By Gil Brandt, NFL.com Senior Analyst
Special to Profootballhof.com
The journey for Warren Moon to become the first African-American quarterback elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame didn't start with any fanfare or press conferences or SportsCenter highlights.
It started very quietly as a freshman at West Los Angeles Junior College in 1974. He would stay there for only one year, but it typified his unique ability to fight against long, uphill odds to get to the next level.
He spent his final three years in Seattle at the University of Washington, helping usher in the era of new head coach Don James, who would over the next two decades become the greatest coach in Huskies history. 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 JC and to Canada to prove his talents to those at the next level.
The first two seasons under Moon's rollout offense, UW went 11-11, but Warren failed to complete 50 percent of his passes either season. He came back focused his senior year, however, completing 56 percent and leading the Huskies to a 10-2 record and a Rose Bowl victory against Bo Schembechler's Michigan Wolverines. That 1977 season for UW turned on a Moon rollout to the right against Southern California late in the regular season that went for 70 yards and a game-winning touchdown to vault the Huskies to Pasadena.
Moon didn't make the Pac-8 all-conference first team in either of his final two seasons. Washington State's Jack Thompson and Stanford's Guy Benjamin, who went on to less-acclaimed NFL careers, beat Moon out in 1976 and 1977.
In all of my years as a scout, I can honestly say Warren Moon advanced further -- from the end of his college career to what he would ultimately become as a pro -- than any other player I have ever analyzed.
As a college player, he was tough to positively evaluate as a quarterback because his team ran the ball on almost 75 percent of the snaps he took. And, unfortunately, he wasn't able to prove his ability to other scouts, as well. Following his senior season, he went undrafted in the NFL.
Forced to go north of the border for six years in the Canadian Football League, Moon led his Edmonton Eskimos to five consecutive Grey Cup titles -- a true testament to his personal, physical and leadership skills to continue reaching the pinnacle over and over and over again. He was ready again to take the next step up athletically.
Upon joining the NFL after the Oilers won a bidding war in 1984, his first three seasons in the NFL were unremarkable -- 40 touchdowns, 59 interceptions, 13 victories. One game I remember early in his NFL career is one I'm sure he wants to forget. In 1985, the Cowboys tied an NFL record by sacking him 12 times.
But he got acclimated to the NFL quickly and soon became the face of the franchise in Houston. He led the Oilers to the playoffs in each of his last seven seasons with the team, and often was at or near the top of the charts in most passing categories.
During his 17 years with the Oilers, Vikings, Seahawks and Chiefs, Moon went to nine Pro Bowls. In 1991, he set NFL single-season records with 404 completions and 655 attempts (both since surpassed). He is No. 4 in NFL history with 49,325 passing yards, No. 4 with 3,988 completions and No. 5 with 291 touchdown passes. And he added 22 rushing touchdowns.
Altogether, he racked up 435 passing touchdowns and over 70,000 passing yards in 23 years of pro football. That's an incredible career -- and entering the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility is a fitting conclusion -- for a man who had to prove so much all the way through it.
To this day, Warren carries himself with an upscale, well-dressed business image that fits his low-key demeanor well. Getting to the Hall of Fame is special for everyone who earns the honor. But it's always got to be the sweetest for those who were told "no" repeatedly and had to prove the most to get there.
Did You Know
Moon is one of 13 quarterbacks from UW who reached the NFL, including Chris Chandler (18 years in the NFL), Mark Brunell (14 and counting) and Hugh Millen (10).
This is the second successive year that a player who wore No. 1 as a primary uniform number entered the Hall of Fame. In 2005, two such players (Benny Friedman and Fritz Pollard) entered the Hall.
A total of seven players who wore No. 1 as a primary number are in the Hall of Fame. No other primary number can claim more than six enshrinees.
Moon is also in the University of Washington (1984) and Rose Bowl (1997) Hall of Fame.
Moon had his initial interception by Jeff Jackson of the Falcons returned for a touchdown.
His final game in Canada was his only postseason loss, ending his CFL career with a 9-1 record in the playoffs.
Moon is one of only 12 undrafted free agents in the Hall of Fame.