Joseph “Zippy” Morocco, a University of Georgia All-American and former two-sport star for the Bulldogs during the 1950’s, died on Sunday at the age of 86 in Athens, GA.
Morocco arrived in Athens to start college in the fall of 1948. By the time his athletic career at Georgia was over, he had become one of the most exciting two-sport players in school history, a record-setting halfback in football and the Bulldogs¹ first-ever basketball All-American.
Anthony Joseph Morocco was born March 10, 1930, in Youngstown,Ohio, a city that had also produced Bulldog All-American George Poschner less than a decade before. Head football coach Wally Butts had successfully recruited Poschner to Athens, as he had with Frank Sinkwich, who hailed from nearby McKees Rock, Pa. Butts kept his ties with Youngstown, and they paid off when young Morocco chose to attend Georgia.
At Ursuline High in Youngstown, Morocco enjoyed greater success in football than he did on the hardcourt. Three times he was named to the Ohio all-state team as a tailback, despite measuring just 5 feet, 10 inches tall and 160 pounds. After his senior season, Morocco won the MVP trophy at the state¹s all-star game, when he scored three touchdowns, including one on a 56-yard punt return. As a senior on the Ursuline basketball team, he won third-team all-state honors and averaged over 20 points per game.
At Georgia, Morocco used his outstanding speed and quickness to become one of the best punt returners in school history. His 14.2 yards per return over his three seasons still ranks third in the Bulldog record book. In 1950 alone he brought back two punts for touchdowns, racing 90 yards against Furman and 56 yards against Texas A&M.
Morocco also distinguished himself as one of the best all-purpose backs of his era. Averaging 10 yards every time he touched the ball, he led the Bulldogs in kickoff returns for three straight years and in receiving and punt returns for two years. Butts called Morocco the best pass-receiving back I ever coached.
Though he started at guard for three straight years, Morocco didn¹t truly flourish on the basketball court until 1953, his final season. That fantastic season in O53 almost never happened. Morocco graduated in the spring after his final season of football in 1951. He was then drafted by the NFL¹s Philadelphia Eagles, but Georgia basketball coach Red Lawson convinced him to return for one more full season on the hardcourt.
That season he scored 590 points, a mark which not only led the Southeastern Conference but also set the league¹s single-season record. He also set the Georgia single-season record in free throw shooting, going to the line 303 times and making 210 of them. Against Florida that year Morocco sank 16 of 24 tries from the foul line, both school records that still stand today.
Five times in 1953 he scored over 30 points, and his highest total of 38 came in perhaps his greatest performance. With Georgia trailing Tennessee 86-85 in Knoxville, Morocco dribbled away nearly the entire final minute. But with four seconds left he unleashed a set shot from an estimated 40 feet, swishing his victorious jumper as time expired.
He was named the SEC’s Most Valuable Player that season and a Helms Foundation All-American, the first such honoree in UGA history. After the basketball season, Morocco enlisted in the Army, for which he played one season of football at Fort Jackson in South Carolina before a hamstring injury ended his athletic career.
Morocco eventually settled in Athens, where he and his wife Fran raised a family of two sons and a daughter. He also built a highly successful real estate business and was a longtime civic leader in his adopted hometown. He was inducted into the UGA Circle of Honor in 2002.
The family of Zippy Morocco have released a statement following his death:
“Sunday afternoon, after a devastating battle with depression and cancer, our beloved Anthony Joseph ‘Zippy’ Morocco, a UGA All-American, left us,” the statement reads. “The family, which intends to donate his brain to CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) research, wishes to thank all those who loved and adored Zippy. Mass service will be held at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Friday at 11 am and a reception will follow at the Athens Country Club.”