and Johnny Morris greet the fans at the Bears convention at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in 2019. Daily Herald File Photo
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