First man on the Moon

Former NFL and CFL star Warren Moon signs a football last night at the Calgary Italian Club's...

Former NFL and CFL star Warren Moon signs a football last night at the Calgary Italian Club's Sportsman's Dinner where he was the guest of honour. (Sun Media/Stuart Dryden)

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

Every sack, every interception and every loss in Warren Moon's first few NFL seasons was more than just a stat.

Each one of those calamities in his first three years with the Houston Oilers -- and there were plenty -- brought him a step closer to returning to the CFL.

The mistakes also meant less of an opportunity for any and all who were hoping to follow his footsteps, whether they were black quarterbacks or simply CFLers hoping to get a shot down south, like he did after standing out for the Edmonton Eskimos. That thought spurred Moon to dig a little deeper, try a little harder and make sure he succeeded.

"There's no question that's how I felt, especially for guys of my race, African Americans, because I think we were the ones more slighted during that time," said Moon last night in Calgary as the keynote speaker for the annual Italian Sportsman's Dinner.

"I knew in order for other guys to get that opportunity, I had to do well. Of course, they'd have to do well, too, but I knew if I did well, it would give somebody else the opportunity. I remember talking to Doug Williams and he felt the same way.

"We went out on the field and felt that burden when we played. Not only did we have to do well for ourselves and our team but we also had to well for the other guys in our race to get that opportunity."

While he helped pave a path for other black pivots, he also greatly impacted how NFL brass viewed CFL talent.

Four quarterbacks who've starred for the Calgary Stampeders -- Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia, Dave Dickenson and Henry Burris -- benefited from Moon's success and cashed NFL cheques.

If not for Moon following up five Grey Cup titles in Canada with a Hall-of-Fame NFL career -- nearly 50,000 passing yards, nearly 4,000 completions, nearly 300 touchdown passes and nine Pro Bowl invites -- they wouldn't have been afforded the same chance.

To this day, Moon -- who works as an analyst for the Seahawks radio broadcasts among other ventures -- follows as many former CFLers as he can.

"I did it even when I played," Moon said. "Any guy that comes down from this league, I have a special feeling for because I know, not so much that coming up here was a burden or anything but it's not the first thing a guy from the U.S. wants to do. When you grow up as a young kid, you want to play in the NFL and now you're told you have to go play in another country.

"So, when those guys come back, I want them to do well. For one, it makes the CFL look better and it makes them prove they should have been there in the first place."

By the end of his playing days, Moon was inducted in both the CFL and the Pro Football halls of fame and threw for more than 70,000 yards total. He still has a soft spot for the Eskimos.

"I really follow the Eskimos but there's a little bias there," he said. "Hugh Campbell, we're still really close friends and it was his last season, so I really followed it. And then it happened to be probably their worst season in 35 years, since they didn't make the playoffs."

Like most fans, he's hoping to see a few more points this season.

"It usually happens that way. It goes in trends. You see that in the NFL," he said. "Offences will dominate for a few years and, all of sudden, the defences catch up, so they'll do something with the rules to change it again. I think you'll see the trend change, if not this year then next year because offences will come up with some new concepts."


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