The NFL is inducting a new class of Hall of Famers this weekend, and it's a pretty glamorous class: Troy Aikman, John Madden, the late Reggie White, Warren Moon and Harry Carson.
The guy I can't get over is Warren Moon.
What I can't get over is that he's the first black quarterback to be inducted. His story sounds like something out of the South in the days of black-and-white newsreels.
He had to listen to racist taunts from the stands as a high school and college player. He had to go to junior college because college coaches didn't think blacks could play quarterback. He had to go to the Canadian Football League because NFL coaches didn't think blacks could play quarterback.
What I can't get over is that Warren Moon is only six years older than I am, and we grew up in the same city, and it wasn't in the South.
He led the University of Washington to the Rose Bowl in 1978, before the Huskies became Pasadena regulars. He dominated the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos. And then, as a 27-year-old rookie -- about five months younger than Jackie Robinson was when he made his long-delayed major league debut -- Moon started an NFL career that lasted 17 seasons.
You couldn't watch Moon, athletic and strong-armed, play quarterback at Washington and not think he at least had a chance in the NFL. He went undrafted not because teams didn't think he could play in the league, but because he'd made it clear he only wanted to play quarterback. His longtime agent, Leigh Steinberg, has said Moon probably would have been a third- or fourth-round pick if he'd agreed to play some other position.
This isn't how the NFL, always ready to bend history to suit its purposes, seems to remember it.
In his column on NFL.com, Gil Brandt, the longtime director of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, writes, "Moon, at just under 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, was an athletic blend of fast legs and a strong right arm. It just took the arm a little longer to get there. And that's what made Moon so difficult to scout as a college player ... and probably why he had to go to a J.C. and to Canada to prove his talents to those at the next level." (Ellipsis his.)
Yeah, Gil, sure. That's probably why.
Brandt lavishes praise on Moon and identifies him as the first African-American quarterback in the Hall of Fame, but otherwise ignores the gigantic role of race in Moon's nomadic early career.
The NFL's Hall of Fame bio for Moon acknowledges the racial issue.
Some of the black kids in my integrated junior high school in Los Angeles took to idolizing Moon as he led far-off Washington to the Pac-8 title. This was 1977, before the Internet and before practically every college football game was on cable TV.
Now you can pick your favorite team as if from a menu. It's easy to follow anybody. A kid from L.A. might be a Syracuse fan for no other reason than having decided he liked the uniforms one day when he was 5. Back then, aside from the odd front-runner who might adopt an abiding love for Oklahoma or Alabama, kids in L.A. rooted for USC or UCLA. Nobody cared about Washington. Washington was just an opponent.
So I found it kind of odd that these guys were so hopped up about Warren Moon and the Huskies. Just because he's black too? A black quarterback didn't seem like such a big deal to me, which I guess says good things about my parents. Of course I understand it now. We weren't as far along as I'd thought. It was a big deal.
The kids at Mark Twain Middle School today, who on Sundays might watch Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick and Byron Leftwich and Steve McNair and, maybe soon, No. 3 draft pick Vince Young, probably find it downright goofy to hear that way back in the old days, football people thought blacks couldn't play quarterback.
Warren Moon is only 49. He retired five years ago. This all practically happened yesterday, kids. Yesterday.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Also a mistake: Skinny Santa in '68 [PERMALINK]
Really, Jeff! What gave it away?
"Looking back on it, you could say there was one year that was great and the second year was a disaster," he said. Owens helped the Eagles to the Super Bowl in 2004, his first with the team, but fought with management over his contract and squabbled with quarterback Donovan McNabb last year. This is not to mention the Nicolette Sheridan towel incident.
Owens was kicked off the team seven games into last season. The Eagles finished 6-10, last in the NFC East. Owens signed with the Dallas Cowboys in the offseason. All of which leaves me with one question.
Jeffrey Lurie gives an annual "state of the team" address?
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Gratifying, surprising N.Y. Times headlines [PERMALINK]
"Tennis Center to Be Named for King."
Turns out Richard Sandomir's story is about the U.S. Tennis Association adding Billie Jean King's name to the National Tennis Center in Queens, N.Y.
OK, that's nice too.
King is a towering figure in tennis and women's sports generally, and the honor is fitting. The National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open, named its main stadium after Arthur Ashe four years after he died in 1993. "I'm glad I'm still living," King told Sandomir.
She also said, "Arthur and I are now side by side, and we're both public-park kids." King grew up learning tennis on public courts in Long Beach, Calif.
USTA chief Arlen Kantarian said naming the center after King will help raise awareness that it's open to the public. It's already working. I never knew that.
Of course, if I knew anything, somebody might name some stuff after me.
Previous column: What great players "deserve"
- - - - - - - - - - - -