Art Shell talks with Lenny Moon about Becoming 1st Black Head Coach in NFL

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Art Shell talks with veteran sports broadcaster Lenny Moon about becoming the first Black head football coach during the modern era of the NFL. Shell played for the Raiders from 1968-82, becoming an 8-time pro bowl performer and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989. That same year, the Maryland Eastern Shore product became a historical entity when owner Al Davis selected him to become the first Black head football coach in the modern era of the NFL.

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Paul Tagliabue and John Wooten talk with Lenny Moon about the NFL “Rooney Rule”

Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Fritz Pollard Alliance Chairman John Wooten talks with veteran sports broadcaster Lenny Moon about the founding of the NFL’s Rooney Rule. This agreement that mandates African Americans and other minorities  be part of the interviewing process when head coaching vacancies become available in the NFL. Tagliabue was the commissioner of the league when this legislation was consummated (2003), while Wooten’s FPA (including attorneys Johnny Cochran and Cyrus Mehri) worked along with Tagliabue, Art Rooney and others to facilitate this landmark agreement.

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Former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rogers talks with Lenny Moon about 1973 Orange Bowl

1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rogers of Nebraska talks with veteran sports broadcaster Lenny Moon about his final collegiate football game at the University of Nebraska. Rogers would go on to score four touchdowns and pass for a fifth TD in a 40-6 demolition of Notre Dame in the 1973 Orange Bowl. This victory also marked the final contest for famed coach Bob Devaney. Despite the eye-popping numbers posted by Rogers in the 1973 Orange Bowl contest, he only played in the first half.

Former Tennessee State Head Football Coach quietly made History in the Ohio Valley Conference

By Lenny Moon

The Ohio Valley Conference is a conference consisting of 12 schools that’s clustered within the five states of Tennessee (6), Kentucky (3), Illinois (2), Missouri (1) and Alabama (1).This mid-major conference has an average enrollment of just under 11,000 with the largest being Eastern Kentucky checking in with 17,034. A sampling of notable NFL stars produced by the OVC are Phil Simms (Morehead State/N.Y. Giants), Jim Youngblood (Tennessee Tech/ Los Angeles Rams) and former Eastern Illinois star signal callers Tony Romo (Dallas) and Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco).

 

The “odd-ball” in this grouping is a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) entity that comprises one of the four Tennessee-based programs in the conference. Tennessee State University was founded in 1912 as a land grant institution designed to facilitate collegiate educational opportunities for disenfranchised African American citizens that were also tax payers. Somewhere in the area of 1979, the state establishment of Tennessee decided to merge the University of Tennessee-Nashville with Tennessee State. And according to the records, TSU officially became a member of the OVC in 1988 (Former stars such as Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Claude Humphrey and Richard Dent were long gone)

 

Lawrence “L.C.” Cole was hired as the head football coach of the TSU Tigers in 1996. He previously played collegiately at the University of Nebraska, coached by the renowned Tom Osborne in 1978 and 79 as a defensive end. He entered the coaching ranks following his student-athletic days as a Cornhusker, serving  assistant coaching duties at Ball State, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Toledo, Morgan State, Eastern Michigan and Cincinnati prior to his opportunity at the state’s largest HBCU as their head football coach. Being the only historically Black institution in the historically White conference did come with some challenges.

 

The TSU gig represented the first head coaching job on Cole’s resume, and although he inherited a downtrodden program (10 consecutive losing seasons), it was a golden opportunity to come and build his program without immediate expectations. “No one in the conference felt that we could come out of the cellar and become a good football team. Being the only Black team in a predominately White conference, I felt that we were overly penalized which was another barrier we had to cross” he stated. Cole’s contingent finished his first two seasons with a 4-7 record, but that second season, his team was 4-3 in conference play and showing indications that his TSU Tigers were turning the corner vs OVC opponents. “When conference teams would beat us, they would run the score up

to make us look bad” Cole offered. “But one of my most vivid memories of when we became a good team was against Eastern Kentucky and leading by two touchdowns at halftime. We started hearing references of the “N-Word” and fans throwing things down on our players headed to the locker room. We had to use security just to get to the locker room safely. We went on to win the game handily and they refused to congratulate us and shake our hands like we always did win or lose”.

 

On the horizon was history ready to be recorded in the annals of collegiate football. The next two seasons would witness Cole leading his team to two consecutive OVC championships, and two consecutive OVC Coach of the Year awards (1-AA National Coach of the Year in 1999). Needless to say, this represented the first time that a Black coach along with a HBCU entity winning their conference in football. During the 1998 and 1999 seasons, TSU compiled a 20-4 record with an impressive 13-1 in conference play. “Although we had success on the field as a team, I’m more proud of how we raised the standards academically with our football program. When I arrived, it was around 13% graduation rate. During my four years at Tennessee State, we raised that to 93%. It was more important to me to develop productive young men outside of the football field and that same dedication followed into the athletic arena” Cole stated.

 

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**L.C. Cole was a featured guest on a previous sports talk show platform that was hosted by Lenny Moon during Black History Month

LennyMoonSports Video of the Week

Former Mississippi Valley State head football coach Archie “Gunslinger” Cooley talks with veteran sports broadcaster Lenny Moon about his prize pupil Jerry Rice. Cooley, who coached at the small Mississippi institution from 1980-86 discusses discovering the little known athlete from Moor, Ms that catapulted the Delta Devils into one of the most explosive contingents in college football history. Rice was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

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Marc Jones of ESPN talks with veteran sports broadcaster Lenny Moon about his association with the late basketball guru Dr Jack Ramsey. Jones was the host of the popular “NBA Today” on ESPN during the time of the conversation, where Dr Jack was a frequent contributor.

The “Battle of the Ages” ReVisited

By Lenny Moon

 

During the year of 1991, one could purchase a gallon of gasoline for $1.12, George H.W. Bush occupied the White House, and the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls would win the first of their six world championships within an eight year span. A Super Bowl XXV 30-second ad could be purchased for a mere $800K (about $5 million these days). R&B group Color Me Badd was enjoying chart success with hit single “I Adore Mi Amour”. Also occurring that year during the century’s final decade was a titanic heavyweight championship bout on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

 

The bout was entitled “Battle of the Ages” and the combatants were two warriors with ties to the city of Houston, Tx. The champion was Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield, who was making his first defense of his title since knocking out James “Buster” Douglas (a one-hit wonder having stopped Mike Tyson in Japan to capture the crown). His challenger would be George Foreman, a former champion that was widely known to “turn out lights” with potent power in both hands. At 28 years of age, Holyfield had garnered acclaim in the lighter divisions, procuring titles in the light heavyweight and cruiserweight categories prior to arriving in the heavies in 1988 vs trial horse James “Quick” Tillis. Although his resume included disposing of the likes of Pinklon Thomas and Michael Dokes, there were still questions about whether the Atlanta, Ga native would be a true heavyweight champion that could stave off all comers.

 

“Big George” was 42 years of age

heading into the showdown with the “Real Deal”. Foreman was born in Marshall, Tx (about 220 miles north of H-Town) but was raised in Houston’s rugged Fifth Ward. Natives would refer to that north of downtown neighborhood as the “Bloody Fifth”. George had won his title some 19 years earlier in a classic demolition of Joe Frazier, lost it to Muhammad Ali in Zaire Africa (“Rumble in the Jungle”), was away from the sport for a decade while dedicating himself to his ministry and youth development. His return to boxing was received with mixed reviews, coming back with a much larger waistline and even bigger personality. The image of the former champ (on infomercials) with an apron and big smile convincing us that cooking meat on his specialized grill would make us all healthier and made him likeable and mainstream.

 

Holyfield had adopted Houston as his second home. He began training here shortly following his Olympic stint in 1984 and became quite visible in the community. His training facility in the Heights area of town was a “hotbox” with the huge corner fans blowing and loud gospel music playing in the background. Weight training would transpire in the plush Galleria area, while road training usually took place in the fashionable and popular Memorial Park area. Foreman of course was embedded in Houston’s north side, where his gym, youth center, church and vast real estate holdings lie. Reporters of boxing (such as yours truly) would commonly leave one camp and travel to the other during the same day. “Big George’s” comeback had begun four years earlier and 20 fights into his return, blew away respectable slugger Gerry Cooney less than a year prior to the showdown, also in New Jersey.

 

That takes us to the April 19 1991 confrontation for the undisputed heavyweight championship. The promoters of the event were Holyfield’s team of Main Events and the Duvas in conjunction with Foreman’s group Top Rank and Bob Arum. The host of the event was Trump Plaza, yes the same Trump that would become the 45th President of the U.S. twenty five years later. Having witnessed both training camps in H-Town and now reporting on the event in New Jersey was amongst the most intense environments I’ve had the experience of covering. This bout would answer a lot of questions the boxing world had leading up to this epic matchup. Would George have the stamina to maintain if he did not get the early knockout and could Holyfield withstand the straight ahead pursuit of this hulking destroyer that could take out any fighter with one punch?

The fight itself had some interesting moments and did answer some questions. Holyfield proved that he was a bonafide heavyweight champion, able to offset a bigger, stronger and determined opponent that pressured him the entire contest. “The Real Deal” utilized his speed advantage and explosive power shots to maintain control for the majority of the bout. While speaking from the post fight podium, the defending champion offered “ I hit George with everything that I had and for five previous (professional) years, if I hit guys with those same punches they were out. Big George was somehow able to take them”.

 

On the other hand, the 42-year old challenger proved that his comeback following his ten year hiatus was no fluke. Three years later, he would go on to capture his second world heavyweight championship vs Michael Moorer in Las Vegas. But the cheeseburger eating pugilist put the rest of the division on notice with his gritty performance against the champion 14 years his junior. “I caught him with some good shots, but when I moved in to attempt to finish him, he fired back and tried to finish me. The man is a great champion” retorted Big George.

 

Sidebar Nuggets

  • R&B stars Salt-N-Pepa sung the national anthem for the “Battle of the Ages” world heavyweight championship bout.
  • Houston artist Jai Jamel was the producer and singer of the song (“Here Comes George”) that Foreman chose for his walk into the arena. Jamel was an associate of yours truly and asked a favor of me to at least deliver a copy to the hard-hitting challenger. Not making any promises, the selection was passed on to brother/ business manager Roy Foreman perhaps 48 hours prior to the event. To my surprise (and Jai’s back home in H-Town), the tune was booming over the arena’s loudspeakers and shared with an international audience over the HBO network…Way to go Roy.
  • The Foreman contingent from Houston utilized the limousine services of Philadelphia -based former heavyweight champion  “Smokin Joe” Frazier (January 12 1944- November 7 2011). During those days, most passengers headed to the resort area of Atlantic City flew to Philly and commuted across the border into New Jersey. Ironically, Big George won his first title from Frazier and crushed him a second time in their rematch…Was delighted to see that their friendship overshadowed the brutal confrontations in the ring and thanks again for the comfortable ride Mr Frazier.
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Black College Football Hall of Fame Headed to Canton Ohio

It should not come as a surprise that two gentlemen that have paved new ground during their athletic careers would maintain that pattern in their respective post playing days. Former Grambling State quarterbacks James “Shack” Harris and Doug Williams (both proteges of legendary head coach Eddie Robinson) were both trained to never settle for less than excellence. This duo established “The Shack Harris & Doug Williams Foundation”, a 501 (c)(3) back in 2005, implemented their annual Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 2010 and in a short period of time have partnered with the Pro Football Hall of Fame to bring recognition to deserving contributors from Black Colleges.

The PFHOF is in the midst of a $900 million improvement of their existing facility in Canton Ohio, and earmarked to become a permanent component of the expanded venue will be the Black College Football Hall of Fame. “We’re excited about the vision of David Baker (PFHOF-CEO) and Joe Horrigan (PFHOF Executive Director) to see that Black College Football is so significant to the history of the game” stated  “Shack” Harris. “We’re excited to make Canton Ohio and the PFHOF our permanent home”. The Monroe, La native was the first Black signal caller to begin the season as a starting quarterback in the pro league. He would go on to become the first African American quarterback to start and earn MVP of the NFL Pro Bowl (1974). Shack serves as a Trustee of the BCFHOF as well

                Williams became the first Black quarterback to play in a Super Bowl (XXII) and would go on to re-establish the passing standards in the 42-10 victory over Denver. Also a Trustee of the BCFHOF, he stated “we’re in a position now with our hall of fame that once we get to Canton, our contributions will never be forgotten because it’s in good hands. We have a great number players (that played at HBCUs) that have been recognized, but so many more that have not. So we still have a lot of work to do”.

Horrigan added “David Baker and I agreed that Black College Football players are a big part of our heritage. So (in conjunction with the expansion of the PFHOF) we pitched that aspect to our Board of Trustees and they thought that it was a good idea as well

Pro Football Hall of Famer Robert Brazile reflects on journey with Lenny Moon

Recently inducted Pro Football Hall of Fame member Robert “Dr Doom” Brazile (Class of 2018) sat down with veteran sports broadcaster Lenny Moon about his “not so smooth journey” to procure that Gold Jacket along with the Bust (symbolic of his Hall of Fame status). This conversation transpired just hours prior to Brazile being officially inducted into immortality as a member of the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame class. Other members include Bobby Bethard, Jerry Kramer, Ray Lewis, Terrell Owens, Brian Urlacher, Brian Dawkins and Randy Moss.

Robert “Dr Doom” Brazile latest HBCU Product to enter the PFHOF

When Robert “Dr Doom” Brazile was officially inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame recently in Canton Ohio, he became the 30th player from a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), the 15th from the Southwestern Conference (SWAC) and the 4th from Jackson State University. Additionally, when “Dr Doom” donned the coveted gold jacket from his presenter (his father 86 year old Robert Brazile Sr) he became the first Black College Football Hall of Fame member to become a member of the PFHOF.

Although considered by many to be one of the best ever at his position, Brazile had been eligible since 1990. Having assisted Brazile in this effort the past two plus years, the 2018 PFHOF class member had clearly conveyed throughout that he strongly desired his aging parents  to have an opportunity to witness his journey into immortality. Although his mother Mrs Ola Mae had incurred a foot injury just days before the trip to Canton, she was still present and was assisted by a wheelchair. As she was quoted as saying “doctor cut my foot off if you have to, but no way am I’m going to miss this trip”. The senior Robert Brazile was his son’s presenter which made the journey complete.