Warren Moon - Quarterback - 1978-83 - University of Washington
Edmonton Eskimo Alumni - http://www.edmontoneskimoalumni.com/news_moon.htm
Almost twenty years since he left the Edmonton Eskimos to break new ground in the National Football League, Warren Moon returned to Edmonton in to be inducted on the Eskimos Wall of Honour on August 24. His return sparked a rush of memories to the five-in-a-row dynasty teams of 1978-1982 and brought together many of the players from that era for the first time since their record-breaking performance.
Warren Moon gained entry into an exclusive club that increased its
membership to 21 that night as he followed in the footsteps of legendary
players like Normie Kwong, Johnny Bright and
Brian Kelly. Interestingly
enough, the first member of the storied group was his friend and mentor
Tom Wilkinson who was honoured in 1982, one-year after his retirement.
He signed his first professional contract with the Eskimos in the spring of 1978 after he was overlooked in the NFL Entry Draft and when he arrived in Edmonton he was welcomed with open arms. The Eskimos scouting staff had watched his progress at the U of W and knew his strong arm, quick release and scrambling ability was ready-made for the Canadian game.
In his first pro season Moon apprenticed under Tom Wilkinson, a master of the short passing game and a patient teacher. He would see limited action but did complete 89 passes in 173 attempts for 1,112 yards and showed an ability to read the opposing defense despite the recent transition from the run-dominated American game.
After defeating Calgary in the Western Final by a score of 26-13, the Eskimos faced the Montreal Alouettes and got revenge for their humiliating loss a year previous in the now infamous “staples game.” This time the Esks came away with a hard-fought 20-13 win and Moon would have his first Grey Cup ring.
The following year, 1979, Moon would begin to accept the mantel from Tom Wilkinson as the two shared quarterbacking duties but Moon ended the season throwing and completing more passes than his mentor as the Eskimos made their third straight journey to the Grey Cup and fourth in five years. Again, the Eskimos would come away with a win over the Alouettes, this time 17-9 on a bitterly cold day with Moon throwing the only touchdown strike of the game to slotback Tom Scott.
By 1980, Moon was the established number one quarterback although Wilkinson continued to see playing time. He finished the year with 181 completions on 331 attempts and 25 touchdowns leading the Esks to the Grey Cup against the vastly outmatched Hamilton Tiger Cats. Led by Moon’s passing and running, the Eskimos ran up the score on their way to a 48-10 victory, tying the record of the 1954-1956 Eskimos as the only team to win three consecutive titles. Moon was named the Player of the Game, further adding to his reputation as a winner.
In 1981, the Eskimos had something to prove despite winning three straight championships. While many teams have problem staying motivated after a prolonged winning streak, the Eskimos were determined to set a new standard by winning a fourth consecutive Grey Cup and they made it look easy, at least during the regular season. The powerhouse Esks finished the regular season with a 14-1-1 record and defeated B.C. in the final before meeting the woeful 5-11 Ottawa Rough Ridersin the Grey Cup game.
If ever the CFL was going to serve up a David and Goliath match-up, this was it. Many experts predicted the Eskimos would win by as much as 40-points and nobody gave the Riders a chance. Unfortunately for the Eskimos, someone forgot to tell J.C. Watts and his teammates and the Eskimos found themselves down by a 20-0 score late in the first half. In an effort to calm Moon down and give him the opportunity to see the game from a different perspective, Campbell inserted the veteran Wilkinson into the lineup and suddenly the Eskimos were able to move the ball with the short passing game Wilkinson was renowned for. Methodically, Wilkie moved the ball down into field goal range with time running down but Dave Cutler missed the uprights sending the Esks to the locker room down 20-1.
Surprised, but not shocked the Eskimos spent the half time talking about the effort it would take to come back and as he remembered it, there wasn’t a man in the locker room who didn’t think they could do it.
“We knew we were a veteran team that had the ability to come back so we weren’t concerned,” Moon said. Every man in that dressing knew we had the ability to come back if we simply went out and executed the game plan, which we did.”
After the half, Moon was back at the controls and in their first possession they scored to put themselves back in the game. The Eskimos closed to within eight with just over four minutes to go when Moon hit Tom Scott with a 34-yard strike to pull the Esks to within two. With momentum on his side, Campbell left the offense stay in to attempt a two-point convert and the gamble paid off when Moon scrambled out of the pocket and fired a pass to Marco Cyncar deep in the end zone to tie the game.
On their last possession, Moon moved the ball again giving Cutler a chance to win the game with six seconds on the clock. Mr. Reliable split the uprights fulfilling the team’s goal to become the first four-time winners of the Grey Cup.
The following year, Moon was without the guidance of Tom Wilkinson who retired after the ’81 campaign, but the script was the same with Moon at the helm. He finished the season with a 59.3 % completion rate and threw for 36 touchdowns leading the Eskimos to an 11-5 record and another berth in the Western Final. The Eskimos fought off a determined Winnipeg squad 24-21 to advance to the Grey Cup against Toronto, but this time the experts believed the Eskimos would have their hands full. Led by Condredge Holloway, the Argonauts kept the game close until the fourth quarter when the Esks would pull away and the 32-16 victory would be the last Grey Cup experience for Moon. He finished the game 21 of 33 for 319 yards and added 91 yards rushing.
In 1983 the Eskimos dynasty finally came to a close and Warren Moon said farewell to Edmonton. In his time with the Eskimos the team had a record of 78-23-5 in the regular season and an even more impressive 10-1 mark in the playoffs.
But Moon’s accomplishments on the gridiron had only begun. He would go on to become one of the most prolific passers in the history of the NFL and when he retired at the end of the 2000 season, he had amassed 62,501 career yards in the two leagues, a pro football record.
Looking up at the Wall of Honour makes me realize how lucky I’ve been to be an Edmonton Eskimo fan over the years. From my first hero, John Lagrone, to more recent players like Dan Kepley and Tom Wilkinson, I have a lifetime of memories but few rival the still fresh vision of the silky smooth throw and perfect spiral of Warren Moon.