Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon talks with Lenny Moon about his unconventional trek to play the quarterback position in the National Football League. After being undrafted by the NFL, Moon was determined to remain a signal caller and migrated to Canada where he played his first six years of pro ball while leading the Edmonton Eskimoes to five consecutive Grey Cup titles. In 1984 the NFL staged a bidding war for the services of the Los Angeles native with Bud Adams of the Houston Oilers winning out to secure the services of the future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback. SEE ABOVE VIDEO
In August of 2006, Harold Warren Moon became the first and only Black quarterback inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Los Angeles, Ca native spent his first six pro seasons in the Canadian Football League where he led the Edmonton team to five consecutive championships.
During his 17 NFL seasons, Moon passed for nearly 50,000 yards (49,325), 291 touchdowns, nine 3,000 yard passing seasons, four 4.000 yard passing seasons and selected to the Pro Bowl nine times. While with the Eskimoes of the CFL, the prolific field general threw for 21,228 yards and 144 touchdowns. He holds the distinction of being the only pro football player in history to be inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In the spirit of the month of October in Major League Baseball, motivated this re-post of two of the greatest performers the game has ever produced. Former St Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame members Bob Gibson and Lou Brock raised the bar during their prolific careers on the diamond. Gibson, an intimidating fireballer was a fierce competitor who owned the inside portion of the plate. He like many of his contemporaries took pride in finishing what they started; meaning completing games they started. As great as he was during the regular season, his greatness ascended higher in October. Brock, a product of an HBCU (Southern-Baton Rouge), was the most feared player on the bases since the legendary Jackie Robinson. With Brock it wasn’t a matter of “if” he would attempt a steal, it was most often “when”. The Arkansas native would end his career as the game’s leading base stealer (before being eclipsed by Rickey Henderson) and deposited over 3,000 hits. Like Gibby, Brock would elevate his game even higher during the postseason to help lead the Redbirds to three World Series appearances in the 60s (1964, 67 & 68) while winning two of the three (1964 and 1967). Ironically both MLB Hall of Famers died within a month of the other back in 2020.
Historically, the St Louis Cardinals have been one of Major League Baseball’s storied franchises. Certainly, during the 1960’s St Louis became the team to beat in the National League earning three appearances in the World Series (1964, 1967 and 1968) while winning those first two. Spearheading the charge were two of the greatest players the game has ever witnessed. One an intimidating fireballer that literally changed the game from the way he dominated from the hill. The other, a multi-talented speedster that raised the bar on the artistic way of exploiting opposing defenses and altering the concentration level of pitchers and catchers. Both were born the same year (1939) and ironically this duo recently passed within one month of the other.
Hurler Bob Gibson spent 17 seasons (all with St Louis) as the ace of the Red Birds staff, and evolved into one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game. The 9-time all-star accrued a 251-174 record with 3117 strikeouts and a career 2.91 earned run averaged. The former versatile athlete who once played for the Harlem Globetrotters, was a 9-time Gold Glove winner to go along with his two Cy Young Awards signifying the top pitcher in baseball. Gibson peaked during the 1968 season when he posted a season not seen in MLB before or since. That campaign saw Gibson take the hill for the Cards on 34 occasions and posted a whopping 28 complete games. His 22-9 record does not nearly tell the story of his lack of run support that season. Gibby bewildered opponents by tossing 13 shutouts and a microscopic 1.12 ERA (major league record). That equates to less than 1.5 runs per 9 innings. That very next season, MLB lowered the mound to provide more of an advantage for hitters. Gibson is a member of Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team and was unanimously inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.
The son of a sharecropper, Lou Brock was born in El Dorado, Arkansas and raised in Collinston, La (24 miles NW of Monroe). Brock penetrated the national baseball radar screen by leading Southern University-Baton Rouge, La to the 1960 NAIA National Baseball Championship while posting an impressive .500 batting average for the season. The 19-yr MLB veteran was originally drafted by the Chicago Cubs where he spent his first 3 1/2 seasons before being traded to St Louis in the middle of the 1964 season. Once he donned the red uniform of the Cardinals, he blossomed into one of the league’s premier talents. Brock ignited a sub-.500 team to an eventual World Series champion by hitting .348 and stealing 33 bases to close out that season. They would go on to defeat the favored New York Yankees in the Fall Classic to punctuate their comeback campaign.
Although a crafty, linedrive-type hitter that safely swatted 3023 base knocks, Brock will always be known for his legs and intelligence on the base paths. The 6-time all-star led the National League in steals in 8 of 9 years from (1966-74). He exhibited his consistency on the bases by pilfering 50 or more stolen bases 9 times. The postseason was another area where the former Southern Jaguar excelled where his .391 World Series batting average and 14 stolen bases are records for players that participated in at least 20 games. Brock’s 118 stolen bases in a single season were a MLB record until protégé Rickey Henderson came along to re-establish the standard of 130 in 1982. Brock’s career stolen base record of 892 was also eclipsed by Rickey’s current standard of 1406. Baseball Hall of Fame came calling in 1985 when he was inducted on the first ballot.
It’s not too many occasions that one becomes colleagues with a former athlete whose trading cards that were once collected (and traded) by one of the many youngsters that placed this type of gladiator in such high esteem. Such was the case of yours truly and former Jackson State All-American and NFL Pro Bowl wide receiver Willie Louis Richardson. The Greenville, Ms native was a longtime football broadcaster for his beloved JSU Tigers when his life came to end back in 2016 in Jackson. He passed of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of 76. Our paths crossed during my several decades of covering the Southwestern Athletic Conference in which JSU is a charter member.
As a collegiate player, Willie starred for the Tigers from 1958-62 enjoying a spectacular career in the Mississippi state capital city. He earned Most Valuable Player awards in three post season all-star games including the then College All-Star game vs the defending NFL Champions that was a signature encounter during those days. No one that I’ve met better described the impact of Willie Richardson’s collegiate prowess better than former Detroit Lions star, fellow JSU alum and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Lem Barney. I had the good fortune of interviewing Barney several times over the years but it was that first encounter during his induction year of 1992 that really resonated with yours truly. That year was a banner one for Lem in that the secondary star was inducted into both the 1st Annual SWAC Hall of Fame staged in New Orleans as well as the PFHOF in Canton. One of the questions that I bounced off of the highly skilled former NFL secondary star was “What led to his determination of selecting JSU over his other options?”. He offered a two word response “Wonderful Willie”. Not Willie Richardson but simply “Wonderful Willie”.
Below is an excerpt of the aforementioned interview with Lem during the era of his TV broadcasting days with Black Entertainment Television (BET) along with veteran Charlie Neal (see video link below)
Lem Barney became the first of four Jackson State players inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992. Others that followed were Walter Payton in 1993 (Chicago Bears), Jackie Slater in 2001 (L.A./Stl Rams) and Robert Brazille in 2018 (Houston Oilers).
As accomplished an individual as Willie was, he had a distinctive humbleness about him blended with his apparent self confidence and outgoing personality. I had once read that the City of Jackson had honored him with a parade in the downtown district as a result of his earing MVP in the College All-Star Game in 1962. Bear in mind the era referenced in that state’s history represented the same year that president John F. Kennedy’s administration was forced to provide national guard escort for James Meredith to access his classrooms on a daily basis in Oxford, Ms. This of course followed a Supreme Court ruling that a Black had the right to attend a publicly funded university in the state of Mississippi despite the harsh resistance. Before I leave the topic of Mr Meredith, I discovered through dialog with Willie that he personally knew the civil rights icon who was still residing in the Mississippi area. The two were classmates at Jackson State prior to the civil rights activist embarked on his bold trek up Interstate 55. Upon that realization, I instantly requested a meeting with Mr Meredith in which “Wonderful Willie” graciously accommodated. Needless to say, one of the more surreal experiences of my professional career spending a Sunday afternoon with a true American hero. Thanks again Willie.
As a professional, Richardson was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in the 7th round of the 1963 NFL Draft. He would play seven seasons with the Colts where he earned two Pro Bowl appearances, one season with Miami before wrapping his nine year pro career back with Baltimore in 1971. There was so much more to say about this gentleman that absolutely loved his alma mater. But for the consideration of allotted space, I’ll put a bow on this presentation by stating (in the spirit of Lem Barney) it was certainly my pleasure to have had the privilege and the honor of knowing “Wonderful Willie”.
Renowned radio executive Ernest “Ernie” Jackson was called home back on April 30, 2021, having passed at 78 years of age. Prior to his departure, the upstate New York native compiled a comprehensive trek on his impressive professional career that encompassed his passion for community service. From the time that he accepted the position of General Manager at Houston’s top two urban radio stations KMJQ-Majic 102 FM (R&B) and KBXX-97.9 FM (Hip-Hop) he instantly became one of the most influential figures in town. Both stations (under the same roof) were going through challenging times upon his arrival and when Jackson retired in 2001, the two Houston-based stations were deemed “Top Urban Contemporary Radio Stations in America as Ernie was tabbed among the “Top Ten Radio GMs in America” by Radio Ink Magazine.
Jackson’s book entitled “Health, Heart and Pocketbook” can be purchased online at AMAZON (https://www.amazon.com) and BARNES AND NOBLES retail outlets or online (https://www.barnesand nobles.com). Below is an overview of the author’s recently released publication.
For decades, black radio was the second most powerful communication medium in the African American community. Driving the nation’s civil rights movement, radio was their primary and most trusted source for news and information, creating social and political awareness among listeners. But in 1996, a shot was fired… killing black radio!
Shocking and revealing, Ernest Jackson, Jr. exposes who killed black radio in his story, Health, Heart, and Pocketbook. The culpritneutralized the progressive impact of black radio, transforming it from a fountain of critical content and community service to a mere jukebox where news and information became unimportant.
Named one of the top 25 African Americans in broadcasting, Jackson was present for the rise and fall of it all. He shares his memories, beginning from the first time he hosted a local radio station for communication students, progressing into a 28-year influential broadcaster.
Using humor and warmth, Jackson merges the unpleasant faces of racism, failed relationships, and life’s chaos, with that of fond childhood memories of his mother, indulging in sweet cherries, and his love for photography.
My friend and colleague Ernie Jackson returned to the world of radio in 2014 when he accepted the position of General Manager of KPVU-91.3 FM. Although keenly aware of his status while he was engineering the ship at Majic 102 and the 97.9 The Boxx, I did not actually cross direct paths with him until his arrival at KPVU. At that time I performed the duties of radio voice for the program’s football and basketball teams. I quickly discovered his affinity for photography (see samples above) and soon afterwards his knowledge of sports. Being a seasoned sports journalist, it’s not difficult to determine if the conversation is exchanged with a novice or one with vastly more depth. Well Ernie possessed a package of a genuine “sports geek”, and I certainly say that in the utmost respectful manner. Being somewhat of a sports historian myself, EJ (my moniker for him) was a refreshing “go to” for a coherent conversation of great athletes and memorable sporting events of days gone by. We had actually developed a syndicated sports radio show model along with former Tennessee Titans star linebacker Eddie Robinson Jr. Both EJ and “ERob” were outstanding while I performed the duties of moderator. ERob would go on to become the head football coach of his alma mater at Alabama State where he was once an All-American on the field as well as Academic All-American in the classroom.
It did not stop there with EJ. He served as my sideline reporter for Prairie View A&M football where once again, performed brilliantly. As the play-by-play announcer, I always felt totally confident that I could drop in at any time of the contest, throw it down to Ernie where he was always ready to exhibit his preparation each and every game. That bonding would carry over to taking in the local Houston Texans games from the pressbox on Sundays when we were not on the road. As I mentioned during his services as one of the speakers, we had sports-related phone conversations 2-3 times per week. Talking about a “homer”, there was no bigger Astros, Rockets to go along with the Texans fan than EJ. Guys like Ernie Jackson depart in the flesh only. I’m sure I’m speaking for the thousands of others that came in direct or indirect contact with EJ that his impact is permanent.
It was only a matter of time before Hollywood reconciled that one of the most fascinating American success stories was lingering right under their noses the whole time. It conceivably could have been that even the brilliant creative minds that consistently produce content for public consumption were not capable of devising a story the likes of Big George Foreman. Born in Marshall, Texas and raised in Houston, the hard-hitting pugilist’s story could easily be appraised as falling under the category of “Least Likely to Succeed”. Attempting to survive in his city’s gritty Fifth Ward as a poor misguided juvenile, trouble was an entity that was never difficult to encounter whether one sought or it simply accommodated your presence just for breathing the oxygen in that radius. Sure there have been any number of success stories attached to individuals that rose above their humble beginnings to attain what many would assess an “Only in America” rewarding destination. What makes Big George’s story so compelling is that his professional boxing career came in two parts as the Heavyweight Champion of the World; a decade apart. Who could have written this script?
Having closely witnessed George’s second trek toward capturing the heavyweight championship inspired the article written and published here on lennymoonsports.com back on September 18, 2018. As a tribute to the release for the big screen of the champ’s life story on April 28th, we chose to re-publish an epic moment of Foreman’s comeback vs then-title holder Evander Holyfield that legitimized his comeback prior to his eventual historical match vs undisputed champion Michael Moorer (see “Battle of the Ages” continued reading below)
I’ve always found baseball discussions over the years, particularly on the major level, to serve as a bridge to previous generations of the sport once known as “America’s Pastime”. Being a proud Baby Boomer, the collection of trading cards as a kid was always a highlight each season to compare with the vast accumulation already in your shoe boxes. This of course predated the explosive windfall that would beset that industry down the road (boy if I had a fraction of that collection in contemporary times). Be that as it may, on the verge of the upcoming 2023 Major League Baseball season, I browsed through some of my previously released MLB-related videos and chose to post the links in this baseball edition. Before we dive in, congratulations to the 2022 World Series Champion Houston Astros led by future Hall of Fame skipper Dusty Baker. Perhaps it not ironic that the first two video links are pertaining to the “back in the day” version of Baker as he speaks with Lenny Moon about former teammate Hank Aaron’s lack of respect as an all-time great, as well as the Hammer’s torturous home run chase of Babe Ruth’s then-record (see below).
Following an up and down early career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, hurler Dave Stewart found himself up the coast in Oakland and developed himself into the ace of the Athletics (1986-92) and later the Toronto Blue Jays (1993-94) where he won World Series titles with both franchises. Stewart talked with Lenny Moon about why he felt that there were not more Black pitchers in the modern day game (see below).
We caught up with famed Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vincent Edward “Vin” Skully during our MLB coverage days as he talked about why he felt the southern California team produced so many Rookie-of-the-Year Award winners. Skully served 67 years as the voice of the Dodgers prior to retiring in 2016. On that same video, “Mr October” Reggie Jackson talked with Lenny Moon about being a star in New York and “doing his thing” in fabled Yankee Stadium (see below).
We wrap this segment with a gentleman that created history in 1974 by becoming the first Black manager in the history of Major League Baseball. Hall of Fame slugger Frank Robinson talks with Lenny Moon about his preparation of posturing himself to become the game’s barrier-breaker as the leader of a MLB team (see below).
WITH THE GAME’S RICH HISTORY, THE CALENDAR TELLS US THAT IT’S TIME AGAIN FOR SOUNDING THE ALARM TO “LET’S PLAY BALL”
The history books tell us that back in 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers led by team executive Branch Rickey, rolled the dice and comprised the experiment that led to Jack Roosevelt Robinson to become the first Black to integrate Major League Baseball. Nearly 76 years removed from that historic event, this may not seem like such a big deal to one who chooses to only glance at this occurrence. But for those who owned citizenship in America or chose to look a bit deeper into why this was a “big deal”, it becomes clearer that this was so much more than just a sports story. Leading up to and including 1947, America was an extremely unstable reality for citizens of color. The bundle of the basic symbols of citizenship ( Civil Rights Act-1964, Voting Rights Act-1965 and Fair Housing Act-1968) were nearly two decades away. During this era it typically was the entertainment or sports arena that was accepted by the so-called mainstream if one derived from the minority community. Even at that, the sports arena was still reluctant to comply in that athletes were revered as heroes that even kids looked up to which placed a different spin on the topic.
There was a tremendous amount of pressure on Robinson to not only succeed on the diamond, but to not retaliate to the hostility that he agreed to endure as a condition for him to be selected for the experiment. He literally carried the weight of his entire race on his shoulders (along with future MLB prospects) to prove to the establishment that created the barriers that given an opportunity Blacks could positively impact “America’s Pastime”. Like so many others from my era, the discussion of Robinson’s case was commonplace. With so few national African American role models that effectively penetrated the fortified wall of exclusion, Jackie represented what can happen when opportunities afford themselves to people of color in this country. He created hope that parents passed down to their kids that this accomplishment was something tangible to build upon. This was a sign that second class citizenship had an opportunity to become a thing of the past moving forward. When one is perceived to be less than a total person in the nation which their labor significantly help to construct then hope is latched onto tightly wherever it surfaces. This was the environment in the USA during the 40s in which Jackie had to find a method to navigate.
It’s important to reference that the period of time that’s we’re speaking of is the forties in the United States of America. That has to be established to begin to process how difficult of a task Mr Robinson was facing to become the barrier-breaker that he was determined to attain. Jackie’s, (born in 1919) grandparents were actually slaves. His mother fled Georgia, carrying Jackie and his four siblings to Pasadena, Ca when he was barely a year old. It was his stint at local college UCLA where Robinson would explode on the athletic scene where he lettered in four sports (football, basketball, track and baseball) after spending his first two collegiate years at Pasadena Jr College. It was there where he initially crossed paths with his future wife Rachel, also a student at the Westwood area university. This union would prove critical down the road in the history that she so aptly assisted him in creating. The dichotomy associated with Jackie is that he was polar opposite of the role he accepted to become the game’s first ever Black player in the league. Rachel was quoted as saying that Jackie would often wear white starched shirts to illuminate his dark Black skin symbolic of the pride in which he wore his Blackness. He was honorably discharged from the Army as a second lieutenant for aggressively dealing with a race-related conflict during the World War II era. He and Rachel were married just before his minor league tour of duty commenced, where she provided a support system during his pre-Dodgers games and especially while decompressing at home. After a socially turbulent yet successful minor league prelude, it was time for the majors on April 15 1947.
Once Jackie arrived in Brooklyn as a bonafide member of Dodgers, now the real litmus test would transpire. To his credit, Rachel was able to attend all home games as a stabilizing component at New York’s Ebbets Field but his own teammates were not as welcoming. There was a serious boycott by his mates that if management went forward with elevating a Black to their level, they would not suit up. Several asked to be traded rather than to be a teammate with a Black man. This opposition was led by their star outfielder “Dixie” Walker, a gentleman from Leeds, Alabama (Charles Barkley hometown) who eventually relaxed his position. Another teammate named Kirby Higbee stated that he developed his pitching arm by throwing rocks at Negroes while he was a kid. There was a threat by a number of the National League clubs that they would not take the field if the Dodgers had a Black on the field with them. During this era, it was estimated that approximately 33% of all major leaguers were from the South. Needless to say that was not a healthy ratio for incorporating desegregation. Above and beyond that, even the Brooklyn fans threatened to withdraw their support, not so much pertaining to Jackie but reluctant to share their stadium with the vastly anticipated Black patrons. Before he could play his first home game, Robinson was instructed to “talk to his people” as he addressed local civic clubs, churches and the like to not disrupt the environment for others. Even Brooklyn’s famed announcer Red Barber, a native of the deep South had to be brought in to be counseled about not allowing his native culture inadvertently articulated over the air. And this was the friendly fire. When Philadelphia made their first trip to Brooklyn to face the newly integrated Dodgers, their manager Ben Chapman reportedly shouted out to Jackie “shouldn’t you be picking cotton” and ‘hey boy, come and shine my shoes”. Needless to say, this transition by MLB did not come about without it’s share of drama. Those are just small samples of the adversity Jackie was willing to sacrifice for America, by turning the other cheek for a cause that was much larger than any single person. Even Dr Martin L. King indicated his inspiration exhibited by the Robinsons that predated his legendary treks that would began in the 50s with the Rosa Parks-Montgomery Bus Boycott issue a few years later.
After withstanding extreme hatred which included being spiked by sliding opponents and having frequent pitches thrown at his head, unfortunately was equivalent to a day at the office for the Pasadena, Ca native. Hearing a constant flow of racist epithets by opposing players and fans, and even having a black cat thrown on the field in his direction at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field were some of the tactics resistors attempted to throw his game off. At the end of the day, Robinson would go on to earn National League Rookie of the Year and leading his team to the World Series in 1947 vs crosstown rival Yankees. Under intense pressure, he led the Dodgers in runs, total bases, doubles, home runs, lead the N.L in steals while hitting just under .300. He was classified as the most famous Black person in America. It didn’t stop there, as he was ranked as the second most famous American across the board trailing only singer Bing Crosby and finishing ahead of Frank Sinatra, former first lady Elanor Roosevelt and General Dwight Eisenhower. Without question, this “experiment” was significantly more than a sports story.
When the calendar rolls around to the 12th of February of 2023, the National Football League turns the clock on its most significant position on the gridiron. The foundation was laid when Philadelphia defeated San Francisco to rep the National Football Conference led by signal caller Jalen Hurts. Later that same day, the American Football Conference champ was decided when Kansas City, led by their mercurial quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, prevailed over defending titlist Cincinnati. These ingredients provide the recipe for the two starting quarterbacks in a Super Bowl contest being of African American decent for the first time in the 57 year history of the bowl’s history. For the record, the NFL was established back in 1920 (47 years prior to the first Super Bowl). The first two Black quarterbacks to start in Super Bowl competition actually are products of Historically Black Universities in Doug Williams (Grambling/ Washington SB-XXII vs Denver) and Steve McNair (Alcorn/ Tennessee SB-XXXIV vs St Louis). Since 2014, there have been six starting appearances by Black quarterbacks with San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick in SB-XLVII vs Baltimore, Russell Wilson’s two appearances ( both with Seattle; SB- XLVIII and SB-XLIX), Charlotte’s Cam Newton in SB-50 vs Denver and this year’s entry Patrick Mahomes (3rd Super Bowl) who previously appeared in SB-LIV vs San Francisco and SB-LV vs Tampa.
Let’s visit the history of Blacks attempting to receive a fair shot at competing for the quarterback position in the NFL. This is a topic that’s found itself in my columns seemingly for decades. In simplified terms, a NFL franchise is a billion dollar business. The face of any pro football organization in any market is the quarterback. Additionally, the single most vital component to the success of a team’s ability to score more points than the opposition is the signal caller (aka the field general). As in the business community, qualified Blacks and other minorities struggle to obtain the benefit of a level playing field when it comes to upper tier level opportunities. It’s akin to a glass ceiling that’s not quite visible, but designed to prohibit one’s advancement in spite of credentials. A case study is the trek that former Houston Oilers Hall of Fame QB Warren Moon was forced to travel across the border to later be considered by the NFL. For those who might not be familiar with his story, Moon was not even drafted by the NFL in the late 70s after earning the then Pac-8 Player of the Year while leading his Washington Huskies to the Rose Bowl victory as their signal caller vs powerhouse Michigan in his senior campaign. Consequently, the Southern California native refused to change positions and accepted an opportunity to play in the Canadian Football League for the Edmonton franchise. Moon promptly led the Eskimos to five championships in his six seasons there before the NFL came calling. Warren was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. Even prior to the aforementioned Oilers star, former Los Angeles Rams star James “Shack” Harris once shared with my radio audience that his offensive linemen would purposely make errors in practice drills proclaiming that they could not understand his diction (their way of proving he could not communicate the position). Coming from Grambling in the 60s, the Monroe, La native did not allow that to disrupt his rhythm and went on the become the first Afro-American opening day starter in the NFL along with earning Pro Bow MVP status (also a first by a Black QB). There are too many instances to mention in the allotted space for this commentary, but symbolic of the history of the Black QB and the NFL. When Doug Williams became the first starting Black quarterback in a Super Bowl during SB XXII, he was willing to play with one good leg after being injured in the first half (similar to Mahomes vs 49ers) and broke every significant passing record on the books. His exchange with his college coach, the legendary Eddie Robinson, was classic. Following his postgame on field interviews, he crossed paths with Robinson in the tunnel. Expecting a congrats from his coach about his record-smashing performance, instead Coach Rob in his exuberance stated “son, I’m so proud of you that you got back up to finish the job”. Provocative in a multitude of ways.
The evolution of the NFL has progressively gotten faster over the years, with better conditioned and stronger athletes. With increasing salary residuals afforded the modern day pro football player, year round training is now commonplace. Although protections have been implemented to protect the NFL’s precious commodity, quarterbacks have fewer seconds to release the football before the walls cave in. Both Super Bowl starting signal callers signify what’s required of the modern day NFL snap-taker in their ability to convert plays outside of the pocket; and/or matriculate the ball on the ground if necessary. (Ironically, Warren Moon, Doug Williams and James Harris were all pocket passes in the former prototype NFL model). The state of Texas will be beaming with pride in that both starting signal callers hail from the Lone Star State. Mahomes is a Tyler area native having starred at Whitehouse High, while Hurts is a Houston area product having starred at Chanelview High. At 27 years of age, Mahomes has risen as the top talent at his position in pro football, already having procured a Super Bowl championship (SB-LIV) earning the MVP in both the regular season and the Super Bowl. This year’s Super Bowl finds Patrick Mahomes II at the apex of his powers. The 24-year old Hurts is a second year starter in Philly and is constantly disproving his critics that he’s more than capable of passing the football to go along with his mobility. The baffling aspect about Jalen is that he’s always been a dual-threat talent. In high school he was ranked amongst the top double-threat quarterbacks in the nation prior to selecting collegiate powerhouse Alabama. Once there he became the first true freshman to start for the storied program in school history. He proved that decision correct by leading the Crimson Tide to a national title while throwing for nearly 2,800 yds and 23 TDs and rushing for 954 yards and 13 more TDs for a total of 36 end zone visits. His final collegiate season after transferring to Oklahoma, was a Heisman trophy finalist tossing for just under 3,300 yards with 32 TDs and rushed for 1,298 yards and 20 more TDs for a total of a whopping 52 TDs. What measuring stick are they using to appraise this guy’s skill-set pertaining to doubting his NFL capability. He’s been a winner wherever he’s performed. Both he and Mahomes are strong candidates for MVP honors for the recently completed 2022 season.
As a slight disclaimer, the following perspective comes from not directly covering the collegiate coaching career of Deion Luwynn Sanders (aka Coach Prime) but merely from the sidelines since his arrival. Covering Historical Black College football for over three decades does provide a vantage point from whence I speak. The appropriate timing by anyone is an aspect that most would rather procure than having all of the skill in the world. If one is able to merge both “timing and skill” then usually that entity finds themselves ahead of the brood. For openers, the premier of Deion Sanders tenure as a rookie head collegiate football coach while landing at a traditional Black conference (in 2020) was a breath of fresh air for a multitude of reasons. Certainly worthy of mentioning was the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s decision for opting to play spring football during the pandemic thus creating a television product for ESPN at a time when most of the remainder of the country had been forced to shut down. This of course created a hunger for live televised football programming at an all-time high (“good timing is more valuable than skill”).
Sanders brought national attention to the existence of HBCU football (the SWAC in particular) significantly more than that product had ever witnessed. Of course the popularity had always been firmly entrenched in certain pockets of the country, primarily in the “Chitling Circuit”. But the so-called mainstream had little or no interest in what transpired on “the other side of the tracks”. At the risk of sounding redundant, “timing is more effective than skill”. The merging of timing and skill postures one to significantly impact the radar screen. Sanders has always understood the formula for attracting attention to his brand. To his credit, he commanded attention for his supreme athletic ability that he readily articulated frequently, was camera friendly, colorful and controversial. Last time that I checked, he was the only Pro Football Hall of Fame caliber gridder in history that concurrently had the skill to hold down a Major League Baseball position that qualified to participate in the World Series with the Atlanta Braves in the 90s. So needless to say that the under-served HBCU football product received a much deserved infusion of spotlight with the arrival of Coach Prime. Additionally, he’s proving to be one of the most effective recruiters going, which again is a variable of his crafty salesmanship skills that deserves a world of credit. With the added exposure comes additional revenue opportunities that obviously had not been available with less eyeballs involved.
Having spent over three decades covering HBCU football, primarily the SWAC conference, I’m well aware of the rich legacy earned and associated with that storied conference. The SWAC conference led the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS once known as 1-AA) in attendance in 43 of the past 44 football campaigns. The only blemish during that impressive run was 2005 when they finished 3rd. Let’s be clear, this achievement is measured against all comparable conferences nationally, not just of African American decent. A great portion of those years, Jackson State set the pace as the leader, highlighted by their healthy contribution to NFL rosters as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame (see photo above). The SWAC, HBCU football and Jackson State had rich traditions long before the arrival of Coach Prime aka Deion Sanders. Let’s not forget that Grambling’s Eddie Robinson was college football’s all-time winningest coach until recent years, and provided a truckload of NFL players for decades, including Doug Williams who dispelled the myth pertaining to Black signal callers forever with his Super Bowl XXII record-breaking performance. James “Shack” Harris predated Williams at that position to become the first opening day Black starting QB in the league and went on to Pro Bowl status from the same institution. Alcorn’s Steve McNair finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting, not only from a FCS program, but an HBCU product from the SWAC. Buck Buchanan (another Grambling alum) was the first player selected way back in the 1963 NFL Draft. And many, many other examples exist that reflect the undersold legacy and contribution of Black College Football. In summary, Sanders brought a spotlight to the HBCU product that previously had very little appeal to the so-called mainstream. This author is not on the bandwagon of judging what Coach Sanders should or should not have done with his career. But akin to the TV commercial that flashes the sexy woman that’s intended to grab the viewer’s attention to sell auto parts, “Now that we have your attention. here’s a quality product that we’d like for you to check out” with a proven track record of sustained excellence. There’s only one Coach Sanders but the lesson that he left behind for the HBCU community, the SWAC and Jackson State is that Black College Football is a viable product if appropriately marketed and packaged to satisfy the palate of even the so-called mainstream’s appetite.
Congratulations to both the American League baseball champion Houston Astros as well as the National League kingpin Philadelphia Phillies that have earned their way as participants in the 2022 World Series. Once we were rendered the finalist from both leagues, it immediately carried me back to the last time that these two clubs met in the postseason in dramatic fashion. The year was 1980, fifteen years from the inception of perhaps the most brilliant architecture of the 20th Century. The venue was the Astrodome (8th Wonder of the World), the occasion was the National League Championship Series (Houston’s first ever), the teams Houston Astros vs the veteran and savvy Philadelphia Phillies.
This predated my eventual status of becoming a member of the media in the fall of 1980, but still found myself “in the house” as an attendant in what was referred as the “Skybox” (suite located on the 9th floor of the Dome where VIP and corporate types would host private parties during the game). As fate would have it, out of the 80 or so Skyboxes, yours truly would be assigned to the then former owner of the Astros and the builder of the Astrodome in Judge Roy Hofheinz. At this juncture of his life, the former Mayor of Houston and longtime powerbroker of his city had been stricken by a stroke and confined to a wheelchair with caretakers monitoring his every move. Needless to say, MLB dignitaries were coming and going constantly to greet and pay homage to this pioneer.
Certainly one of the reflections from that 1980 Astros season was the case of All-Star fireballer James Rodney “J.R.” Richard. At this stage of his career, Richard had evolved into the most feared pitcher in the game. Standing a hulking 6 foot 8 inches with a fastball that traveled over 100 mph and a complimentary slider that was just as un-hittable, opposing players would choose to take a day off instead of standing in the box against this force of nature. J.R. was coming off two consecutive 20-win campaigns and had led the league in strikeouts both of those seasons. His success carried into 1980, being named the starter for the N.L. during the 1980 MLB All-Star Game while posting a sparkling 10-4 record and a 1.96 ERA and mowing down practically every hitter he faced during the mid-summer classic. Richard would incur a stroke, following complaints of a “dead arm” that was misdiagnosed by the doctors of the Astros which ultimately led to the premature conclusion of his baseball career. We can only wonder what would have transpired had J.R. had to opportunity to be properly treated and possibly had a chance to further contribute to that 1980 club.
The 1980 Houston Astros squad was by and large a team driven by a solid pitching staff, spearheaded by Hall of Fame hurler Nolan Ryan (in the absence of Richard) and essentially a “small ball” outfit. Playing in the cavernous Astrodome, their leading home run hitter was Terry Puhl (13), but possessed five players with over 20 stolen bases led by outfielder Cesar Cedeno with 48. Even future Hall of Fame infielder Joe Morgan (who was drafted by Houston nearly two decades earlier) returned to H-Town to get in on the party with 24 steals. Conversely, Philly entered that series with two of that era’s top bashers in Hall of Fame slugger Mike Schmidt (league leader) and outfielder Greg Luzinski. Additionally, two other Hall of Fame members in outfielder/ infielder Pete Rose (MLB all-time hit leader) and crafty lefty Steve Carlton (24 wins and a 2.34 ERA) anchored the pitching staff (Rose has not officially been inducted). The “best of five” series became epic as two of the first three clashes of that matchup resulted in a 10 inning extra inning game along with an 11 inning contest. The Astros won two of those with the final two played in the friendly confines of the Judge’s Astrodome. With the tension as thick as any sporting environment most of us had witnessed in Harris County, Philly won Game 4 by the score of 5-3 along with the series-clinching victory 8-7 also in 10th innings to win the best of five showdown three games to two.
The Houston Astros managed to appear in only one World Series in its first 40 years of existence, being swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005 as a member of the National League. But now being a member of the American League since 2013 it took them only four seasons to land in the Fall Classic, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games (4-3) with outfielder George Springer evolving as the WS-MVP. The 2022 version of the Astros represent their fourth “bite out of the apple” in the last six seasons and the second consecutive appearance for skipper Dusty Baker. The defending A.L. Champions enter the World Series having swept both the hot Seattle Mariners and the always potent New York Yankees. The Houston organization deserves a world of the credit, having lost the likes of Springer, Carlos Carrera, Merwin Gonzalez and Garrit Cole. In return they’ve inserted homegrown stars such as Yordan Alavrez, Jeremy Pena, Kyle Tucker, Framber Valdez, and Luis Garcia among others and managed to not miss a beat through their losses at free agency. Another stroke of genius was procuring veteran skipper Baker from his retirement rocking chair to postseason appearances in all three of his H-Town seasons (following the firing of their GM and Manager from cheating scandal) including two consecutive American League championships. Although Dusty earned a World Series ring as a member of the Dodgers as a player, he’s still seeking his first as a manager. The Astros enter the Fall Classic as the favorite to reign supreme and projected to cap perhaps the most successful season in franchise history.