Vandy's First Goat, Ray Morrison

Former Vanderbilt standout wowed crowds at the turn of the century

by Graham Hays

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ray Morrison may be the only member of the Vanderbilt Hall of Fame once compared to an Angora goat, a diminutive breed known for being the source of mohair fabric.

Watching Morrison scamper 90 yards for a touchdown in Vanderbilt’s 9-2 victory against Mississippi on Oct. 29, 1910, moved Vanderbilt alumnus and sportswriter Grantland Rice to that memorable comparison. Rice also went on to describe the play in characteristically vivid detail.

“And here in a flash from beneath the shadow of the Commodore goal, where eleven men had been unable to gain headway, one man, almost unaided, had flashed for ninety yards to a touchdown by one of the greatest exhibitions of open field running ever witnessed on Dudley Field soil. On no less than three occasions Morrison was lost from view in the swirl of Red and Blue tacklers around him, only to emerge with his speed undiminished and his pace unchecked.

“How he ever traveled the long distance that lay beyond him remains one of the miracles of the game – a miracle that is only partly explained by the wonderful speed and skill in dodging that he showed as, like a gray ghost that might not be grappled with, he led eleven dazed rivals over his own goal line for the play that broke up the game.”

A week earlier, Vanderbilt tied vaunted Yale 0-0, a result that Nashville sports historian Bill Traughber wrote “sent shockwaves throughout the North and South.” That result against the defending national champion aided the growth of college football in what is now the footprint of the Southeastern Conference. Meanwhile, the victory that Morrison’s touchdown ensured against Mississippi was the next-closest call in Vanderbilt’s 8-0-1 season–their second unbeaten season under legendary coach Dan McGugin.

The touchdown run embodied the standard of excellence that Morrison set on the playing field. The quarterback was a three-time All-Southern-Conference selection. Alongside the likes of Jim Thorpe, he also earned All-America honors in 1911 — the only student-athlete from a Southern school to earn that distinction that year.

Morrison never stopped striving for football excellence. As Southern Methodist University’s first football coach, he was an innovator whose commitment to the passing game helped move an entire sport forward. And rather than balking at the daunting challenge of replacing McGugin, he returned to Vanderbilt in 1934 as the legendary coach’s preferred successor. As a ladder for others, he mentored a new generation of Commodores.

A student-athlete who contributed much to a golden age of Vanderbilt football, Morrison’s Hall of Fame credentials are impeccable for that alone. But his contribution to the university goes beyond the exploits that moved Rice and others to such heights of prose. Long after he made his last run on the field, he continued living up to the ideals that define the school’s mission.