Tanner Morgan has a video on his phone taken recently with his father, who in that moment found enough strength and clarity to deliver a message so typical of him.
No excuses when you get back to school, Ted Morgan told his son.
Even as he faced death, Ted was thinking of his son and holding him accountable.
"It's pretty powerful," the Gophers senior quarterback said this week.
Morgan will be in Indianapolis on Thursday representing the Gophers at Big Ten media days, an annual kickoff to the college football season. He goes there after losing his father last week.
Ted was first diagnosed with a brain tumor in spring 2020 and had surgery to remove it at Mayo Clinic. His recovery and scans had been encouraging to doctors, but the tumor returned this spring and his condition deteriorated rapidly.
Ted never wanted to know how much time he had left – even when doctors told the rest of his family — because he felt at peace in his faith. That's the lesson that Morgan holds dear and intends to share anytime he talks about his dad.
His dad was always a Christian, but his faith became deeply rooted after his diagnosis. He devoted himself completely.
"It's incredibly comforting knowing the way he lived his life," Morgan said. "The greatest lesson I learned from him is how to have true faith. What it looks like to really believe and not care what people think about it."
Ted was a textbook definition of sports dad to Tanner and his brother and sister. He coached their teams in various sports. He especially loved football, and there is no debate over the identity of Tanner Morgan's No. 1 fan. Ted won that in a landslide.
He loved to talk football with anyone. He'd call college coaches to alert them to a local player in Kentucky who deserved attention. He'd call reporters who cover the Gophers to talk about games, college football in general or simply to ask about their families.
I was on the other end of dozens of those calls. I referred to them as our Ted Talks.
He was so proud of his son. Not just because he overcame long odds to become a standout Big Ten quarterback, but more so because of his son's leadership and character. And he was right in that regard. I haven't encountered a more mature and genuine college athlete in 30 years in this business.
"I most certainly knew how proud of me he was," Tanner said.
His dad sent him letters frequently. Sometimes he'd mention quarterback stats that he had looked up. Mostly, he expressed the pride he felt watching his son handle the spotlight as a major college athlete. The last letter he sent to him in May carried that message.
The entire family was with him at the end. Morgan missed a week of summer workouts with Gophers teammates and felt conflicted because, "You know my dad, he would have been like, 'What are you doing here?'"
A call from P.J. Fleck put Morgan at ease. Fleck told him to stay with his family and not to worry about anything else. Coach and quarterback shared an emotional conversation.
"When you actually go through a trial in your life," Morgan said, "you really experience that your community and your teammates and coaches are there for you and how special that is."
Morgan said he's never felt more excited to start a training camp and season, but he knows more hard days will come. Such as the first game without his dad there pacing the concourse (he had a hard time sitting still in seats), or not having their usual postgame conversation where they dissect plays, or not eating breakfast together the next morning.
He could always count on his dad "to point me back in the right direction" whenever he became frustrated over something.
"I know what my purpose is," he said. "I won't have my dad, but I know how important it is to live every day to the fullest."
The family held Ted's funeral last Friday. A large turnout from the community came. Morgan and his brother spoke at the service. Tanner echoed his father's message about not waiting for tragedy to draw closer to God.
A Navy veteran, Ted received a burial with military honors. A burst of rain fell at the cemetery during the final prayer and playing of "Taps." After the final note was sounded, the rain stopped and the skies cleared.
Morgan couldn't help but smile. He felt at peace in that moment.