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Fan of the Century

99-year-old relishes his ‘lifelong love affair’ with Drake athletics

by Mark Alewine

Since 1945, Paul Morrison’s life and work have intertwined with hundreds of Drake student-athletes who remember him fondly as “Mr. Drake.” Drake University photos

At age 99, Paul Morrison has an encyclopedic memory of Drake athletics. Ask him for a fact about a former player, and he will not only provide an answer but likely a newspaper clipping or game program to back it up.

That knowledge comes from a lifetime of devotion to the school. His parents met at Drake in 1902. He earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Des Moines, Iowa, school in 1939. He began working there as the director of the news bureau in 1945 and retired 41 years later as the athletics business manager.

The day after he retired, the man students have long called “Mr. Drake” was back on campus — as a volunteer. It’s a role he has filled ever since.

“He is, for everyone in our department, a role model,” says Ty Patton, Drake assistant athletics director for communications. “He sets the standard that we all try to live up to every day.”

It was that standard Drake athletics administrators had in mind when they designated the 2016-17 academic year as the Year of the Fan to recognize Morrison and other loyal Bulldogs. The celebration has taken many forms, from open practices and behind-the-scene facility tours to service days in which coaches, administrators and athletes have volunteered in the community.

One home game for each team was designated as its Year of the Fan game, and Morrison was the honored guest at every one. The yearlong celebration will culminate July 25, Morrison’s 100th birthday.

A member of the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame, Morrison has attended more than 700 Drake football games and 79 runnings of the Drake Relays, one of the nation’s top track and field events. A half-mile of road in front of the Knapp Center and Drake Stadium is called Paul F. Morrison Way.

For decades, Morrison sent out an alumni newsletter to keep former Drake student-athletes updated on marriages, births and career changes — any information to keep the Bulldogs connected.

“He lived it and knew it down to personal details,” says Tom Kroeschell, who graduated from Drake in 1982, worked with Morrison in sports information from 1982 to 1984 and served as the announcer for the Drake Relays from 1989 to 2006.

Kroeschell recalls former Drake Athletics Director Lynn King remarking on Morrison’s impact on alumni. “When people come back,” King told him, “he’s the first person they want to see.”

Morrison had a front-row seat to the biggest events in Drake athletics history — from the 1951 football game that produced Pulitzer Prize-winning photos of jaw-breaking blows to Drake halfback Johnny Bright, to Drake’s only Final Four game, a 1969 battle with Lew Alcindor and UCLA.

Morrison calls his relationship with Drake a “lifelong love affair” and has passed his devotion to his three daughters (also alumni) and their children. “Sixteen members of the Morrison tribe, as I call it, have Drake degrees,” he says.

“He simply has never stopped being a vital part of any athlete that ever was at Drake University,” says Al McCoy, a 1954 Drake graduate who is now the radio voice of the Phoenix Suns.

Today, Morrison doesn’t move around campus like he used to. He uses a wheelchair and relies on rides from his many friends in the Drake community. The full-time workload he maintained even in retirement is down to two days a week.

But Drake administrators are not allowing Morrison’s presence at the university to fade with age. The school is working to archive Morrison’s vast collection of historical records, preserving his work for future generations of Bulldogs.

“A big chunk of that 100 years has been involved with Drake University,” Morrison says. “You can’t beat that.”

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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