By Trevor Austin
Over the years, athletes that have passed through the halls have established a rich tradition of success and excellence. The ones who have exemplified what it is to be a Big Red find their way back into the hallowed halls, but this time as part of a shrine to remind others of their accomplishments.
Muskegon has had a plethora of top athletes competing for them on the gridiron. Few ever make it to the National Football League and even fewer have a career of 20 years.
Earl Morrall was definitely an exception to that rule. With Morrall at quarterback, the Big Reds achieved a perfect season, capped off with a state title win in 1952. That helped Morrall earn All-State honors.
Following high school, Morrall moved on to East Lansing to compete for the Michigan State Spartans. As a Spartan, he continued to excel and his commanding play on the field earned him All-American honors his senior year in 1956. He capped his collegiate career with a Rose Bowl victory over the UCLA Bruins.
His football journey was far from, however, as the San Francisco 49ers selected him in the first round of the 1956 NFL Draft. At San Francisco, Morrall saw a decent amount of action, throwing for 621 yards with a touchdown and six interceptions in his rookie season.
He had stops at six organizations along the way, but the two that stand out most were his days with the Baltimore Colts and the Miami Dolphins. There, he proved he was among the top backup quarterbacks in the league.
In the 1968 season, he was the full-time starter when Johnny Unitas was injured in the preseason. With Morrall calling the signals, the Colts won 13 of 14 games. Morrall led the league with 26 touchdown passes. He threw for 2,909 yards and 17 interceptions.
The Colts rolled through the post season and won the NFL Championship in a 34-0 shutout victory over Cleveland, but fell short in Super Bowl III when they were upset by the great Joe Namath and the Jets, 16-7.
Morrall had another chance on the big stage as Unitas was knocked out of Super Bowl V where he played well and ultimately helped them capture the ring with a 16-13 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Filling in for Bob Griese on the 1972 Dolphins, Morrall won all 11 games, and along with Griese, won three post season games including Super Bowl VII. That led the Dolphins to the only perfect season in the history of the NFL. Morrall earned the AFC MVP for his efforts with Miami.
Another world class athlete was Johnny Mitchell, who started in track and field. Mitchell, a dominant force in the discus, was unbeatable. Though Mitchell didn’t start tossing until his sophomore year at Muskegon, he built himself and left his mark. In 2 years, he was the top discus thrower in the nation. While at Muskegon, Mitchell was a two-time Class A state champion and his toss of 198-5 in the 1983 regional was the all-time record for the longest throw in Michigan.
Also, became a state runner up in shot put with a heave of 56-9½.
After high school, Mitchell continued his career as a Bronco at Western Michigan University. While there, he was a Mid-American Conference Champion and multiple record setter.
A few years after, Mitchell won the gold in the discus at the prestigious Olympic Festival in Minneapolis Minnesota.
He also enjoyed some success on the football field for the Big Reds as he was the team’s MVP as well as All-Conference and All-Area.