As the tributes continue to pour in over the passing of former Minnesota Vikings head coach Dennis Green, one of the more poignant ones came from the inside and, in many ways, typified the feeling of players that others weren’t willing to take on – Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon.
Fans of the current era remember Moon as a Hall of Famer who, if they know their history, obliterated every single-season passing record that had stood until his arrival.
At the time, Moon was far from being paid homage for his service to the Houston Oilers. The organization was going in another direction.
That of trivia answer Cody Carlson. A football player who never left Texas – high school in San Antonio, college in Waco, pros in Houston. The Oilers were moving in a new and exciting direction.
It didn’t include Moon.
For a pair of mid-round picks spread over two years – the only price the Vikings were willing to pay in the post-Herschel era – Moon came to Minnesota.
He was the first legitimate quarterback Green had that could run his offense – with no disrespect intended toward Rich Gannon, Sean Salisbury, Jim McMahon or Brad Johnson.
Moon was an outsider coming into a team Green had already started developing. He could bring Green’s offense to a higher level.
What Moon found was a refuge to revitalize his career. More than that, when he needed it most, he found a family.
Green was a salesman at heart. He had a product that you needed if you were a football player that played offense. Moon was at the lowest point of his career. Green offered up the ideal scenario for an aging quarterback with something to prove.
“He was a guy that tried to create a family environment,” Moon said in an interview on Sirius XM. “That was a thing I loved about him. He was from the Bill Walsh tree as far as what he learned offensively with the West Coast Offense. He really took care of the players. We practiced hard. We practiced fast. But we didn’t beat ourselves up. He wanted you to be very, very fresh for the game on Sunday.”
One of the hallmarks of Green’s family approach was to get players to gather to eat – a trait shared from kindergarten on.
One of Green’s strengths was knowing how to create team-building scenarios. None better than bringing food into the equation.
“We were one of the few teams back at that time that had a kitchen and cafeteria staff,” Moon said. “He always made sure that players sat with other players that they weren’t really close to. They got a chance to know each other, so our team became closer. He always tried to push that family environment on us.”
That environment wasn’t restricted to players. Green felt the coaching staff, most of whom had life-built families already in place, deserved the same treatment his players got.
“He enjoyed coaching, he enjoyed being around it, but he was one of those guys, too, that didn’t try to burn out his coaches,” Moon said. “He let those guys go home because he believed in family. He wanted his coaches to be at home to spend as much time with their families as possible. If they got their work done at the end of the day, they could go home. He wasn’t one of those coaches that made you stay all night and just burn yourself out.”
The Denny Green legacy from the outside was about wins and losses. From the inside, the losses hit harder than they did for any face-painting fans on the couch. But, at the end of the day, the one thing they all shared was that it was about family.