O'Donnell: Bears wide receiver Johnny Morris is winner with a heart of a lion

  • Bears wide receiver Johnny Morris (47) falls in the end zone as he reaches for a pass from quarterback Bill Wade in fourth quarter at Detroit on Oct. 28, 1962.  His football card said Morris was 5-10, 170 pounds. The Bears' all-time reception yardage ledger says he's still No. 1 with a career total of 5,059. "He did nothing in broadcasting that he didn't do on a football field, and that's excel. He's a winner with the heart of a lion," said legendary coach Mike Ditka.

    Bears wide receiver Johnny Morris (47) falls in the end zone as he reaches for a pass from quarterback Bill Wade in fourth quarter at Detroit on Oct. 28, 1962. His football card said Morris was 5-10, 170 pounds. The Bears' all-time reception yardage ledger says he's still No. 1 with a career total of 5,059. "He did nothing in broadcasting that he didn't do on a football field, and that's excel. He's a winner with the heart of a lion," said legendary coach Mike Ditka. Associated Press File Photo

 
Updated 6/6/2019 5:50 AM

THE DIFFICULTY WRITING about Johnny Morris isn't where to start.

It's about how deep to go.

 

The public Johnny breaks down into two easy pieces:

Star wide receiver with the Bears. Gold standard sportscaster -- positively Carsonesque in mask -- who once ruled the local roost.

The private Mr. Morris is a different matter.

He rose to media stardom with first wife Jeanne Morris of invaluable affiliated talent, support, ambition, vision and counsel.

They had four kids. They separated in 1983. He remarried. She moved to Seattle.

Ol' No. 47 left the TV game for good in 1994, retiring from WBBM-Channel 2.

He's never looked back, as unlikely a "find" as David Letterman in rehearsals on Broadway.

That will end ever-so-briefly this weekend when Morris, 83, showcases the gracefulness of aging at "The Bears 100 Celebration" in Rosemont.

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He's done one long media interview in anticipation of the centennial.

Beyond that, he's merely continued to pursue his two known passions: playing the ponies and privacy.

"I worked very hard for everything I got and when it was time to quit, I quit," Morris told a bearded insouciant at Arlington Trackside a few years ago. "I've earned the right to do whatever I want and what I want to do is stay out of the spotlight and get some intellectual stimulation out of (horse-race) handicapping."

Not exactly "Tales of Brave Ulysses," but it's genuine Johnny.

"Pound for pound, 'The Little Greek' may have been the toughest of us all," Ed O'Bradovich said to his beard-less boy-wonder night bartender at his "Class of '63" restaurant-lounge in Arlington Heights too many years ago.

"Yeah, pound for pound, it'd be Morris," said Bill George -- "The Big Greek" in Bears's myth and lore and O'Bradovich's bar mate that particular evening.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

His football card said Morris was 5-10, 170 pounds. The Bears' all-time reception yardage ledger says he's still No. 1 with a career total of 5,059.

"John's just always been a very loyal guy, a good guy and a great teammate," Mike Ditka once said at his own downtown restaurant to a booth that included Tim Weigel, Mark Grace and Dan Falato.

"He did nothing in broadcasting that he didn't do on a football field and that's excel. He's a winner with the heart of a lion."

Maybe Ditka meant to say, "the heart of a Bear." Maybe he didn't.

The Greeks might simply say, "Axios!."

Worthy. Very worthy.

STREET-BEATIN':

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And NHL grump Mike Milbury, while interviewing rabid St. Louis fan Jon Hamm -- the diabolical Don Draper of AMC's all-too-real "Mad Men" -- went "locker room" on live NBC-TV while noting: "You were such an excellent (expletive) bag. if you knew me better, you'd know that I can relate to someone like that."

Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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