Dec. 21, 2008
Providence, RI -
By JIM DONALDSON Providence Journal Sports Writer
The alarm rang at 5 a.m. and, as Sean Morey dragged himself out of bed to head off to work moving furniture, he thought: "Wow -- this is it. It's over."
It was the fall of 2001, the NFL season was just beginning, and Morey wasn't playing, having been cut by the Eagles a few days earlier, at the end of training camp.
He'd been a standout wide receiver at Brown, the best in school history. He'd been drafted in the seventh round by the Patriots in 1999, but spent most of his two years with New England on the practice squad. In the spring of '01 he'd gone to Spain, to play for the Barcelona Dragons in NFL Europe. Now, the Eagles had let him go.
But Morey wasn't ready to let go of his dream of playing pro football. By working for a moving company, he had time to work out -- to run; to lift weights; to stay in shape, just in case anybody called.
"I took jobs that were temporary," he said, "so I wouldn't have to start a career. I love playing football."
He'd always loved playing football. When he was playing for Marshfield High (Mass.), he attended a camp at Harvard and took to heart words spoken by Dick MacPherson, who had been coach of the Patriots and, before that, at Syracuse.
"He said you could make yourself a football player," Morey recalled. "He said that if you want to be faster, run. If you want to be stronger, lift. If you want to be a better receiver, go out and catch more balls."
Morey knew there always would be guys who would be bigger, stronger and faster. But he was determined that there weren't going to be any who would work harder. And so, when a call came from the Eagles in January as they were about to start the playoffs -- they'd had some injuries and needed help on special teams -- he was ready.
"I knew that if I got better every day, I'd be there the next day," he said. "I took it one day at a time."
These days, Morey is one of the best special teams players in the NFL. He was just voted to the NFC squad for the Pro Bowl. He's one of the reasons the Cardinals have won their first division title in 33 years, and will be going to the playoffs for the first time since 1998.
He's already played in NFC championship games with the Eagles, and three years ago won a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This afternoon, back in New England, where he played his high school and college ball, and started his pro career, he'll leave the big passing plays to some of Arizona's other all-pros -- quarterback Kurt Warner and wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin -- and try to make a big play on special teams, the way he did against the Cowboys, in October.
Dallas long has been America's team. The Cards, for too long, have been a joke. So it was a big game when the Cowboys came to Arizona, which at 3-2, was battling for first place in the NFC West.
The game went into overtime and, when the Cowboys had to punt, Morey rushed in and blocked it. It was scooped up by Monty Beisel, who ran it in for a touchdown. It was the first time in NFL history that an overtime game was decided by a blocked punt returned for a TD.
It was the type of play that has put Morey in the Pro Bowl, and the Cards in the playoffs.
He didn't often play special teams at Brown. He was too valuable as a receiver. He was the Ivy League player of the year as a junior in 1997, when he caught 74 passes for a league-record 1,434 yards and 15 touchdowns. He finished his career with 251 catches for 3,850 yards and 40 TDs, which all were league records.
But that was the Ivy League, not the National Football League. At 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds, Morey wasn't very big. And, by NFL standards, he wasn't very fast. "The day I walked in the door at New England," he said, "I was told that if I wanted to make the team, I'd have to find a way to contribute on Sundays, and that meant I'd have to play special teams."
It took him a while to make the adjustment.
"To be quite honest with you, the reason I didn't stick in New England was that I just wasn't ready," he said.
After spending three seasons in Barcelona, including one as a defensive back, he was more than ready in 2003, when he was named special teams MVP on a Philly unit that ranked first in the NFL.
"I had almost 30 tackles and played at a very high level," Morey said. "I probably deserved to go to the Pro Bowl that year. But they only give (that honor) to guys who have done it year in, year out -- veterans who have been consistent over a long period of time."
That's one of the reasons Morey will be heading to Hawaii -- he's done his job well, year in, year out.
"I feel like I've paid my dues," he said. "Being a special-teams player, you have to grind it out. If you focus on your job, week in, week out, if you do your studying, understand your keys and your opponent, execute the game plan and play hard, you have a chance." Morey spent three seasons in Pittsburgh, leading the team in special-teams tackles every year and helping the Steelers reach the AFC Championship Game in 2004, when they lost to the Patriots, and then an NFL title the following year, when they beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
He was lured to Arizona by Ken Whisenhunt, who had been offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh before becoming head coach of the Cardinals last year.
"I was blessed," Morey said, "to have coach `Whiz' bring me to Arizona. I've been cut more times than I'd like to admit. But I've gotten to live my dream of playing in the NFL. I feel really honored and humbled."