Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 12/10/12
MIAMI Forty years ago, the Miami Dolphins beat Washington in Super Bowl VII to conclude a perfect season. Now, a key player from that team might be heading to Washington to have his say before the Supreme Court. Mercury Morris, a running back who gained 1,000 yards in 1972, recently learned the suit he has filed regarding NFL retirement benefits had reached the first stage of the high court. After the case is evaluated by the Supreme Court on Jan. 4, he is expected to find out Jan. 7 whether Eugene Morris v. National Football League Retirement Board will be heard before the 2012-13 term ends next fall. The Miami Dolphins were the first perfect team, said Morris, 65, in an interview with FOX Sports Florida. Im going into this like Im still just 16-0 and Ive got another game to play. And I expect to win. (Morris and the 17-0 Dolphins will have their 40th reunion this weekend in conjunction with Miami playing host to Jacksonville.) Morris, who played for the Dolphins from 1969-75 before spending a final season with San Diego in 1976, sued the NFL Retirement Board in federal court in 2010, alleging he was receiving 3,100 a month when he should be getting twice that amount and also seeking 91,000 in back pay. Morris, who alleges a contract regarding how his retirement distributions would be handled was violated, said those amounts would increase if he were to win his case. While Morris was unsuccessful in district court and a federal appeals court affirmed that decision, his petition for writ of certiorari was accepted by the Supreme Court. A clerk from a pool will write up a memo on his case and it will be distributed to eight of nine justices who participate in the practice. The website www.certpool.com lists Morris case as one of about 500 the Supreme Court will evaluate Jan. 4. While Morris case is on the docket, there is no guarantee the high court will end up making a ruling on it. In fact, of about 8,000 petitions for certiorari received each year, only about 1 percent are heard. But I think the chances are good, said Atlee Wampler, a retired Miami lawyer who has offered advice to Morris. He meets all the criteria. There is conflict in the circuit courts on the issue and a conflict in prior (Supreme Court) precedent on the issues he has raised, and he has a meritorious claim that affects a lot of other people. If I were a betting man, I believe (the case) will be heard. Wampler helped Morris by researching a 2011 case that was decided by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that Wampler believes is in contrast to the 11th Circuit having not ruled for Morris. Wampler also helped in uncovering the 1823 Supreme Court case Green v. Biddle that he believes will help Morris. The case dealt with a contract regarding land issues between Virginia and Kentucky before the latter had been granted statehood. But while Wampler, who has known Morris for about a dozen years, is offering his friend free legal advice, hes not representing Morris. If Morris gets his shot before the Supreme Court, hes the one who would address the nine justices during an allowed 30 minutes, although Wampler would be in Washington offering support. Other notable athletes have gone to the Supreme Court, namely basketball player Spencer Haywood, who won his case over the NBA in 1971 for the right to play before his college class graduated, and baseball player Curt Flood, who lost his case for free agency in 1972. But they had lawyers arguing their cases, including former Supreme Court justice Arthur Goldberg doing so for Flood. As far as I know, I would be the first, Morris said of being a notable athlete who could be representing himself in the Supreme Court. I wouldnt be intimidated. I would know what my game plan is on Tuesday and Ill prepare the rest of the week and be ready for the game on Sunday. Morris has named in his suit 153 other NFL players who retired around the same time as Morris who he also believes are receiving inappropriate benefits. They include Hall of Famers Elvin Bethea, Leroy Kelly, Mel Renfro and Charley Taylor. But while Morris said it might be prohibitive because of legal expenses for other players to file suits, he said hes only spent 4,000 of his own money on his case. He said he can keep expenses low due to the help of Wampler and all the legal knowledge Morris has acquired over the years. Morris was found guilty in 1982 of conspiracy to traffic cocaine and was sentenced to 25 years, with a minimum penalty of 15 years. Morris eventually had his conviction overturned by the Florida Supreme Court and was granted a new trial. He pleaded no contest, and was released from prison after 3 years. That was when (Morris legal education) started, said Morris, who made three Pro Bowls with the Dolphins and played in three Super Bowls for them, including winning Super Bowl VII 14-7 over the Redskins and Super Bowl VIII 24-7 over Minnesota. When I was (at Dade Correctional Institution in Florida City), I went over legal documents, I worked in the law library, I helped other prisoners with cases. Now, Wampler said Morris has more legal knowledge than some lawyers. He called Morris innately intelligent and very well schooled on his issues. Morris, who suffered a broken neck during a 1973 Dolphins game against Pittsburgh that he said was misdiagnosed and led to surgery in 1980, later used his legal knowledge to file a 1991 complaint with the NFL Retirement Board over disability claims. It was settled without Morris needing to go to court. We settled for 295,000 and 22 cents, Morris said. The 22 was for my jersey number. But as much as Morris might like to add a personal touch, he realizes that would be less possible in the staid Supreme Court. He noticed something when he saw his name on the court docket. It had Mercury in it before, but in the Supreme Court Im just Eugene, Morris said of the high court going solely with his given name. But if Morris can get a win in Washington 40 years after the Dolphins beat Washington, hell have no problem with that. Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson
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