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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Moon makes me proud to have played in CFL

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They say you have to experience some things first hand to truly and fully appreciate them. Whether it's a live concert, a lecture series, or in this case, an appearance with Warren Moon in Minnedosa, Man., many things make a bigger impression on you when visited in person.

I had just arrived to the CFL when Warren was inducted into the league's hall of fame in 2001, and later on, I vaguely recalled his story about the obstacles he had to navigate on the road to becoming the only player in professional football to be enshrined in both the NFL and CFL halls of fame in 2006. Listening to him recant his journey this past Saturday night, however, was an experience I thought that should be shared again and something to be explored further during the upcoming celebration of the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto.

It was the 15th Annual Sports Dinner in Minnedosa, a huge fundraising event for the town to benefit amateur athletics in their community, and regardless of the small size of the town and the banquet, they sure had some big ambitions about who their guest speaker would be.

In a town of about 2,500 people, almost 10 per cent of their populace was in attendance at this dinner, but in conjunction with a number of generous sponsors, that was more than enough to fly in Warren Moon and cover his appearance fee -- which led me to question exactly what kind of cash crops they are growing out there in god's country. In his address, Warren mentioned that he is usually driven to his speaking engagements via a limousine or town car, so when the local plumber from Minnedosa scooped him in his pickup truck, he knew he was in for a night unlike any other.

As someone also on the entertainment docket for that evening, I assumed the role of the undercard and hype man for Warren Moon, and preceded his words by sharing with the audience everything that I had discovered that we had in common. For instance, we were both undrafted free agents to the NFL -- Warren, because he refused to give up on his belief that his talents were best suited as a quarterback, and myself, well, because I wasn't good enough to get drafted.

I also felt it noteworthy to mention that our CFL careers had several parallels. He won five consecutive Grey Cups with the Eskimos in the early 1980s -- a feat that may never be repeated by any team -- and I, of course, lost three Grey Cups over 11 years. Very similar in degrees of difficulty, and both things you may never see again.

I lastly joked that I knew what Warren went through as he battled against racial profiling and discriminatory viewpoints that concluded he didn't have the right physical tools or cognitive wherewithal to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, since I too had to fight against opposite, mocking forces of disbelief down south as a white, Canadian, defensive lineman.

But in all seriousness, Moon went on to become one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play professional football, yet were it not for the Edmonton Eskimos and the CFL, he may never have achieved this distinction.

Even after a heralded collegiate career, Warren Moon barely got a sniff from the NFL, mainly because he was an African American playing at a position that few in the NFL felt he could be successful at.

Luckily for Warren, Hugh Campbell and the Edmonton Eskimos were able to able to recognize the skill set that Moon brought to the table as a quarterback, and refused to typecast him as a receiver or defensive back. After his involvement in what has to be the most dominant stretch of football by any professional team in history, Warren finally got to realize his dream in the National Football League and was signed to a deal that made him the highest-paid player of that era.

The fact that he had to accomplish so much and virtually eradicate every conceivable doubt about his abilities before he was even sought after south of the border, just goes to show how many walls and preconceived prejudices he had to defeat and overcome to assume his rightful place in football lore.

At an event designed to raise money to give kids better opportunities to compete in sports, they could not have chosen a better representative than Warren to convey how important these opportunities are, nor a better small town to host us.

Warren's story makes one proud to have ties to the Canadian Football League, its history of pioneering players and managers, and its importance and role in the career of one of the best that ever played the game.

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2012 C4

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