Fallen Star

A small town turns away from a football hero convicted of drug crimes

At the sentencing, a stern state District Judge Sue Pirtle told Morris that if he violated the new agreement, he could expect to be sent to prison for the remainder of the 10-year sentence.

Morris' image further sullied, the Ravens released him. Chicago, his older brother's old team, picked him up in August '98, but by October he'd been traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. It was there that his once-promising NFL career crashed for the final time.

And back home, folks were baffled by the opportunities lost, the life wasted.

Byron "Bam" Morris had the most successful NFL career of Cooper's famed Morris boys. Recently convicted on drug charges, he also fell the hardest.
AP/Wide World Photo
Byron "Bam" Morris had the most successful NFL career of Cooper's famed Morris boys. Recently convicted on drug charges, he also fell the hardest.
It's tough keeping up with the twist and turns in Bam Morris' life, as this sign outside Cooper Indicates. The Ravens were Morris' second-to-last assignment in the NFL. Now he's out altogether.
It's tough keeping up with the twist and turns in Bam Morris' life, as this sign outside Cooper Indicates. The Ravens were Morris' second-to-last assignment in the NFL. Now he's out altogether.

Richard Huie, a life-long Cooper resident currently in his eighth term as mayor, shakes his head at the mention of Morris' name. "My son-in-law played ball with him in high school," he says. "He really liked him. Everybody in town did. But now, I'm hearing a lot of disappointment in people's voices.

"Folks around here have supported Bam all his life. After the Super Bowl against Dallas, the town threw a really nice reception for him. The whole community participated. Even after that business over in Rockwall, there were a lot of folks who felt it might just have been a situation where he got mixed up with the wrong people.

"But there comes a time when you've got to ask yourself: How many chances do you give someone? In most small, conservative towns like this, folks reach a point where they say enough is enough."

That, it seems, is the mindset of Cooper today.

Mayor Huie, who coached several of the Morris boys during their Little League days, says that since word of Bam's arrest in Kansas City he's received calls almost daily from townspeople asking why the sign out on the highway, proclaiming Cooper as the fallen hero's home, hasn't been taken down. "A fella called just the other day to point out that our baseball team won the state championship in 1999 and there's no sign up for them, and he's got a good argument. But all I can do for now is explain that the city didn't put the sign up--the Morris family did--so there's nothing we can do about taking it down."

How the Morris family, living in a home built for them by their pro football-playing sons just a few years ago, feels about the matter is unknown. No one answered when the Dallas Observer knocked at the door last week, and the family's unlisted phone number had been changed.

"You know," says school Superintendent Fred Wilkerson, a close friend of the Morris family for more than 30 years, "I was talking to the school nurse just today about how mad I am at Bam for what he's done to himself, his family, and the community. But having said that, if he came walking through the door of my office right now I'd get up and hug his neck. The Bam Morris I've known most of his life is a big ol' teddy bear, a charmer, a nice, polite young man. That's what makes this all the more difficult."

And while Wilkerson, who coached the Cooper High football team from 1968 to '73, admits there is little evidence of sympathy for Morris within the community, he has heard no blame pointed at family members. "I guess the thing you hear most over coffee or at church or wherever," he says, "is that Marie Morris doesn't deserve this. And that's right. I don't believe there is a finer, more gracious woman in the world. She saw to it that those kids participated in the community, behaved themselves, worked hard, and were polite. And if one was playing a game, she made sure all the others were there to cheer him on. No question about it; she doesn't deserve this."

Nor, says the man to whom Morris came for advice when he was contemplating leaving Texas Tech a year early to make himself available for the NFL draft, does the town of Cooper. "A li'l ol' town like us needs a positive identity. It's nice to say you produced somebody who goes out into the world and makes something of himself. Bam had that opportunity and now people around here feel he let us down."

Judy Falls, an English and government teacher who doubles as a photographer at Cooper High athletic events, fondly remembers the young Bam Morris who once sat in her classroom. "He was a gentle person, thoughtful, and had a wonderful sense of humor. You couldn't help but like him.

"But he obviously made some bad choices, and now he has to take responsibility. While I hate what's happened to him, my sympathy is reserved for his family. This town loves that family and knows he's embarrassed them."

Last week, local pharmacist Marion Miller, self-appointed historian of Cooper High athletics, was reading proofs of the program that will be sold at home games this season. The final page was devoted to past accomplishments of those players who once wore the maroon and white. "I noticed that where the NFL teams Bam Morris had played on were listed, the Baltimore Ravens hadn't been included," he says, "so I pointed it out."

The response was more matter-of-fact than bitter: "Who cares anymore?"

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