Never Give Up on Your Dream

My Journey


By Warren Moon

With Don Yeager

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Inducted in 2006, Warren Moon is the only African-American quarterback in the NFL Hall of Fame. His path to success was neither easy nor assured. As a seven-year-old growing up in Los Angeles, he lost his father to alcoholism and helped his single mom raise six sisters. Playing football as a kid, coaches questioned whether, because he was black, he had the smarts to play quarterback. Repeatedly asked to switch to another position, Moon refused, knowing that he had both the ability and the intelligence.

In college, he played at the University of Washington, beating the Michigan Wolverines in the Rose Bowl. Undrafted by the NFL, he went to Canada and played for the Edmonton Eskimos, leading his team to five consecutive championships. In 1984, he signed with the Houston Oilers and played for the Oilers, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, and Kansas City Chiefs over his 17-year career.

This is the triumphant story of how Warren Moon overcame all obstacles to become one of the Top 5 quarterbacks of all time.


Never Give Up
on Your Dream


Give Up

on Your




To my mom, Pat Moon, who sacrificed her life after my father passed to make a happy, healthy environment for me and my sisters.

To Felicia Fontenot and my children, who provided the best support system a husband, father, and athlete could have as a professional.

To my wife, Mandy, thanks for your continued loving support and understanding throughout this process.

And finally to all my mentors, and African American QBs before and after me, who gave me the motivation and inspiration to become the player and person I am.

Thank you all!

Prologue: Motor City Madness

The weather in Detroit on the afternoon of February 4, 2006, was everything you would expect. It was gray and cold, twenty degrees tops, and a driving snowstorm was blanketing the city. Cars were slowing on Interstate 75, but I was throwing caution to the wind, barreling full speed toward downtown.

Then it happened. It was one of those life-changing events that I will never forget.

My cellular phone, set to vibrate, started buzzing. I recognized the number but was paralyzed for a moment. The caller had news for me—but would it be history or would it be heartache?

My mind was swirling much like the heavy snowflakes that pelted the windshield of my rental car. Sitting behind the wheel— my wife Mandy next to me in the passenger seat—I was not sure what awaited me this particular Saturday.

I was an emotional mess.

Yes, me, Harold Warren Moon, the quarterback who was always so cool, calm, and confident on and off the football field, nicknamed Pops as a youth because of my mature demeanor as the only man in a home filled with seven women, was a bundle of frayed, exposed nerves.

I always thought I had to be perfect during every stage of my life, without flaw and emotion. But I had no idea what was going on— other than it was snowing like crazy, I was breaking the speed limit, and Mandy was sitting next to me, so composed and so supportive.

My insides were twisted like a sailor’s knot.

A news conference was scheduled in downtown Detroit to introduce the 2006 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and I was awaiting word on whether or not I had been inducted. The news conference was the last place I wanted to be if it didn’t happen.

Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin had attended the 2005 news conference when he first became eligible for induction. It didn’t work out that year for Michael though he was eventually inducted in 2007, and I didn’t want to be around if it didn’t work out for me.

The significance of my eligibility was historic—if inducted, I would become both the first and only African American and the first and only undrafted quarterback in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The pressure, suspense, and anticipation surrounding this induction class had been building. Even in retirement my worth was again being debated and dissected on television, on radio, and in newspapers.

Over the course of my career, I had soldiered through, dealing with racism, living in two countries, and playing for a countless number of teams that didn’t believe I could play quarterback, let alone reach this point in my life. And here I was in a rental car, on my way to the Hall of Fame selection announcement at the Renaissance Center, and I was still unsure if I belonged.

It seems funny now, though it wasn’t funny at the time, that my cell phone would not stop ringing as we sped toward Detroit. Family and friends must have had my number on speed dial, calling in rapid-fire succession to wish me luck, asking if I had heard any news, leaving me wonderful, heartfelt messages. One of those emotional messages was from my sister Kim, who told me how proud she was and how much she loved me, no matter what happened.

I appreciated the calls—I truly did—because I am a guy who replies to all my voicemails. But now I was just trying to get everyone off the phone as politely and quickly as possible to clear the line for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Twenty-eight years ago, I had waited on a call that never came from the NFL. Now here I was, weaving in and out of traffic in a Michigan snowstorm, rushing to tell loved ones, “Thanks, but I really, really need to hang up now.”

Earning entry into the Hall of Fame—unless purchasing an eighteen-dollar ticket at the front window for daily admission—is extremely difficult. The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s forty-four-person Board of Selectors is charged with the task of making sure that new inductees are the finest players the game has produced. If the Board of Selectors doesn’t believe you are worthy enough to be an inductee, you are out of luck.

The board consists of one media representative from each profootball city, with two from New York because both the Giants and Jets play in the Big Apple. A thirty-third member is a representative of the Pro Football Writers of America, and there are eleven at-large delegates. Each year, the Board of Selectors meets the day before the Super Bowl to elect a new class. To be elected, a nominee must receive at least 80 percent support from the board, and at least two but no more than six candidates are chosen annually.

John McClain, a veteran sportswriter with the Houston Chronicle who I had gotten to know during my days playing with the Houston Oilers, is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He also serves on the Senior Selection Committee, a nine-person committee that reviews nominees from the pre-1984 era.

McClain had told me not to get my hopes up, saying there were members of the committee who didn’t believe I should be elected into the Hall of Fame in 2006. Maybe down the road, but not now. Although I was one of fifteen finalists determined earlier by the committee, McClain said dissenting opinions ranged from “He couldn’t win the big game” to “He was a product of the run-and- shoot offense that inflated his statistics while he played with the Oilers.”

For the umpteenth time in my life, the odds were stacked against me. Not only had no African American quarterbacks or undrafted quarterbacks been inducted, it was my first year of eligibility. Previously, only fifty-six players in the Hall of Fame’s history had gained entry in their first year of eligibility; a player can only be considered after five seasons have passed since his retirement. Many great players in the Hall of Fame have had their patience tested by the selection process.

For lack of a better description, it was McClain who served as the “lead defense attorney,” presenting my case to his fellow selectors on the morning of February 4. McClain also had presentation support on my behalf from John Clayton of ESPN, Jarrett Bell of USA Today, and Tony Grossi of Cleveland’s Plain Dealer.

In his five-minute presentation, McClain reminded his colleagues how our defense at Houston had struggled protecting playoff leads in the fourth quarter and that my playoff statistics were as productive as my regular-season numbers. He pointed out that I had thrown for personal bests in touchdowns and passing yardage in a conventional offense in Minnesota. He stressed that when I was playing in Seattle, at age forty, my numbers were better than 90 percent of the quarterbacks in the NFL.

McClain also showed that my numbers were better than Dan Fouts, who, like me, had never won a Super Bowl but was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1993. McClain offered tributes from players such as Rod Woodson and coaches such as Marty Schottenheimer of the Kansas City Chiefs. Clayton, Bell, and Grossi each stood for a few minutes after McClain and told the committee why they also believed I belonged in the Hall of Fame now, and not later.

The presentation might sound like a dog-and-pony show, but it’s so important. The Hall of Fame itself has no say whatsoever as to who is or is not elected to membership. In order for a finalist to be inducted, he really has to have a good presentation because it has become so political. You have to have the right alliances with the important and powerful selectors in that room. You have to make them believe, and once you do, their influence can sway others.

If you have Peter King of Sports Illustrated on your side, if you have John Clayton of ESPN on your side, if you have certain guys on your side, then you have a chance to receive the 80 percent of votes needed to gain entry. If you don’t, if those guys don’t believe in you, it obviously becomes more difficult, if not impossible, because many other selectors follow their lead.

McClain had a good presentation for me, but it was all about things that I had accomplished. It was just a matter of people knowing it. Unless these selectors know you and cover you, they really don’t know your career. Sure, they know your numbers and your accomplishments, but they really don’t know you. John did a good job of making his fellow selectors more knowledgeable. I am sure he didn’t have to work too hard to convince some people of my worth, but in other cases, for some people, he did.

While McClain felt better about my chances following the meeting, I still believed that I was a long shot.

Talk about confidence. Aside from me, everyone in the Moon family and most of my friends were so sure I would be inducted the first time around that I wouldn’t have been surprised if somebody had already carved a sculpture of my bust and delivered it personally from our childhood home in the midcity district of Los Angeles to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Truthfully, I believed I would be inducted one day because of my production and longevity: twenty-three seasons in professional football, including seventeen in the NFL after playing in the Canadian Football League. However, I had heard the word no so many times and had had to wait at nearly every turn in my life and career, so I thought the induction would happen later rather than sooner.

I wish I’d shared in everyone’s confidence as Mandy and I headed for a news conference that was scheduled to start four minutes earlier at 2:00 p.m.

I still hadn’t heard a peep and I wondered how in the world I was going to console all those people who believed I would be inducted.

What would I tell them?

My telephone rang for what seemed like the millionth time.

It was around 2:04 when Joan, a secretary in the NFL office, called to say she had gotten me the extra tickets I had requested for the league’s tailgate party before the Super Bowl game between Pittsburgh and Seattle. I told Joan thanks and how much I appreciated her help.

And then Joan casually added, “By the way, congratulations, Warren.” I asked, “For what?” Joan said she saw on the NFL Network that I had been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“Nobody has told me that,” I answered, confused.

At that same time, another caller buzzed in.

It was McClain. He had telephoned me an hour earlier in my hotel room in nearby Dearborn, saying he thought it would be a good idea for Mandy and I to drive into Detroit to be available for the news conference if I was inducted. After initially hesitating, Mandy and I agreed, figuring we could always turn around if the news wasn’t good.

McClain was now on the phone, telling me that, yes, what Joan had said was true. I had been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“The Hall of Fame”—four simple words that easily roll off the tip of your tongue. Unless you are tongue-tied.

The reality and power of that statement hit me like a blindside tackle. McClain needed my reaction for his story, and I honestly have no idea what I told him. My world stopped. I turned my head and looked at Mandy and, at that moment, everything came pouring out of me.

In rapid succession, the challenges in my life flashed before me.

There were coaches at every level, from youth to professional, who believed I couldn’t play the quarterback position because of my skin color. I lost my father at age seven to heart and liver ailments due to alcoholism, forcing me to become the man of our home, a responsibility I took seriously as I looked after my mother and six sisters.

I dealt with everything during my amateur and professional careers, from the N word to death threats, hate mail, guards, guns, never wanting to talk about it because I didn’t want to bring any more attention to my situation. I didn’t receive a scholarship out of high school—Arizona State rescinded its offer for me to play quarterback after the school signed two white quarterbacks.

I wasn’t drafted out of the University of Washington and was forced to begin my professional career across the border in Canada. Still, I went from being undrafted and unwanted to signing the most lucrative contract at that time in NFL history at $5.5 million with the Houston Oilers in 1984. When I finally made it to the NFL as a twenty-eight-year-old rookie, and despite passing more than 70,000 yards professionally, critics pointed to my inability to win a Super Bowl for my team and city.

Not only did I take each snap and play the game for myself and for my teammates, I always carried the extra burden that I had a responsibility to play the game for others of my race. Honestly, I probably would have been a much better player if I didn’t have that burden. But you know what? I carried that burden proudly.

And I have had to deal with apologies that were overdue by decades. Some of those who acted maliciously and out of pure hate now feel sorry. People have approached me in the years since I led the University of Washington out of obscurity and on to a 1978 Rose Bowl victory—grown men, crying, asking for forgiveness.

You have to understand that I was a guy who bottled up his emotions and never shared them. It makes sense that once the dam broke, it let loose a flood. I was a grown man, forty-nine years old, but I started crying like a baby.

I thought about my family, about every African American quarterback who played the game, and about the racism, ignorance, and doubt—no, make that the shit—that I dealt with throughout my career.

I bowed my head, covering my face with my right hand. I had lost control emotionally, but Mandy made sure we didn’t lose control of the car that was speeding down the highway in a February blizzard. She calmly grabbed the steering wheel for me as I tried to regain my composure.

My closest friends are the first to say they were surprised by my reaction that day. I am always so stoic, so quiet, so mature. After the movie Star Wars aired in 1977, many of my friends actually started to call me Yoda, the wisest and most powerful Jedi of all time, who was always completely unshakable and totally unemotional.

Of course, I just wanted to be a quarterback on the football field. And just moments before, I had been informed in a rather unusual fashion that I was a Hall of Fame quarterback. My youth coach Bernard Parks, the former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and current member of the L.A. city council, said two years after my induction that if somebody had told him I had broken down and cried over any situation, Hall of Fame or not, it must have been a “unique situation.”

Well, this was a unique situation.

All these years I had kept things buried deep inside, carefully tucked between my heart and soul. Suddenly, with one telephone call on a snowy afternoon, these memories surfaced like a volcano. Maybe it was therapeutic in a way, the start of an essential healing process.

Despite my hardships and successes, there was no guarantee I would be elected into the Hall of Fame on that first ballot. I was always confident in my athletic ability, but years of being questioned and second-guessed has a way of peeling away tiny layers of your self-esteem.

Later that evening I met with my dear friend and business partner Leigh Steinberg at his annual Super Bowl party. It was crowded, and there were a number of celebrities and players who made quick appearances, including Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roeth-lisberger, who led the Steelers to a 21–10 victory over my Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL the following day. Leigh said the telephone call from the Pro Football Hall of Fame allowed me to cleanse myself of past bitterness that I had buried inside and never expressed. He called it liberating.

When I finally found Leigh, we embraced and cried together.

Leigh and I had gone through a lot together. I hired Leigh as my agent out of the University of Washington, and we became close friends. We had known each other for nearly thirty years. I had loaned him money to make the down payment on his first home. Another time I rolled a big-screen television into his house because I liked the way he had negotiated my contract.

The relationships that grow over time between clients and agents are much more than business relationships. They are friendships with a lot of love and caring. Steinberg has probably represented more NFL players than anyone else, but I always thought I was his main priority.

It turns out that twenty-seven minutes earlier a spokesperson had actually left a voicemail, which I hadn’t accessed on my overloaded cell phone, to officially inform me of my induction. But it was my friends who first told me the news, just as it has always been my friends and family who were the first to be there in all of my triumphs and all of my failures.

By the time Mandy and I made it to the hotel for the press conference, I had regained control of my emotions. Or at least I thought I had. As I walked into the lobby, I saw McClain, who was in a conversation with Elvin Bethea. Bethea was an outstanding defensive end with the Houston Oilers who had been inducted into the Hall of Fame three years earlier in 2003. I had no idea at the time, but I was the tenth player from the Oilers to receive that telephone call, and first after Bethea. Bruce Matthews’s induction in 2007 pushed Houston’s total to eleven, a respectable showing considering the Chicago Bears, one of the NFL’s oldest and most prestigious franchises, have a league-high twenty-six enshrinees in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Although I normally shook hands with McClain when our paths crossed, this time we embraced, and I told him thank you. I was just so thrilled.

I was part of an incredible class that also included quarterback Troy Aikman, linebacker Harry Carson, head coach John Madden, defensive end Reggie White, and tackle Rayfield Wright. Their accomplishments were impressive.

I was so proud to share the stage with these guys.

My unprecedented journey, capped by my enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is about struggle, empowerment, and perseverance. It’s about race, stereotyping, and overcoming roadblocks that were first placed in front of me as a child. In fact, those roadblocks exist to this day, as African Americans strive for equality in every phase and every part of life, from athletics to business.

As much as I would like to think my induction into the Hall of Fame has taken African American athletes over an important hurdle, there are still important hurdles in front of us. Turn on just about any major sports program, and you’re likely to see African American athletes excelling. Baseball’s Ryan Howard, football’s Donovan McNabb, basketball’s LeBron James, and golf’s Tiger Woods are all exceptional athletes.

The combined revenues of the sports industry is more than 213 billion dollars. While African Americans continue to dominate on the field—nearly 80 percent of NFL rosters are African American— there remains a gross disparity in the numbers of black and nonblack people in decision-making positions in all areas and at all levels of the industry: ownership, management, coaching, and scouting.

Many have called my induction into the Hall of Fame, the venue that guarantees football immortality, an extraordinary achievement. Those same people believed that if the system worked for me—an African American who tore down barriers—it doesn’t need to be fixed. I disagree.

The battle to integrate the quarterback position has stirred passions for many years. Actually, the debate raged on long after every other position in the four major professional sports—football, basketball, baseball, and hockey—had been opened to African American athletes.

I want to think that race is no longer an issue when it comes to African American quarterbacks. I feel the players are being judged solely on performance. While strides must continue to be made, there’s new, young blood within organizations, people who understand whether a guy can play or not. There are player-personnel directors who have played, there are scouts who have played the game, and there are African Americans in those positions, as well, who are now judging all these players the same way.

When I was inducted into the Hall of Fame, I felt it was an achievement that nobody could ever take away from me, regardless of what others thought of me as a player. That’s all I had heard the last month leading up to the vote: “Does Warren Moon belong?” Everyone had their opinions, which is fine, because that’s what this world is all about, expressing your opinion.

I always felt, however, that at some point, somewhere down the line, I would be inducted into the Hall of Fame. But to make it in my first year of eligibility—there were only fifty-six players who had previously accomplished that feat. That number, to me, says it all.

As of February 2009, that number increased to sixty-three, with the additions of Bruce Smith and Rod Woodson. The 2009 class— Smith, Woodson, Bob Hayes, Randall McDaniel, Derrick Thomas, and owner Ralph Wilson—will be enshrined in August.

As Mandy and I drove toward Detroit on the snowy Hall of Fame election day, I knew our ride, and my story, was really just beginning.


Man of the House

The stereotypical athlete is a manly man who loves power tools and fixing things and working on cars, but that’s not me. My father, Harold Moon, was a wonderful man who died from liver and heart ailments when I was only seven. He struggled with alcoholism, but that’s not what I remember most about him. In my mind, he will always be the silly guy who tickled us kids until we nearly had to pee. Maybe that’s not the most picturesque memory, but that’s what stuck with me.


On Sale
Jul 21, 2009
Page Count
216 pages
Da Capo Press

Warren Moon

About the Author

Warren Moon is the only African-American quarterback in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the only player in both the Pro Football and Canadian Football Halls of Fame. He is a TV and radio analyst for the Seattle Seahawks and lives in Seattle.

Don Yaeger has written four books including Walter Payton’s autobiography, Never Die Easy, and the soon-to-be HBO movie based on his book, It’s Not About the Truth. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

Learn more about this author