Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Moon Shine
By Ben Valentine

I was sitting around Monday afternoon when I heard something that made be do a double take.

Now, I don’t double take often, especially about sports. Sometimes you hear things that are weird. Often you’ll hear about a story that makes you just say “what?” or more recently, “what was he thinking?” But rarely will I have to stop, regain myself and see if I heard something right, only to find out that I wasn’t crazy; I had heard it true to form.

Monday, someone not only said former NFL QB Warren Moon wasn’t worthy of being a first ballot Hall of Famer, but that he wasn’t deserving of being in Canton, period. That someone was Chris Russo of WFAN’s Mike and Mad Dog radio program. Maybe he recanted it (though I doubt it). I don’t know for sure, because I pretty much turned the radio off in anger and frustration at hearing such an asinine comment.

Then as I sat down to look up some statistics for this column, I come across CBSSportsline’s Clark Judge saying the same thing. Incredible. It all just annoys me to no end.

Why you ask? Because in the end I feel it shows the prejudice which cost Moon the first six years of his pro career is still alive and well.

For those of you who don’t know, Moon played the first six seasons of his career in the Canadian football league for Edmonton Eskimos, taking them to five Gray Cups after leading the University of Washington to the 1978 Rose Bowl crown. The reason Moon did not make the NFL right out of college was because he was black. The perception at the time was that black men were not smart enough to play the position. Moon was a trendsetter, and continues to be today as he becomes the first black QB to enter the Hall.

Moon would come into the NFL in 1984 with the Houston Oilers. His first three years were not particularly good, as he threw more INTs than TDs and had a low completion percentage, even for the 80’s. It was in the later part of the decade when Moon started to come on. He fully burst onto the scene in 1990, when he threw for 4689 yards, 33 TDs and 13 INT. The yards and TD totals were both good for the league lead that year. He would throw for 4690 yards a year later, though his TD/INT was not as good at 23/21.

Overall, Moon threw for 49,325 yards in the NFL along with 291 TDs and 233 INTs spread out over 17 seasons, 15 of those as a starter. He threw for over 4,000 yards four times and went over the 3,000 mark an additional five times. He was a nine time pro bowler. Just to compare, Dan Marino, who is considered by many to be the NFL’s greatest QB, threw for more than 4,000 yards five times. John Elway did it once. Both were also nine time Pro Bowlers. Troy Aikman NEVER threw for 4,000 yards. So it isn’t as if one could accuse Moon of being a compiler.

That isn’t to knock Marino, Elway or Aikman, all of whom are Hall of Famers without question. (Though I’d much rather Moon any day of the week over Aikman) It is just to show that statistically, there is absolutely NO question Moon belongs in Canton.

The best two knocks against Moon I’ve heard are as follows: first, he never won the big game. Secondly, his gaudy stats were the product of the “run and shoot” in Houston. To both I say, look at the aforementioned Marino and Elway. Dan Marino went to one Super Bowl in his career, 1985, and got destroyed. Is he not a Hall of Famer because of it? Of course not. The Hall of Fame Elway was 0-3 in the big game. Sure he got two rings, but that had much more to do with some guy named Terrell Davis than Elway. Conversely, is Trent Dilfer a Hall of Famer because he won the Super Bowl in 2000?

By the way, it wasn’t as if Moon played poorly in those games. He only threw for 371 yards and 4 TDs against Buffalo in 1992, only to lose 41-38. Or how about the year before, when he tossed for 325 yards and 3 TDs against the Broncos only to go down 26-24? In his 10 postseason appearances, Moon eclipsed the 300 yard mark four times. It just shows football is a team game. It is without question, the HARDEST of the four major sports for one man to make a difference. There’s a reason no sport talks about “system players” more than the NFL.

Which brings me to the second critique on Moon, that he was the product of the pass heavy run and shoot in Houston. It’s certainly a fair complaint that he played in an unbalanced offense, but then, did anyone watch the Miami Dolphins of the Marino era? They didn’t exactly have much of a run game either. Both Marino and Elway were routinely in the top of the league in passes attempted. Again, does anyone fault them for that? Does anyone question their stats as a result? Never mind that even in the 1990 season, when Moon was the league leader in passing attempts, he also put up a phenomenal 8.0 yards/ attempt. (After posting 7.8 and 7.9 in the two years prior)

And now for something in Moon’s defense, as if his stats needed any justification. Remember, this was a QB who lost six of his best years because of NFL racism. He didn’t enter the league until he was 28 years old. Imagine had he been learning and adjusting the NFL game (Which is quite different from the CFL) from the age of say 22? His prime years probably would have been better and he just might have approached Marino for the all time yardage lead.

Personally, I believe Moon is one of the greatest QBs ever to play the game. You can debate that all you want, but there is no questioning his hall credentials. To say otherwise is at the very least ignorant and quite possibly racist. Unfortunately for some, I feel the latter has led to the former.

But thankfully, they’re not voting for the Hall of Fame.

7 Comments:

Blogger The Armchair Quarterback said...

Totally agree with you. Why does Moon's "run and shoot" offense (a passing offense) count against him when Marino's offense doesn't. The Dolphins were a passing offense without the label. It's ridiculous. Moon was a dominant QB for enough years that he should be a lock for the Hall. Also, if not winning big games keeps you out of the Hall of Fame then we should start discussing Payton Manning's eventual exlcusion right now.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

Ben, I'm not sure if this is prejudice or plain old ignorance or both, but you couldn't be more right.

12:33 PM  
Blogger David Arnott said...

I get the feeling that these people who're arguing about Warren Moon have no problem with Steve Young getting in, despite the striking similarities.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Commish said...

Look - Moon is a borderline Hall of Famer - he can go either way in my opinion - the same with Jim Kelly. And I like Moon - and I'd take him as my QB any day. Then again, that doesn't necessarily make him a Hall of Famer. It's close.

But to call him one of the Greatest QB's of all time is a joke.

He wasn't on any great winning teams, and was part of this biggest choke job in the history of the playoffs. So being a "winner" like AIkman, is out as criteria for him making the hall.

Im never one to use career numbers as a guide to put someone into ANY Hall of Fame spare a handful of baseball statistics. It leads to compilers who are average for a long time making it into Hall of Fames. SOmething that shouldn't happen.

So look at Moon year by year.

He had seven years in his career when he played a significant number of games and had more TD's than picks - 4 when he had more interceptions, and one where it was equal. By my count he had four or five great seasons.

Elway - 3 with more interceptions, one equal and ELEVEN with more TD's.

Marino had ONE season with more interceptions than touchdowns. FOURTEEN with more TD's than picks. He had a lot more success than Moon in a similar pass oriented offense. SO that comparison is unfair. Both their numbers are inflated due to the offenses they were in - but Marino's are still FAR BETTER. Moon does not measure up to his.

Do Moon's numbers measure up to the all time greats? Nope. Does he line up with some of the other quarterbacks that are borderline Hall of Famers? Yes. And that's the class he is in. The second or third tier, not the top.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

You make fair points about Moon not being one of the greatest. But here's how I'll respond:

The winning team argument is not valid because Moon could hardly be blamed for his team's failure anymore than Marino and Elway could. You can certainly make the argument the "style" of play, the pass heavy offense, hurt the teams in the postseason with the inability to kill the clock. But again, that's a critique you could make about Marino. I'm not going to hail Troy Aikman as being better than Moon just because he played with Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Larry Allen and of course that dominant defense. Football is a team game. Of the best QBs in that 83 class, Elway, Marino and Kelly, only Elway won it and he did because of Terrell Davis.

Moon might have been part of the biggest choke job because he was on the team, (and I assume you're talking about the Buffalo disaster) but when your team puts up 38 points, it's hard to blame the QB for that loss. More proof the Oilers teams weren't very good outside of Moon.

Moon's career yards/attempt is 7.2, Marino's is 7.3, Elway's 7.1, Kelly 7.4 and Aikman 7.0. So he compares favorably to all of those QBs.

And Moon is by no means a compiler. His average over a 16 game season breaks down to: 3794 yards, 22.4 TD, 17.9 INT.
Marino is a class above in terms of that: 4057 yards, 27.8 TD, 16.6 INT.
Elway: 3519 yards, 20.5 TD, 15.4 INT.
Aikman: 3194 yards, 16 TD, 13.7 INT.
Kelly: 3547 yards, 23.7 TD, 17.5 INT.

What does that tell me? Moon compares favorably to Elway and Kelly, better than Aikman and worse than Marino. If Elway and Kelly are considered two of the greatest, and they should be (Kelly is vastly underrated because of the Super Bowls), then Moon belongs up there with them. The overall stats, yards per attempt, yards per season, even TD/INT ratio bare that out.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Commish said...

Ben again with your career averages you are looking at total career numbers - I prefer to go on a year to year basis.

I agree - he is on par with Kelly. Kelly is not an all-time great.

Elways and him have similar career starts, but his Super Bowl appearances and victories set him apart. Same with Aikman.

When it comes to QB's SUper Bowls have to be taken into consideration - it is the most important position on the team - and the team leader. Im not going to take something away from someone for NOT having Super Bowl titles - because as you say it IS a team game. And sometime defenses arent good enough to allow a QB to win. However, I WILL give credit and bonus points to QB's that have won Super Bowls hence setting him below the guys with the titles. (and I hate Elways - beleive me)

Also - remember - if Moon was an all-time great how come he had trouble finding a starting job in the middle 90's.

And he did have a part in the Houston choke - look what he did in the second half of that game.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

You make fair points Commish. So here's my long response to each point:
Here's why I go with the yearly averages:
Basically, I wanted to show Moon was no compiler. If he were, his average season would be solid, but not great. Moon's average season compares with the all time greats. Secondly, season by season performance is harder to gauge in the NFL because of the short season. In baseball, when you play 162 games, it's easier to break it down season by season. But in football only having 16 games means luck, schedule, injuries can all have drastic effects on stats. The average season stats were a means of evaluating perfomances with a larger sample size. I'm certainly no football stats guru, but I felt it was the best tool I had on hand to compare.

Aikman I have avoided really comparing because he's just a different QB than the others. He was in a run first, rather than pass first offense his career. But I think while he's a hall of famer, he's actually a bit overrated. In the NFL it seems players are judged far more by winning than anything else. I would take both Moon and Jim Kelly in a heartbeat over Aikman. I feel they were better QBs, but didn't have Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin etc. It's a harder argument for Kelly, because his teams were good too, but his overall stats are just too impressive to ignore.

Elway I loved growing up and believe me, I was quite happy to see him win. But the Elway that won in 97 and 98 did so because of TD and that offensive line. He wasn't the key component on those teams so I can't put him in a tier above just because he got his rings.

As for the Buffalo game, I was nine at the time so I don't remember much of it. However, when I looked at the recaps and accounts, the defense looks to be the main culprit. Moon threw 2 INTs in the second half and OT, but the reality is those should not have mattered at all. Surrendering 28 points to Frank Reich in seven minutes is inexcusable and the defense deserves the lionshare of the blame. Moon played an absolutely incredible first half, on the road, in one of the toughest places to play against a team that was clearly better than his. And his second half wasn't great but the first half counts too. Bottom line, he did more than his share to win that game. If the Oilers defense showed up at all in the second half, they'd have won easily.

Finally, it's no surprise Moon had trouble getting a job when he was done in Minnesota... he was 40 years old at the time. All time great or not, most teams will not commit to a guy that age and hand him the starting role. Remember Moon came into the league at 28, which in many ways makes his success even more incredible because he did it much older than most. As I've said, imagine if racism hadn't cost him six NFL seasons and he had come into the league at 22 years old.

You may not agree Commish and you do have good points, but I consider Moon an all time great.

1:42 AM  

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