“Do you remember watching the Morris brothers play?” they would say. The answer is no … I was not born. People often forget that I was not born until September of 1989.
I have read about the Morris brothers in the archives at the old office in Devens when I first started as a fresh out of college journalist because I had to know who these guys were.
On Saturday night at the Devens Inn and Conference Center, Ayer Shirley Regional High School inducted its first annual athletics hall of fame class.
Morris, Class of 1978, was on the list. Morris was the starting running back on the 1986 New York Giants Super Bowl championship team.
Morris took to the podium Saturday night and delivered a powerful speech to a capacity crowd inside the Devens Inn and Conference Center ballroom.As he thanked the crowd, he stepped away from the podium and then came back to call someone out.
That someone was me.
He grabbed the microphone and said with a semi serious face: does anyone know Ed Niser? I am going to break his neck. He said I wasn’t coming.”
So, I slowly walked up to the podium and introduced myself with a smile and said:
“Hey Joe, I am Ed Niser.” He replied:
“Oh, hey Ed.
Do you see that man (pointing at his father) in the crowd? If I tell him I am going to be somewhere, I show up.”
We had an amicable and funny exchange in front of the crowd. I said to Joe: “I thought you wanted a grand entrance?”
Morris’s little brother, Jamie, also made it to the NFL with the Washington Redskins and was inducted as a member of the 1980 Ayer Super Bowl team.
It was not all about the Morris brothers Saturday night, there were many great speakers. Former head coach Joe Hickey delivered one of the more memorable speeches of the evening. Hickey alluded to his 51 years of coaching experience as “taking a trip around the world in a little yellow school bus.”
Perhaps, the most influential speech of the night came from 1980 Super Bowl team. Joly talked about the melting pot that is Ayer. Mainly because of the then active Ft. Devens military base. “If you had a prejudice bone in your body, you didn’t come to Ayer.”
Much is the same today, everyone get along, regardless of race or religious beliefs. It is a tight-knit community with people from all social groups.
Joly could not have said it better. Living on the Clinton-Lancaster line, it was not at all uncommon to see a soldier in fatigues grocery shopping at the Shaws Supermarket in town. To this day,I remember the helicopters flying over our yard and shaking the house.Even though Devens is no longer an active military base, there are still training activities that happen.
While the talent pool is starting to deepen, it is nothing like it was 30-40 years ago. That has a lot to do with the loss of the military base’s active status and an enrollment of just 380 students.
But, back to the banquet. There were a lot of familiar faces in the crowd. No one was sure how the event would turn out, but it is safe to say it was a resounding success.
There were pieces of the old gym floor on display and a pair of baseball uniforms worn by Rita Briggs while she was in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
It is important for current athletes to have something to strive for and know where they come from.
Hopefully, the Ayer Shirley Athletic Hall of Fame will be an annual thing. It is something that all high schools should have.
Everyone needs to know their roots.
History is an important piece of a community, and the ASRHS Hall of Fame did a great job teaching me about the glory days of Panther athletics.
Follow Ed Niser on Twitter/Tout:@EdNiser