by | Sep 23, 1996 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Receivers are like puppies, they all want to play with the ball. When they don’t get it they yap. And they keep yapping until they do.

Johnnie Morton yapped. He said he was frustrated with his lack of catches. He joked that maybe he should wear Herman Moore’s number. Or at least Brett Perriman’s number. After all, he was behind two Pro Bowl receivers on a team that also had the best running back in football.

Remember Gale Sayers’ book, “I Am Third”? Sayers was referring to God and family. Morton, using those criteria, would call his book “I Am Sixth.”

But needy puppies will get attention eventually –especially if they know how to catch and run — and Morton has always known how to do that. Heck, he was a major star in college, an All-America at Southern Cal, everybody’s first choice at the receiver position. He just got in the slowest line at the toll booth.

On Sunday, he found the fast lane.

“It was good to feel like a receiver again, instead of some kind of wingback,” said a smiling Morton, who had seven catches and 174 yards, his best day ever in the NFL. “I’ve been waiting for this feeling for a long time.”

You had to know it was Morton’s day when the first two passes he caught were for touchdowns. On No. 1, he saw Scott Mitchell scrambling, scooted across the middle, took a pass in stride and went 15 yards to the end zone.

The second was even prettier. Morton blew down the sidelines, saw Mitchell scramble then uncork a long floater, which Morton pulled in smoothly, just as his defender, Kevin Miniefield, fell down, facefirst.

See ya. Sixty-two yards. Morton high-stepped to the end zone as if leading a marching band down Main Street.

“That’s the most fun I’ve had in the NFL,” he said.

Every dog has his day.

Be patient, the quarterback says

Now, until Sunday, Morton had six catches on the year. Moore had 26. So you could understand Morton’s frustration. Here was a college superstar — who once caught 15 passes in a single game — in the rarest of situations in today’s NFL, buried because of too much depth. All you hear is how every team is thin at talent. And here was Detroit with two 1,000- yard receivers last year — and then Morton. What’s a guy to do?

“They all just have to wait and be patient,” said Mitchell, who had a darn good game himself. “This is a talented group. We’ll get around to everyone.”

Sunday was Morton’s chance to stand out. It was as if he were wearing shocking pink and everyone else was wearing gray. This is the same guy who just a few weeks ago, said of Mitchell, “if he wants to throw me the ball he will. Even one pass would be cool.”

I guess Sunday was super-cool.

Now, speaking of Mitchell, we need to address this newfound love of scrambling. There have been many times in this season when Mitchell felt like running away. Perhaps we should have let him.

Mitchell had his most effective game of the year Sunday, and many of his big plays had this in common: He was running for his life when he made them.

Hmmm. In the first quarter, the Bears came after him, he broke free, rolled out, sidearmed a beautiful pass to Perriman, who stretched like something out of a comic book and kept his feet in bounds for a first down.

Not long after, Mitchell scrambled again, and found Moore open for a 15-yard gain.

Feet, don’t fail him now.

In the second quarter, Mr. Roll Out scrambled away from a would-be tackler and found Morton on that first touchdown. And on the second, the 62-yarder, Mitchell was chased again.

At this point, I’m thinking the offensive lineman are saying to one another, “I don’t know about you, baby, but I’m letting my man go past me.”

“I hear ya. We could win by 30.”

Scott Mitchell, Happy Toes.

Mitchell? Speed? Hah!

Now, when you see Mitchell, you don’t immediately think “speed.” Actually, you think “lounge chair.” Mitchell has a thick frame, a slow manner, and a measured way of talking, none of which suggests a track star. And in truth, he’s not going to shock any JUGS guns out there. But quarterbacks don’t have to be fast, they just have to be elusive, and if Mitchell cultivates the ability to slip defenders, this team becomes twice as dangerous.

“Is Scott Mitchell the next Steve Young?” someone jokingly asked Brett Perriman.

To say he rolled his eyes would be an understatement.

“Running is not his forte,” Brett said.

“Well, once he starts to scramble, how much time do you figure you have?”

Perriman laughed. “About two seconds.”

Hey. You can do a lot in two seconds. And let’s salute Mitchell on a stellar game. He went 24-for-36 for 336 yards and four touchdowns. I’d say that’s a star performance, wouldn’t you?

Of course, there is a limit to all this footwork. Mitchell used the quarterback sneak for the Lions’ fourth touchdown, and he came out of the pile like a fullback, waving a fist, his pads sticking out of his shirt.

Next thing I knew, there were five minutes left and he was running on third down with a 19-point lead.

Whoa. Calm down, Carl Lewis.

Ah, well. There are worse problems. For now, the Lions improve to 2-2, they rekindle the furnace of their offense, and life is looking up. Of course, they have a nine-game winning streak at the Silverdome, and a three-game losing streak on the road. Off to Tampa now, to see how these dogs play outside.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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