Taking a 2nd chance and running with it Bam Morris: After pleading guilty to marijuana possession in the off-season, the running back begins to revive his image and his career as the feature back in the Ravens' offense.

November 15, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Bam Morris is back in his element, ribbing teammates in the locker room, clowning around between plays on the practice field, relishing the thought of running over the next tackler who steps in his path.

The Ravens' newest and biggest backfield addition tells his story with childlike animation, flashing a charming smile, talking with a rhythm not unlike that of a preacher.

Morris already has tasted sweet fruit in his chosen trade. A high school legend in his tiny hometown of Cooper, Texas, he went to Texas Tech and broke fellow Texas legend Earl Campbell's single-season, Southwest Conference rushing record. He came out of college a year early and ended up with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he concluded his second season last January -- two weeks after his 24th birthday -- as the leading rusher in a Super Bowl loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

As Morris sits in front of his Ravens locker recounting the good days, his smile fades as he recalls his darkest hours.

His thoughts drift back to March 22, the day he and a friend were stopped by police after Morris' luxury car was seen swerving on a road in Rockwall, Texas. After Morris and his friend gave conflicting statements about where they had been, Morris gave permission to search the car. The officer found about 6 pounds of marijuana in a sports bag in the trunk, then discovered a gram of cocaine under the ashtray.

Three months later, Morris pleaded guilty to marijuana possession and the cocaine possession charge was dropped. He was sentenced to six years' probation, fined $7,000 and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service. By that time, the Steelers had released him, leaving Morris with a career in jeopardy. Before teams began to inquire about him, Morris had thought about quitting.

Fast forward to the rehabilitation of Morris' career and his image. The NFL ordered him to serve a five-game suspension to start the 1996 season. That didn't stop the Ravens, in need of a bruising running back and convinced that Morris was worth the risk, to sign him to a two-year, $1.8 million contract.

"For six months, I was at home banging my head against the wall, but those six months also gave me a whole lot of hours to think about how much I love football and how much I enjoy traveling, clowning around and having fun with the fellas, being with a team," Morris said.

"It took something like that [the arrest] to bring me down to earth, and I thank God I got a second chance. I can't fault anyone else but me. I'm my own man, I made a mistake and I've got to deal with it. That situation will never happen again."

The word around the Ravens' football complex is that Morris is serious about his corrective actions.

Since signing with Baltimore on Sept. 24, Morris -- who joined the roster on Oct. 7 -- has been tested twice a week for drugs without a problem. He and his fiancee have settled into a condominium downtown. Morris is pretty much a homebody, content to hang around listening to his stereo, playing his video games, watching his favorite cartoons, while maintaining his conditioning by eating more fish and fighting the temptation to fix his favorite late-night snack, a double-decker, ham-and-cheese sandwich.

Morris and his 6-foot, 250-pound frame also have made quite an impression in the Ravens' offense. After showing flashes of his power and agility in cameo roles during three games, Morris was unleashed as the starter and feature back in Sunday's 30-27 loss at Jacksonville. He rushed 26 times for 109 yards, ran through two tacklers to complete a 52-yard touchdown pass, the first of his three-year career, and finished with 182 yards of total offense. Not bad for a guy still learning a new system.

"It was a risk some people said I took foolishly, but he is proving himself to be an accomplished performer, and he has been a source of enormous pleasure to me personally," Ravens owner Art Modell said .

Morris' showing against the Jaguars also brought great pleasure to the household of Marie and Marvin Morris, Bam's parents, who still live in Cooper, population 2,400. Bam, the youngest, and largest, of nine children, ages 24 to 42, helped build the house with his brother, Ron, 32, who played wide receiver for the Chicago Bears from 1987-93.

The house was shaking last week, when eight of the Morris children -- five brothers and three sisters -- and all 22 grandchildren packed the place to view the Ravens-Jaguars game. Watching Bam rebound from his worst nightmare was a moving experience for his mother, whom Bam calls "my mother, my sister, my friend, my role model."

Bam, who talks with his mother several times a week, said, "The worst part about all of this was seeing the hurt in her eyes."

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