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Tuesday, November 29, 2005 | Say it ain’t so, Kirk.
I’ve reluctantly come to accept that once the Oakland Raiders drafted San Diego State’s Kirk Morrison in the third round, he became a member of the roguish Raiders. But ever since that fateful day in April I can hear San Diego football fans throughout the Chargers’ and Aztecs’ nations echoing what heartbroken kids on the south side of Chicago asked Shoeless Joe Jackson about the 1919 Black Sox scandal.
Morrison, of course, isn’t accused of anything illegal just because the rookie linebacker plays for the Raiders (and leads them in tackles with 81). But it does seem to go against the football laws of sportsmanship and fair play to see him returning to San Diego dressed in silver and black for the Raiders-Chargers game Sunday night at Qualcomm Stadium.
How could a good guy like Kirk Morrison, one of the classiest players to come out of San Diego State’s athletic program, be one of the bad-boy Raiders?
I asked Kassim Osgood, the Chargers’ third-year wide receiver from SDSU, for some counsel. Is his friend and former Aztecs teammate really a Raider?
Osgood, who faced Morrison many times in practice at Montezuma Mesa, continued with the Star Wars analogy.
“We’re the Charger Jedi Knights and he’s Darth Vadar,” Osgood said. “I always told him he was Darth Vadar at San Diego State. He had that dark visor on his helmet that he liked to wear.”
Ah, so it’s only image that makes Morrison a Raider, right?
“I may not seem like a Raider off the field, but I’m in the Raider mold on the field,” Morrison told me. “Some people might say about a Raiders player, ‘He’s a relaxed, cool guy.’ But once we step on the field, our mindset changes. That’s the way I play. I might be a nice guy with my helmet off, but once I put my helmet on, it’s bad news.”
As I listened, I wanted to bring up the win-at-all-costs attitude ingrained in the Raiders by owner Al Davis and how that attitude trickles down to corrupting youth and prep sports in this age of kids imitating what they see on TV. The Raiders represent everything evil in sports, I’ve long said, but I recognized I had to give Morrison a pass on this.
He grew up in Oakland as a Raiders fan and that kind of childhood enthusiasm and loyalty can’t be cured. He gets chills when he pulls on his Raiders uniform.
“When I get dressed for games, I’m so jacked up I can’t even explain the feeling to you,” Morrison said. “You only get to do this at home eight times a year for regular season games and for two preseason games; you feel like a little kid. I’m doing something I love, playing football, and doing it in my hometown for a team I grew up loving.”
Morrison was a two-time All-American pick for San Diego State as a 6-foot-2, 240-pounder, but there were questions about his speed before the draft. He went out of his way to tell me how grateful he was that Davis, head coach Norv Turner, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and inside linebackers coach Don Martindale ignored such evaluations.
“I’m not going to beat anybody in 100-yard dash, but I feel my quickness between the tackles is as good as anybody in the NFL,” Morrison said. “The Raiders’ coaches were my coaches at the Senior Bowl, and they saw that in me. I’m glad I got knocked down in the draft for my speed, because I ended up with the Raiders. There is no place better for me to be.”
Morrison felt the same way about his years at SDSU, and he’s dismayed by criticism of Aztecs head coach Tom Craft in the San Diego media.
“Coach Craft and his defensive staff – coach (Thom) Kaumeyer, coach (Jim) House and coach (Andy) Buh – got me to where I am today,” Morrison said. “Coach Craft is turning the corner with the program – it’s coming. He just needs time for the players he recruited to get experience. He’s got good players coming up.”
You see, there’s still a lot of San Diego in Kirk Morrison. Red and black, the Aztecs’ colors, were such a better fit on him, even if we have to grudgingly accept he’s playing just as well in silver and black as he did in red and black.
Say it ain’t so, Kirk.
Tom Shanahan has been writing about San Diego athletes at the professional, collegiate and high school levels for 27 years. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions (www.sdhoc.com). You can e-mail him at