"Flip 'em off," a voice in Moon's head said. "Go ahead. Flip 'em off."
For most of Moon's two-plus seasons at Washington, the predominant sound coming from these stands had been boos. College football was a prolonged struggle. Moon had arrived at Washington from West L.A. Junior College, where he had landed for one season after high school. West L.A. was a place where he had been allowed to move freely as a quarterback, breaking passing records almost weekly as a freshman. The big colleges had finally decided to take a look at him as a quarterback...with a little help.
Most players at junior colleges stay for two years before moving along to the big time of Division I-A. Moon wanted no part of that. To spread the word that he was available, he mailed out his own game tapes to four-year colleges. He had a job in the athletic department, and when no one was around, he "borrowed" the coaching staff's game tapes, sending them out with the message that "it is important this tape be returned as soon as possible."
Washington was the first school to express interest. Jim Mora, an assistant to new coach Don James, was a strong advocate of bringing Moon to Seattle. Moon was assured that he would have a fair chance to win the quarterback job as soon as he hit campus. This was not a lie. Before the team had finished double sessions in his first weeks of practice, Moon was the starter.
The problem was that he won the job over Chris Rowland—an incumbent, a senior and, worse yet, a Washington native. The Huskies were still perennially low in the Pac-8 standings, doomed to extending their run of failure before James's rebuilding program could take hold. Shouldn't the local kid at least have a chance to play? Amid the bad feelings it became easy to put Moon's face on the team's failure. An easy black face. It wasn't a total racial situation; much of it was a case of the hometown hero against the interloper. But race was in the mix.
As Moon played out his sophomore and junior seasons, and as he began his senior season, he was booed and heckled. Both Felicia and Clyde Walker had followed him to Seattle, and they wound up in the midst of weekly battles in the stands. Someone would make a remark. Maybe the N-word would be uttered, maybe not. Walker or another friend would take offense. A requisite amount of bumping and shoving would follow. Moon wound up telling Felicia not to wear a T-shirt with his name on the front to the games, worrying that she would get in trouble. And keep your shoes on, too.
An oasis was found in the home of Thelma Payne, a Seattle social worker. She had gone to school with the father of Leon Garrett, one of Moon's Washington teammates, and she invited Leon to dinner. He asked if he could bring his roommate, who was Moon. A dinner turned into an enduring relationship. Payne felt as if she had known the quarterback forever. She and her husband, Willie, an airport skycap, became his unofficial godparents. He became a constant in their house, and Willie became the first day-to-day father figure Moon had known. Thelma visited Moon and Garrett's dorm room and felt flattered to find the room immaculate, down to the clean sweat socks rolled in pairs and put in military rows.
"They did all this for me," she said. "I was honored. Then I found out they did it for themselves. That was how the room was every day. These were the two neatest people you could find."
The end of the USC game, the final touchdown run, was thus a grand, accumulated "I told you so" for Thelma and her husband and for Felicia and Walker and, of course, for Moon. There already had been weird evidence of a local change of heart: strangers coming up to the quarterback on the street, all ages, all sizes, some of them with tears in their eyes, apologizing for anything bad they might have said. But this was the final underline. Take that.
"Flip 'em off," the voice said. "Do it."