Warren Moon Reflects on Husky Football

Among those returning to Husky Stadium on this day was Warren Moon. Looking dapper in a dress shirt, the former Husky QB stood upon the same field where he played thirty years ago. Spider Gaines, Moon's former teammate, hung out alongside him, wearing a #1 Warren Moon jersey. Also present were another 150 or so former Huskies, demonstrating their support for the team and new coach Tyrone Willingham.

This outpouring was mostly prompted by last year's 1-10 record, which was the worst in Husky history, and currently hangs from the football program's neck like a ship anchor.

Moon's presence is meaningful. His experience can be a bountiful benefit to this current group of Huskies. The players certainly know of his accomplishments; MVP of the '78 Rose Bowl, 5 Grey Cup titles with the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos, and 49,325 career passing yards, which rank him 4th on the NFL's all-time list trailing only Dan Marino, John Elway and Brett Favre.

But some of these current players may not be aware of the struggles Moon went through as well. Recently, I spoke with Warren Moon about his thoughts on the current state of Husky football.

But first, I asked about his toughest moments as a Washington Husky. For 1975 was an era when he was relatively unknown; wearing knee-high white socks, sporting a more pronounced Afro, and struggling to find his way.

"It was pretty much the same for awhile (game after game)," said Moon. "There would be a change of possession, and the rest of my teammates would be out on the field, waiting for me. I would be on the sideline, talking with the coaches and getting the play. And as I would turn and run onto the field, the booing would start up all around the stadium. I would get to the huddle, and there would be ten guys looking at me. And I was the guy that was supposed to lead them down the field and score.

"At times it was real tough ... I could hear the booing, but because of the track at Husky Stadium, I couldn't hear specific things that were being said. What bothered me the most was knowing that my girlfriend and friends were in the stands and they were hearing some of the things that were being yelled at me.

"There were some times where they almost got into fistfights in their defense of me. It was real tough.

"I talked with Coach James many times about what was happening, regarding the pressure from fans and media. He told me that he was getting pressured by Alumni to make a change at quarterback. But he told me that he felt I was the best at that position and he was going to continue to give me his full support... I owe a lot of my success to Don James."

Moon's voice grew heavier with emphasis as he added, "And I guarantee you that going through that difficult experience helped make me a better quarterback later on in my career. It also made me a stronger person."

Shifting gears, I asked Moon about the recent event that co-mingled former Huskies with current members of the team.

"It was great," said Moon. "Greg Lewis of the Big W Club did a great job of organizing the event. There were about 150 former players that returned. There was even one guy in a wheelchair who had played for Washington in the 1930s.

"In terms of the quarterbacks, there were different generations represented; guys I knew like Bob Schloredt, Sonny Sixkiller, then you move on through the ranks to Damon Huard, Brock Huard and Marques Tuiasosopo. All of the guys there have a genuine interest in these players and in helping return the program to the levels of success it has had in the past."

At the BBQ that followed the practice, Moon sat at a table that included Damon Huard, Marques Tuiasosopo and current Husky QB Isaiah Stanback. I asked Moon what that interaction was like.

"Everyone had a chance to talk about what being a Husky meant to them. At one point, I said to the whole table that we former players were all there because we care. We're there to lean on, and to offer our experience and support. The current players were in a position to soak up that experience, and to get a sense of the rich tradition that exists with Husky football. I said that it's about doing things the right way on the field. It's about working hard and being tough. It's about playing good, hard-nosed football."

I asked Moon of his interaction at the table with current Husky QB Isaiah Stanback.

"Well, Isaiah reached out to me last year when he was going through some struggles. I got a chance to meet with him. Since then I have talked with him five or six times," said Moon. "It's a chance for him to talk about things that only another quarterback can understand. There are aspects of playing quarterback that are a lot more difficult than many people understand.

"The kid's got everything physically to be a great one. But one thing we've talked about is that the position of quarterback is one of leadership. If you're not the fiery type, you've got to find other ways to lead. You've got to lead by example. He's so gifted that everything has come easy for him his whole life. But at this level, that's not enough to succeed. You've got to separate yourself with work. These are the things he's learning now.

"I'm also going to try to spend some time with the other kid that just transferred in from Oregon, Johnny DuRocher. He and I talked for awhile. He doesn't feel that he's getting the most from the work he's putting in. So I'm going to see if I can help him to progress."

While Moon was playing for the Minnesota Vikings in 1993 & 1994, he crossed paths with Tyrone Willingham. I asked Moon what he remembers most from his interactions with the current Husky head coach.

"He was coaching the running backs. You could easily tell that he was going to be successful, from the way he coached. He was always the most well-prepared coach. He was extremely organized. He had a sound philosophy... There were many times when I stayed late to work out with the weights and study film. Oftentimes, he and I would be the only two guys left. Everyone else had gone home. Sometimes we would get to talking... He said that he wanted to be a head coach someday."

Several years later, it was April 2005, and Moon stood along the sideline with Spider Gaines and 150 other former Huskies. He was in the same Husky Stadium where once he was reviled, and later celebrated, as a young football player. Times had certainly changed in many ways. And now he was 48 years old.

Warren Moon looked on, as Tyrone Willingham ran his Washington Huskies through a rigorous football practice.

Derek Johnson is a freelance writer and can be reached at uwsundodger@msn.com

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