Hall of Famer Warren Moon feels he owes CFL for chance to play quarterback

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Pro Football and Canadian Football Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon believes if it wasn’t for the CFL his football career would have been over after playing in the NCAA.

In 1977 Moon was a coming off a senior season at the University of Washington where he led the Huskies to a 27-20 upset Rose Bowl victory against the University of Michigan. Moon went unselected in the NFL draft, which at the time was 12 rounds long. That led to Moon signing in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos.

“I owe so much to the league and to the country because you guys gave me a chance to play professional football when my own country wasn’t going to do that. If I didn’t have that opportunity, who knows what would have happened to my career,” Moon said on The Rod Pedersen Show.

“I probably wouldn’t have played in the NFL at another position and if the Canadian Football League wasn’t around I probably would’ve gone on and just finished law school and become a lawyer, I would’ve never played football again. So I owe so much to the fans up there, to the league itself, to Hugh Campbell for seeing something in me that a lot of other people didn’t see.”

Moon quickly became a playmaker in the CFL, during his first five seasons in the league he was a key piece in the Esks’ five straight CFL championship seasons from 1978 to 1982. The Los Angeles native became the first professional QB to throw for over 5,000 yards in a single season and earned Grey Cup MVP in 1980 and 1982.

“I have a lot of great memories about being there. And then of course all the winning, when you win five straight championships in a professional sport that is something that not many people have been able to do and nobody has done it since we did it,” Moon said.

The dual-threat signal caller had his most productive three-down season in 1983, throwing for 5,648 yards with 31 touchdowns versus 19 interceptions while rushing 95 times for 527 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and three majors. Moon dynamic abilities earned him the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award in 1983 and led to a bidding war for his services in the NFL, created by agent Leigh Steinberg.

“He helped me make the decisions to go to Canada. He felt like it was the best thing for me to do at the time, presented the pros and cons of whether I should stay and try and make it in the NFL or go to Canada. Leigh was a pretty high-powered agent after that and even though I’m up in Canada playing in Edmonton, he never left my side,” Moon said.

“He always stuck with me and when it was time for me to come back to the National Football League, he orchestrated the whole free agency thing for me to get all those teams to bid on me and I became the highest paid player in the league at that time.”

Moon paved the way for current NFL African-American quarterbacks. Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory in February earning MVP honours to go along with his NFL MVP award in 2018. Baltimore Ravens first round pick Lamar Jackson was the NFL MVP in 2019. Meanwhile, Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl winner Russell Wilson is currently the highest paid player in the NFL at $35 million per season.

After signing with the Houston Oilers, Moon led the NFL in passing yards (4,689) and passing touchdowns (33) in 1990 on his way to being named the NFL’s offensive player of the year and first-team All-Pro. He was selected to the Pro Bowl nine times and had his No. 1 jersey retired by the Tennessee Titans in 2006. None of Moon’s NFL success would have happened if it wasn’t for the CFL.

“It’s another opportunity for young players to get a chance to play football, there’s only so many spots available to play down in the United States in the National Football League,” Moon said.

“But the Canadian Football League gives players from the United States a chance to go somewhere else and play. Then there is a lot of Canadian Football League players who have played their careers up there that want to play professional football as well and it gives them an opportunity.”

While living in Seattle, news regarding the CFL’s financial struggles during the coronavirus pandemic has been followed by Moon. If there is no season in 2020, it’s estimated the CFL could lose approximately $100 million. Ambrosie revealed collectively CFL teams lose between $10 and $20 million dollars a season. The CFL is considering new business model approaches for the present and future to improve longterm viability.

“If the CFL is not around, I think everybody loses. It’d be a huge loss because I love the CFL game. A lot of the rules that have been adapted by the NFL and other leagues come off of what has happened up in the CFL,” Moon said.

“The more job opportunities that a league can provide for players, that’s the most important thing. The fans tend to love it because it’s more entertainment.”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.