There’s no question Stanley Morgan belongs in the Mt. Rushmore of all-time New England Patriots wide receivers.
Morgan, a four-time Pro Bowler, certainly belongs in the same stratosphere as Wes Welker, Troy Brown, Randy Moss, and Julian Edelman in that regard.
All Morgan did was lead the NFL in receiving yards per reception from 1979 to 1981. His 12 touchdown receptions also lead the league in 1979.
Morgan’s average of 19.2 yards per reception from 1977 to 1990 was the highest among receivers with at least 430 receptions.
His career total of 10,716 receiving yards surpassed those of Harold Carmichael, John Stallworth, Fred Biletnikoff, Lance Alworth, and Drew Pearson, to name a few.
Despite Morgan’s impressive accomplishments on the gridiron, he hasn’t been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Patriots fans will cherish the day Stanley Morgan finally receives his much-deserved bust and gold jacket in Canton, OH.
Early Life and College Days with the Tennessee Volunteers
Stanley Douglas Morgan was born in Easley, SC on February 17, 1955.
Morgan attended Easley High School in his hometown. He excelled in football, basketball, and track for the Easley Green Wave.
Morgan played wide receiver for the Green Wave’s football team from 1969 to 1972.
Behind Morgan’s exploits at wideout, the Green Wave won the state title in his senior season in 1972.
“Winning the state championship (my) senior year was my favorite memory,” Morgan told Patch.com’s Jeff Brush thirty-nine years later. ‘We had a great team that year.”
— Easley High School (@Easley_High) April 22, 2016
Stanley Morgan attended the University of Tennessee from 1973 to 1976.
Morgan met his future wife, Rholedia McGuire, at a campus pep rally in his freshman season in 1973, per Sports Illustrated’s Austin Murphy.
Shortly after Stanley stepped down the platform, he approached McGuire and told her he played split end for the Volunteers. Rholedia had no idea what he was talking about. She thought he referred to a nagging hair condition.
“He was so silly, I just laughed at him,” Rholedia told Sports Illustrated some fourteen years later.
Before long, Morgan and McGuire went on double dates with another couple they both knew. Stanley and Rholedia eventually tied the knot in the fall of 1974.
While Morgan made progress in his personal life, he also made a statement on the gridiron. However, it never came easy at first.
Battle relegated Morgan to second-string status in the latter’s freshman year in 1973.
Morgan told Prime Time Sports Talk’s Sam Gordon in 2019 his coach started another wideout whose family was a regular donor to Tennessee’s athletic department.
Stanley Morgan was irate, to say the least.
Fast forward one season later, Battle asked Morgan to switch to running back because the Volunteers lacked depth at that position.
Morgan, who was also a member of Tennessee’s indoor track team, was against the idea. He had been a wide receiver all his life. He also wanted to enter the pro football ranks as a wideout.
Things got so bad at one point, Morgan wanted to leave Tennessee.
“I came very close to leaving,” Morgan told Gordon. “And if it hand’t been for the girl I was dating at the time who became my wife, I would’ve left because I didn’t want to play running back.”
— Honest☘️Larry (@HonestLarry1) January 6, 2022
Morgan finally relented to his coach’s wishes. He had 1,952 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns on 353 carries in his four-year career at Tennessee.
He also saw time at wideout from 1973 to 1976. Morgan had 1,075 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns on 48 receptions in his college football career.
Stanley Morgan’s exceptional play on offense earned him All-SEC honors twice as a member of the Volunteers’ football team.
Tennessee won an average of seven games per season in Morgan’s four-year tenure in Knoxville, TN.
The Volunteers played in two bowl games from 1973 to 1976. They beat the Maryland Terrapins in the 1974 Liberty Bowl, 7-3.
After Stanley Morgan finished his college football career, he took his act to the National Football League in 1977.
From there, he became arguably the best wide receiver in New England Patriots franchise history.
Pro Football Career
The New England Patriots made Stanley Morgan the 25th overall selection of the 1977 NFL Draft.
Prior to the draft, teams were confused as to what position Morgan will play in the National Football League.
Morgan, who played wide receiver and running back for the Tennessee Volunteers in college, slipped to 25th overall because of the confusion, per Prime Time Sports Talk.
The New York Giants, San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos, and New York Jets all had Stanley Morgan on their radar.
To Morgan’s dismay, the Patriots took him off the draft board with the 25th overall selection.
Morgan told Gordon in 2019 that he did not want to play in the frigid New England weather. Morgan was accustomed to the much warmer climate in South Carolina and Tennessee.
Prior to the Patriots drafting Morgan, he preferred playing for a team from the south or the west coast. Since either scenario did not materialize, he just made the most out of his situation.
Morgan played wide receiver and returned punts for the Patriots as a rookie in 1977.
The Patriots averaged ten wins per season in the last two years of the Chuck Fairbanks era from 1977 to 1978. Unfortunately, New England never made it past the AFC Divisional Round during that two-year time frame.
Stanley Morgan’s pro football career took off in his third season in 1979.
Not only did Morgan’s twelve touchdown receptions lead the NFL, but he also led the league in yards per reception average for the next three seasons.
Morgan never caught for less than an average of 22.0 yards per catch from 1979 to 1981. He had a total of 24 touchdown catches during that three-season stretch.
Becoming a Star
To nobody’s surprise, Stanley Morgan earned the first two of his four career Pro Bowl selections in 1979 and 1980. He also earned the first of his two career Second-Team All-Pro selections after the 1980 NFL season.
Although the New England Patriots won an average of ten wins per season in Morgan’s breakout years from 1979 to 1980, they never tasted postseason football.
On the bright side, Morgan’s career resurgence coincided with the birth of his second daughter, Monique, in 1980. He and his wife Rholedia had welcomed their elder daughter Sanitra in 1976, Stanley’s senior season at Tennessee.
Even as Morgan’s star rose in the National Football League, his family remained his utmost priority.
Legendary Baltimore Colts wide receiver Raymond Berry, who was Morgan’s wide receivers coach through his first five NFL seasons, told Sports Illustrated in 1987 that Morgan barely touched a football during the six-month offseason. Morgan would typically report for training camp in the summer fresh as a daisy.
Alas, the Patriots stumbled badly with a disastrous 2-14 win-loss record in 1982. They dismissed head coach Ron Erhardt and replaced him with Ron “Slick” Meyer.
A New Style of Play
Meyer was fresh off a 10-1 season with the SMU Mustangs in the college football ranks. Thanks in large part to running backs Eric Dickerson and Craig James, the Mustangs lost just one game all season in 1982.
Meyer promptly dismantled Erhardt’s offense that was focused on the running game. That offense took away Morgan’s deep routes. Meyer’s coaching staff even ordered him to employ an unfamiliar crouched three-point stance.
“They had some good ideas, but there are better ways to incorporate them than saying, ‘This is my way, and from now on, it’s going to be my way or the highway,'” Morgan told Murphy in 1987. “You don’t talk to a grown man the way you talk to a little kid.”
Morgan hit a stumbling block as he entered his eighth pro football season in 1984. His physique hardly resembled that of his track star days and he looked like a shadow of his old Pro Bowl self.
The 29-year-old Morgan became pudgy and struggled with hamstring and pinkie finger issues for the next two seasons. It came as no surprise his old moniker, “Stanley Steamer,” was a thing of the past. Pundits re-christened him “Tug Morgan,” per Murphy.
— Honest☘️Larry (@HonestLarry1) June 22, 2022
Morgan admitted to Sports Illustrated that he had become lazy and developed terrible habits after the Patriots fired Berry, his former wide receivers coach, at the end of the 1981 NFL season.
One of those terrible habits was bingeing on late-night snacks and desserts. His wife, Rholedia, admitted her husband loved ice cream. Regrettably, he ate too much of it and grew bigger around the middle.
An Unhappy Man
Still, Morgan had a combined 1,447 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions from 1982 to 1983. The Patriots averaged seven wins per season during those two years. New England lost to the Miami Dolphins in the 1982 AFC Wild Card Game, 28-13.
Stanley Morgan was an unhappy man in New England. He became an afterthought in Meyer’s run-oriented offense. Every week, Morgan called his former Patriots roommate Harold Jackson, who was already playing for the Seattle Seahawks.
Jackson recalled Morgan telling him he hated playing for the Patriots and wanted to get out of New England, per Sports Illustrated.
Rholedia Morgan also felt her husband’s misery at home. She told him he had two options at that point in his career: either he asked the Patriots to trade him or he hang up his cleats.
For his part, Meyer tried dangling Stanley Morgan as trade bait. He already had a pair of speedy wideouts in Irving Fryar and Stephen Starring. However, Patriots owner Billy Sullivan still believed Morgan had plenty of gas left in the tank so he vetoed Meyer’s trade proposals.
Despite Morgan’s struggles, he still hauled in a combined 10 touchdown passes in 1984 and 1985. He merely doubled his touchdown reception totals in 1982 and 1983.
In an ironic twist of fate, Sullivan dismissed Meyer and hired Berry as his replacement midway through the 1984 NFL campaign.
New Leadership in Boston
New England finished with a respectable 9-7 win-loss record in 1984 but missed the postseason for the sixth time since the team drafted Morgan seven years earlier.
If Stanley Morgan could go back in time and change one thing, it would have been the Patriots’ lack of a passing game during his heyday in the National Football League.
Morgan recalled the times when New England won the game handily because of its stellar ground attack. He went through some stretches where he did not record a single reception.
Morgan’s game did not pick up immediately after New England re-hired Berry. His injured pinkie finger made him drop so many balls during the Ron Meyer era.
Stanley Morgan considered the Patriots’ 30-27 triumph over the Miami Dolphins in the 1985 AFC Championship Game the highlight of his fourteen-year, per Patriots.com.
Morgan had 61 receiving yards on three receptions in the win. New England earned its first Super Bowl berth since joining the NFL in 1970.
Morgan slowly came around and had seven receptions in the Patriots’ humiliating 46-10 loss to Mike Ditka’s Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX.
Morgan made more progress heading into the 1986 NFL season. The turning point came when doctors fused his injured pinkie finger.
Although Morgan could not bend his pinkie anymore, he could not have cared less. All that mattered was it felt great and he could catch passes again.
Fitness and Injury
Morgan put more effort into off-season training in 1986. He started his day off with a morning jog. When midday came, he ran sprints at Memphis State University’s track—a throwback to his indoor track days at the University of Tennessee.
Stanley Morgan also played racquetball and did strength training during the off-season. Before he knew it, he had slimmed down to his rookie weight of 174 pounds, per Murphy.
With Patriots head coach Raymond Berry in Morgan’s corner, the latter quieted the naysayers and proved he was not washed up just yet.
Morgan got off to a decent start in the 1986 NFL campaign. He had a touchdown reception in the Patriots’ 33-3 rout of the Indianapolis Colts in the season opener.
However, Morgan paid a hefty price for it. One of the Colts’ defenders decked him so hard when he caught the touchdown pass, he lost consciousness for a few seconds.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) February 17, 2021
It was one of several bone-jarring hits Stanley Morgan endured during his pro gridiron career.
One time, a Green Bay Packers defensive player decked him on his chin with his helmet as he was coming down with the catch. Morgan hit the Lambeau Field grass headfirst and was knocked out cold.
Consequently, emergency responders had to carry him off the field on a cart.
When Morgan regained consciousness, he told his doctors he had to call his family so he could put them at ease. His wife, Rholedia, was already making plans to fly him back home.
Morgan’s hit was so ferocious, television broadcasters compared it to former Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley’s career-ending spinal cord injury against the Oakland Raiders in 1978.
Moving on Toward Retirement
Morgan went on to haul in nine more touchdown passes from quarterback Tony Eason in 1986. Stanley also had a career-best 1,491 receiving yards that year.
Stanley Morgan’s record of nine 100-yard receiving games in the 1986 NFL season also currently ranks third in NFL history. He’s tied with Adam Thielen, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Randy Moss, Steve Smith, Sr., and David Boston.
Better yet, Morgan quieted the critics by earning his third Pro Bowl nod. He would earn another one—his last—in 1987. Morgan also became a Second-Team All-Pro for the second time in his fourteen-year NFL career.
Berry, a Hall of Fame Baltimore Colts wide receiver, was in awe of Morgan’s accomplishments in 1986.
“Unprecedented,” Berry told Sports Illustrated in the fall of 1987. “I have never heard of a wide receiver in his 10th year having that kind of season. I don’t know that Stanley ever dropped a football last season.”
Morgan had a combined 1,660 receiving yards and ten touchdowns on 99 receptions in his last three seasons with the Patriots from 1987 to 1989.
New England averaged seven wins in the last three years of the Raymond Berry era. The Patriots never made the postseason in the last three years of the 1980s decade.
New England traded Stanley Morgan to the Indianapolis Colts before the 1990 NFL campaign.
Ironically, Morgan was reunited with the coach he resented, Ron Meyer, in his lone year in Indianapolis.
Morgan suited up in all 16 games for the Colts in the 1990 NFL season and had 364 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 23 receptions.
After sitting out the entire 1991 NFL season, Morgan signed with the Denver Broncos. Unfortunately, they waived him before the 1992 NFL season.
Stanley Morgan retired from the National Football League in 1992. He finished his fourteen-year NFL career with 10,716 receiving yards and 72 touchdowns on 557 receptions.
Stanley Morgan and his wife Rholedia currently reside in the Memphis, TN area.
Morgan told Patriots.com that his wife is a Memphis native. The couple has been residing in that part of Tennessee since his playing days in New England.
Morgan and his family thought Foxborough, MA was too cold year-round, so they resided in Memphis during the offseason.
Morgan served as the XFL’s Memphis Maniax wide receivers coach in 2001.
Shortly after the XFL folded, Morgan began working for FedEx, arguably the biggest company in Memphis.
Morgan loves playing golf and organizing charitable endeavors for his fellow African-Americans in the Memphis, TN area.
Morgan considers five-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady his current favorite NFL player.
In his opinion, the best defensive backs he faced were his Patriots teammates Mike Haynes and Raymond Clayborn. They gave him fits in practice but also brought out the best in him come game time, per Gordon.
He singled out seafood—particularly clam chowder—as the best thing about the New England region, per Patriots.com.
Patriots Hall of Famer Stanley Morgan is slated to announce the team’s second round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/KRScV51LlF
— The Hall presented by Raytheon Technologies (@TheHall) April 25, 2021
Morgan told KnoxTNToday.com’s Marvin West in 2019 that he has been experiencing some health issues in retirement.
Sometimes, he cannot say what’s on his mind. He also takes medication to relieve his regular headaches.
Morgan told West he was certain he has brain damage. He has been dealing with depression, mood swings, and memory issues in recent years. Morgan, a former indoor college track star, cannot run anymore.
Worse, Morgan fears he has been experiencing early dementia symptoms—a precursor to the dreaded chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disorder common among former NFL players.
Morgan confessed to West he has had suicidal thoughts in his retirement years.
Morgan was part of a $1 billion lawsuit several former players filed against the NFL for football-related injuries in retirement.
Stanley Morgan became a member of the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
Morgan is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hal of Fame, the New England Patriots Hall of Fame, the New England Patriots All-1970s Team, the New England Patriots All-1980s Team, the New England Patriots 35th Anniversary Team, and the New England Patriots 50th Anniversary Team.