Earl Warren Moon, the quarterback who took one of the most unique routes to the NFL. He was always doubted, he was always criticized, but he was never phased. Instead, he would go on to be the first African-American quarterback to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Warren Moon became one of the best quarterbacks the NFL had to advertise back in the mid 80’s. But, that was not always the case. His journey is one of the best the NFL has ever seen, and I’m here to take us back, to tell you just how great Moon was, and is, still to this day.
Early Years and JUCO
From the jump, Moon dealt with adversity, from his father passing away, to having to be the man of the house at just the young age of 7. From that point on, Moon always carried himself as if he was a grown man. The tragedy that he endured only fueled his relentlessness to become a great leader on and off the field.
He would go on to lead his high school team to a City title. And after that, he would receive an offer to be the quarterback at Arizona State.
The young quarterback was ready to move on to the next level. But, after receiving word that Arizona State had offered two white quarterbacks an opportunity. The team would then ask Moon if he would come and play defensive back. Moon simply said no.
So, Warren Moon would commit to playing at West Los Angeles College. It was a Junior College, but Moon hoped he would attract division one schools to recruit him. He would also help his stock by sending his tape to College’s all around the country. And he did this without his coaches permission. Which led him to do what he did. Which was getting the attention of the Washington Huskies.
The Washington Huskies and His Journey to the Rose Bowl
In 1975, Warren Moon would continue with his football journey at the University of Washington. He would instantly become the starting Quarterback. The football team was starting to see success, but many of the Washington faithful were not fans of their new found quarterback.
Why was that? Well, the stigma that comes off, is that, back in the 70’s, black athletes could play any position except quarterback. Husky fans didn’t want Warren Moon as their quarterback, but he was resilient and always blocked out the noise.
In result, as a senior in 1977, Warren Moon would lead the Washington Husky’s to a Pac-8 title. Which led to a birth in the Rose Bowl against the mighty Michigan Wolverines. Warren Moon would put on a crescendo of a performance and would proceed to block out the hatred that he received from his own school. Turning the Husky’s into Rose Bowl Champions.
Moon goes Undrafted
The 1978 draft was approaching, but the NFL saw Warren Moon as a aberration. Only 3 African-American quarterbacks made 5 NFL starts in the Super Bowl era, before 1978. Those quarterbacks were Marlin Briscoe, Joe Gilliam, and James Harris. The NFL wanted quarterbacks that played the position in a traditional way. You see, Warren Moon came from a roll-out of the pocket offense. Where Moon would have to throw on the run. Opposed to playing in the traditional drop back offense. Another reason why NFL general manager’s didn’t want to select him was because he was black. Warren Moon’s long time agent, Leigh Steinberg said;
It was a general presumption in some quarters, that to have an African-American in that position, and as the representative of a team, would be awkwardLeigh Steinberg
Steinberg would then ask Warren Moon, if he would be interested in switching positions. But Moon had no interest at all, Moon knew he was good enough to be an NFL quarterback. So, he passed on the NFL, and would find himself somewhere he didn’t expect.
Moon Dominates The CFL
The Edmonton Eskimos. This is the team Moon represented for 6 season. From 1978 through 1984 he was ELECTRIFYING! Moon took a back seat his first season in Edmonton, but after that season wrapped up, it was his time! Every season he started, he led the Edmonton Eskimos to the coveted Grey Cup. Warren Moon would end his Canadian football career in 1984. He threw for 21,228 yards and chucked 144 touchdown passes, during his stint with the Eskimos. The Canadian quarterback could no longer be an afterthought or ignored.
The NFL’s first great unrestricted free-agent
In 1984, Warren Moon became a unrestricted free-agent. At 27, he was going to have many NFL organizations bidding for his services. At the time, the NFL had never dealt with such a situation, when it came to free-agency.
Moon was not you’re typical rookie, he was a five time champ. So, the whole ordeal of Warren Moon being a free-agent was something the NFL had never seen. But in the end, it came down to two organizations. It was between the Seattle Seahawks and the Houston Oilers. He would proceed to choose to play for the Oilers.
Moon’s decision was easy. It was easy because the Oilers hired Hugh Campbell, who was Warren Moon’s head coach in Edmonton. So, the fact that Moon’s old coach was theirs, it made him feel comfortable. The two would try and re-create the success they had in Canada, now in Houston.
Moon Arrives in the NFL
The Houston Oilers were ready to show that they were true contenders. But, right out of gates, Warren Moon and his cast of receivers were not up to the challenge. In 1985 and 1986, the Oilers went an abysmal (8-24) in Moon’s first two seasons. After those two seasons, the Oilers would part ways with Warrens old coach Hugh Campbell.
In the 1987 season, the Houston Oilers made a dramatic turnaround and reached the playoffs. Moon had the Oilers offense being called “The Run and Shoot offense”. Houston found their new quarterback, who would lead the Oilers to the playoffs in his 4th season.
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Moon would proceed to keep the Oilers making the playoffs for the next 6 years. But never managed to reach the AFC Championship game, nor a Super Bowl. In just 10 season with the Oilers, Warren Moon threw for 33,685 yards and tossed 196 touchdown passes.
Warren Moon’s Best Game Ever
In 1990, the Houston Oilers traveled to blistery Arrowhead, where they would take on the Kansas City Chiefs. The defense Warren Moon and company were going up against was one of the best in the NFL at that time. But that didn’t stop Moon from playing arguably his best game ever. Moon would throw for 527 yards, and 3 touchdown passes. The Oilers would win 27-10. Moon’s dynamite arm was a lethal weapon, that could not be stopped. Moon was an absolute artist, and thrived in his own aerial assault.
The End of Warren Moon’s NFL Career
Warren Moon’s last season with the Oilers came in 1993. The City of Houston and the Oilers organization were ready to look toward the future. The 37 year old Moon was not the answer anymore. He failed to reach the Super Bowl in his 10 years with Houston, and that was one thing that was always going to hinder Warren Moon.
In the 1994 season, Moon took his talents to the Minnesota Vikings. Where him and head coach Dennis Green would make history. Moon would be the first African-American quarterback to play for an African-American head coach. Moon would also be criticized by the Viking fans and the rest of the NFL world. Why? Well, like I eluded to, with him not ever reaching the Super Bowl, many people questioned his play in the big games. But he was ready to prove the doubters wrong.
At the age of 38, Moon would lead the Vikings to a division championship, but would lose in the playoffs. Minnesota would ultimately release the 41 year old just after three seasons.
After the 1996 season, Moon would return to where he played college football. That was in Seattle, where the Seahawks played. But just after two seasons with the Seahawks, the organization was ready for a young quarterback to take over. Which meant that Moon’s return would be short lived.
And at the age of 43, the Kansas City Chiefs would sign him to be a backup. He would call it quits after playing 16 season in the NFL. In total, Moon played pro football for 22 year’s, which is very impressive.
Warren Moon’s Legacy and Influence on today’s Quarterbacks
Warren Moon played 16 glorious year’s in the NFL, where he threw for a grand total of 49,325 yards, and threw for 291 touchdown passes. Moons other accolades include being named to 9 pro bowls, winning the 1989 Walter Payton man of the year award, and being named the 1990 AP offensive player of the year. The Hall of Famer also did the unthinkable and was the first pro quarterback to ever throw for 60,000 yards.
In today’s game, the Hall of famer has influenced a lot of quarterbacks. Moon was the original pioneer when it came to being a successful African- American quarterback in professional football. He broke barriers that had to be broken once again, when it came to Michael Vick. And for that, Warren Moon’s legacy will forever live on.
Even though he never captured a Super Bowl Championship, he captured the meaning of never giving up and always turned a negative into a positive. Warren Moon is, and always will be, a legend.