Thursday, Dec. 29, New York City: The Checker cab rumbled through Lower Manhattan. It was a cold, blustery night, and every few blocks homeless men were huddled around garbage cans filled with burning trash. "What are those people doing?" asked Warren Moon, a veteran of six years and five straight Grey Cup wins as a quarterback with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League but a rookie visitor to New York City.
"Oh, those are street people," one of the New Yorkers in the cab replied casually. "They eat out of garbage cans and live out of shopping bags. They're just trying to keep warm."
Moon, who grew up in Los Angeles, had never seen anything like it. "They live on the streets!" he said in disbelief. "They actually survive!"
Moon was stunned. There he was, at 27, with everything a person could want: a beautiful wife, two healthy children, a thriving off-the-field business (W. Moon's Chocolate Chippery cookie shops) and homes in Edmonton, Seattle and Los Angeles. And, as a pro football rarity—a true free agent—with a rocket for an arm, out-of-this-world stats (in each of the last two seasons with Edmonton he had thrown for 5,000 yards and more than 30 touchdowns) and three leagues bidding for his services, Moon knew he was likely to sign a contract for $1 million a year or more.
He shook his head. "It doesn't seem right," he said to Leigh Steinberg, his Berkeley-based lawyer and agent. "I'm asking for a million dollars a year, and they have nothing."
New York was the third stop on Moon's four-city "fact-finding" tour of interested NFL teams. At least six other NFL clubs—and, at one time, a total of 14 in the NFL, CFL and USFL—had made overtures.
"Look, Warren," Steinberg said, "if you weren't getting that million, it's not like it would be going to them. If you sign with the Giants, we can arrange to donate some money to the homeless."
"That would make me feel better," Moon said, "although I'm not so sure I'll ever feel comfortable making this much money."
The cab ride was but another episode in Moon's odyssey, an exhausting, eye-opening, seven-week, 52,000-mile journey that came to an end last Friday night when Moon agreed to a blockbuster $6 million, five-year deal with the Houston Oilers, with much of the money guaranteed. It was a trip marked by bright lights, sleepless nights, limos, discos, four-star restaurants, three-piece pinstripe suits, oil wells, Ralph Sampson, astronauts, barrages of phone calls (an average of 40 and as many as 250 a day) and strippers.
Actually, the journey began in March of 1978 when Moon, after being named Pac-8 Player of the Year and leading the University of Washington to a 27-20 upset win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl, signed with the Eskimos rather than wait for the May NFL draft. Moon felt that, as a black quarterback, he wouldn't get a fair shake in the NFL. No NFL team drafted him that year, which meant if he ever made a bid to play in the league, he would be a free agent.