Moon Shines Light On QB Myth

By Stephen A. Smith
Updated: August 6, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — Warren Moon wasn’t supposed to be presented with that coveted gold jacket.

He wasn’t supposed to be in Canton, Ohio, the gateway to football immortality.

But there he was, being officially recognized as one of the greatest quarterbacks in National Football League history.

Moon’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday helped further eradicate a myth of historic proportions that still slithers through parts of the gridiron world.

You know the one, about the ability of the black quarterback.

He might play the position, might have a strong arm with moments of accuracy.

He can definitely run, and his athleticism rarely comes into question.

But reading defenses or having a cerebral approach to the game? These ingredients of the quintessential quarterback often are not credited to the black men who play the position.

Until yesterday, that is.

If only for a day.

Now there are those who will say that Harold Warren Moon will never be confused with Joe Montana or John Elway or fellow inductee Troy Aikman. They will say Moon isn’t even akin to Dan Marino, who, like Moon, never won a Super Bowl.

The criticism will remain that Moon’s greatness – illustrated by his 70,553 yards in 23 seasons (49,325 in 17 NFL seasons) – will always be diminished by his never having sniffed a Super Bowl, let alone won one.

I couldn’t care less.

Sometimes it’s not just about what you’ve accomplished, but also about the trials and tribulations you’ve endured in pursuit of that coveted prize that makes the achievement so sweet. Not just for Moon, but for those who root for all the Warren Moons of the world.

When Moon and I met a few months ago, he said something he reiterated this weekend: “I take enormous pride in being the first black quarterback inducted into the Hall,” he said. “This honor continues to legitimize that black quarterbacks can succeed at every level, and that we have a chance to be honored on football’s greatest stage.”

Moon didn’t add that it was going to be especially sweet after having played in the Canadian Football League in 1978, when it was clear that no NFL team would draft him as a quarterback.

There, he had to win five Grey Cups in six seasons before an NFL offer came his way.

“The times were what they were,” he said.

Some doubts, often transparent, remain.

Donovan McNabb got a little taste of it last season. So did Steve McNair and Daunte Culpepper, despite injuries that affected their productivity more than their performance.

A shower of skepticism has fallen on Michael Vick, too, and there’s no letup in sight.

Some of the complaints are legitimate. All of these athletes have great potential, but they are not great quarterbacks. At least not yet.

Still, it’s not always about the criticism as much as it’s about the cynicism behind it.

Being critical is one thing. Not taking into account the reality that today’s black quarterbacks still have to endure some of what Moon did is another.

Moon came into the league when stereotyping was more than whispered.

Perceptions didn’t change even after he passed for 3,338 yards in his first season, a mark he eclipsed eight times. He showed he could excel as a gunslinger instead of a track star, yet he said: “I was considered an aberration.

“People would say things like, ‘You’re special. You’re one of the few,’ thinking they were complimenting me. But what were they really trying to say?”

Yesterday, it didn’t matter. What did matter was that the same man who led the Washington Huskies to a Rose Bowl upset over Michigan in 1978 – and who later joined Hall of Famers Marino and Dan Fouts to become the third quarterback to post back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons – became the first black QB ever enshrined.

Moon, using his arms more than his legs, achieved all that he did while knowing that his failure could have cost others – like McNabb, Vick, McNair – their opportunities to chip away at the myth.

“Eventually, it would have happened,” Moon said. “There’s always somebody. The question is, how long would it have taken?”

Thank goodness, it doesn’t matter now.

With Moon’s enshrinement, the black issue won’t percolate as much.

Even if McNabb throws too many interceptions and finds life excruciating without Terrell Owens.

Even if injuries and attrition end the careers of Culpepper and McNair, health – not intelligence – will be the issue.

“Progress is what it’s all about,” Moon said. “One step at a time.”

That’s exactly what he took. All the way to the Hall of Fame.