Morris for the long term? Ravens better not count on it

September 23, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

Art Modell stood before the television cameras at the Ravens' Owings Mills training complex yesterday, arm-in-arm with Bam Morris.

"On behalf of Ted [Marchibroda] and the entire organization, I want to welcome you back and hope this is the continuation of a long career," Modell said.

"Thanks," Morris said, sweat dripping down his face as he looked the owner directly in the eye. "Thanks."

Hold your Kleenex. And hold your applause.

This isn't Eric Davis returning from cancer.

This is a gifted 25-year-old athlete who has yet to prove he can stay clean.

The Ravens welcomed him back for an obvious reason -- he can help them win football games.

But when Modell talks about possibly keeping the 250-pound running back "a long time," a reality check is in order.

It's understandable that the Ravens want to get their money's worth from Morris in 1997. But how can they ever include him in their plans again?

They should discard him after this season.

Love him and leave him, in so many words.

Marchibroda would need another big back -- Earnest Byner, Jay Graham and Priest Holmes all are in the 205- to 220-pound range.

Let the front office find a free-agent replacement.

One who doesn't require a baby sitter.

One who isn't suspended at the start of every season.

Granted, the Ravens went 3-1 without Morris. But who knows? They might be 4-0 if he had been available on first-and-goal from the 5 against Jacksonville.

Instead, Morris was home in Texas, keeping in shape.

And "finding" himself, of course.

The Ravens forced Morris to perform a series of fitness drills with only club officials present yesterday, but the workout was little more than an orchestrated sham.

Once Morris reported at a decent weight, he could have crawled during "gassers," for all the Ravens cared.

Still, in one of those classic '90s sports moments, Modell and Marchibroda raved about how Morris is in better shape now than he was after last year's suspension.

Now that's progress.

You watch, Morris will gain 1,000 yards in the Ravens' final 12 games, lead the team to the playoffs and fool Modell into re-signing him one more time.

Modell again talked tough yesterday, but he's one of the softer touches in sports.

"This is his third time at bat. This is his last chance to prove that he can be a good citizen and good football player for us," Modell said. "There'll be no other chances. He knows that."


After signing Morris last year, Modell said, "If he makes a mistake, he's gone." Well, Morris made a mistake, but not enough of a mistake, according to Modell.

What's so bad about drinking beer? Nothing, except when you're on probation after getting arrested with six pounds of marijuana and 1 1/2 grams of cocaine.

It still has not been determined whether Morris violated his probation. But, under the NFL drug policy, he served his punishment, and is free to play again.

"I had to weigh the circumstances," Modell said. "I'm not going to sit in judgment. I'm not going to criticize the doctors the league employs.

"The circumstances were so inconclusive, I thought on the minor side, I felt it would be too harsh to say goodbye Charlie.

"But that doesn't lessen the impact of any further abuse."

Provided, of course, that Modell sees it as abuse, and not another "minor" infraction.

For his part, Morris said all the right things, following the familiar script. Maybe he'll rebound like Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster, a three-time violator of the NFL's drug policy. Or maybe he'll screw up again.

"History says that you don't know," said Earnest Byner, the 35-year-old back who will lose playing time to Morris. "History says you hope. History says you pray for the best, but also be leery of the potential.

"You put people in situations where you give them the best opportunity to be successful. The rest is up to the individual, whatever Bam decides he wants to do, on and off the field."

Whatever, the Ravens are rooting for Morris and not just because he'll boost their running game. Morris has a rare charisma, an infectious personality. And it's not like the players aren't accustomed to teammates missing games.

"When you guys [reporters] came to us when his suspension was announced, some of the players said they were

disappointed," quarterback Vinny Testaverde said. "That let Bam know we were counting on him. It was a letdown for us.

"Now [the feeling is], 'You're back with us, and don't let us down again.' I believe that he won't let us down. He expressed his feelings about it to us. He said what he had to say. Now it's time to do it."

The last time.

The Ravens can't trust Bam Morris again.

Pub Date: 9/23/97

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