Syracuse Football Top 25 Players of All-Time: No. 12 Joe Morris

Syracuse football, Joe Morris (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
Syracuse football, Joe Morris (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images) /

Syracuse Football has had a long history of success. We look back at some of the best players to play at Syracuse University. Up next, No. 12: Joe Morris.

Syracuse Football legend Joe Morris was one heck of a running back. This man was a bruising running back that just made play, after play, after play. During his time at Syracuse from 1978-1981, he set records that no one at Syracuse may ever touch again.

The crazy thing about Morris is that he followed in the footsteps of former Syracuse Football greats Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, and Larry Csonka, yet he did not let the pressure of being Syracuse’s starting running back phase him. When offered the number 44 jersey like those of his predecessors by Coach Dick McPherson (Coach Mac), he turned it down as he felt unworthy, instead opting for the No. 47 jersey instead, according to the Rochester Business Journal. As it turned out, he didn’t need it, as he more than made a name for himself in that No. 47 jersey anyways.

Morris made SU opponents fear the running game. When Morris was healthy, you knew Syracuse was going to run the ball consistently and effectively. It was like you knew the train was coming and you couldn’t stop it.

From his first year on campus to his last, Morris was Syracuse Football’s featured running back, getting hefty carries each season. As a freshman in 1978, he had 170 carries for 1,001 yards (5.9-yard avg.) and three touchdowns to pair with one catch for six yards, according to Morris also had a huge game against 18th ranked Navy rushing for 203 yards, according to Not bad for a rookie!

More from All-Time Lists

In his sophomore campaign with Syracuse Football in 1979, he would have an even better year. Morris had a whopping 238 carries for 1,372 yards (5.8-yard avg.) and seven touchdowns to pair with four catches for 38 yards. He also set the Syracuse single-game rushing record with 252 yards against Kansas, which still stands today. His performance led him to earn All-American honorable mention honors from both Sporting News as well as the Associated Press at season’s end. Unfortunately, his junior season was not nearly as successful, but that wasn’t entirely his fault.

In 1980, the year that the Orangemen moved into the Carrier Dome and left Archibold Stadium, Morris was considered a candidate for the Heisman Trophy (college football’s most prestigious award given to the nation’s best player) after a huge breakout year the season before.

In his first game in the new Carrier Dome against Miami (OH.) Morris got the hometown crowd on their feet with a 94-yard kickoff return in the second quarter en route to a 36-24 victory. In that game, he also had 32 carries, 170 rushing yards, and three rushing touchdowns. In other words, he continued the hype train the season before had built. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, bad luck would set in.

In that inaugural season at the Carrier Dome, the walls of the stands were not yet covered or padded. Thus when Morris ran into the wall against Northwestern, it caused him to sustain a shoulder injury that would cause him to miss three games, according to SUJuiceOnline.

Sure, Morris came back four weeks later, but the damage was done. He was not as effective post-injury, and two weeks later he would miss the final two games of the season due to breaking his collarbone against Navy. He would still have a pretty decent season by most standards: he rushed 144 times for 732 yards (5.1-yard avg.) and five touchdowns to pair with three receptions for 31 yards, as well as six kickoff returns for 183 yards and one touchdown.

In his final season with Syracuse Football in 1981, Morris would bounce back to his former self, looking every bit the player he was his sophomore year. He would have a huge season rushing 261 times for 1,194 yards (4.6-yard avg.) and 10 rushing touchdowns. Morris also had 20 receptions for 203 yards and 10 kickoff returns for 265 yards and one touchdown. His incredible on-field performance garnered him Sporting News and Associated Press Honorable mentions as well as earned him a spot on Football News All-America Third Team.

Following that amazing senior season, Morris was selected 45th overall in the second round of the 1982 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. He would spend seven years with the Giants and one year with the Cleveland Browns before calling it quits.

In his seven-year career with New York, he had 1,318 carries for 5,296 yards: a franchise record which has since been broken, but currently sits 3rd all-time on their list, according to He also has 48 rushing touchdowns, which still sits 4th all-time on the Giants rushing list. In addition to his impressive rushing totals, he had 98 receptions for 884 yards and two receiving touchdowns to pair with 22 kickoff returns for 349 yards.

Though his time with the Browns was not nearly as successful, Morris still had a decent NFL career overall. He played in 110 career NFL games, starting 68 of them to the tune of 1,411 carries for 5,585 yards, 50 rushing touchdowns, 111 receptions for 960 yards, two receiving touchdowns, and 40 kickoff returns for 659 yards.

In addition, Morris was named to the Pro-Bowl twice, and helped the New York Giants win Super Bowl XXI in 1986 against John Elway’s Denver Broncos behind a 20 rush, 67 yard, one-touchdown performance. To this day, Giants fans still laud Morris as one of their best players ever.

Sure other Syracuse Football running backs get all the spotlight, but Morris set more records than any of them. Sure, records aren’t everything, but they do speak volumes about an individual’s career. In his time at SU, Morris set numerous Syracuse Football records (all stats courtesy of

  • 252 yards against Kansas– 1979 (1st)
  • 5,581 career all-purpose yards (1st)
  • 4,299 career rushing yards (1st)
  • 1,372 yards rushing in a season– 1979 (1st)
  • 113.1 career yards per game (1st)
  • 813 career carries (1st)
  • 261 carries in a season- 1981 (T-1st with Larry Csonka)
  • 124.7 yards per game in a season- 1979 (1st)
  • 22 career 100-yard games (1st)
  • Seven rushing touchdowns in a season- 1979 (T-1st with Jim Brown),
  • Six rushing touchdown in a season- 1981 (T-3rd)
  • 1,194 yards – 1981 (4th)
  • 25 career rushing touchdowns by a running back (5th)
  • 108.5 yards per game -1981 (5th)
  • 238 carries- 1979 (6th)
  • 100.1 yards per game- 1978 (7th)
  • 5.29 yards career yards per carry (9th)
  • 5 rushing touchdowns in a season-1980 (T-10th with multiple running backs)
  • 203 rushing yards against Navy- 1978 (10th)
  • 32 carries in a game against Miami (Ohio)- 1980 and against Illinois- 1981(T-10th)

He was later named to the Syracuse All-Century team and had his No. 47 jersey retired in 2018. As it turned out, he didn’t need that No. 44 jersey he was offered after all, as his play on the football field set a legacy all its own.

Next. Syracuse Football: Top 10 players that should have their jerseys retired. dark

Joe Morris is often considered the fourth or fifth wheel in the history of Syracuse Football’s backfield, but he shouldn’t be. He is one the first stars to play in the history of the Carrier Dome, and did so in spectacular fashion. He definitely deserves to be mentioned when talking about the best to ever play for Syracuse Football.