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Warren Moon

What’s Off-Season?
The truly great are always working towards the next game…

Warren Moon was a quarterback. As he emphasized time and again while we were working on his recently released memoir, Never Give Up on Your Dream, he wasn’t a wide receiver or a running back. He wasn’t a defensive back. He was a quarterback – and he was determined to play that position – all the way to Canton, Ohio, home of the NFL Hall of Fame, which welcomed a new class during ceremonies last weekend.

From his Pop Warner days in southern California, it was clear that Moon had tremendous potential both on the field and off. It was also clear that his potential would never be fully realized attending the inner-city school for which his family’s home was zoned. Working with a friend of his mother’s, he was able to secure admission to Alexander Hamilton High School, which could offer him much stronger academic and athletic programs. Moon was committed to make the most of this opportunity and worked constantly to maintain his grades so he could retain his eligibility for the football team – his ticket to a college education.

But when the college offers came in, many schools touted the same line: “We’d love to have you, but not at quarterback.” It was the early 1970s, and Moon knew that many other African-American quarterbacks were still being urged to switch to other positions rather than to represent their teams in such a visible and prominent role. This was not an option for Moon. He knew that he was one of the best high school quarterbacks in California, and he was determined to show the world.

When no major college offered a scholarship for Moon to play quarterback, he enrolled in junior college and continued to push himself as an athlete. In his one year of junior college ball, he wowed people with his leadership and incredible arm – and secured a scholarship for the following fall at the University of Washington to play at his chosen position.

moon2At each level of play, Moon was a star who won the respect of his teammates and coaches thanks to his cool head in the huddle, funny disposition, and the leadership he showed through his commitment to hard work and discipline. His senior year, he led the Huskies to a Rose Bowl upset over the University of Michigan, running for two touchdowns and throwing for another. He was named MVP of the game.

Yet Moon came up empty-handed again, this time in the 1978 NFL draft. He’d been courted by several teams, told he would be drafted if he agreed to switch positions. Faced with that option, Moon decided instead to go to the Canadian Football League, where he knew that the playing time would only serve to make him a better quarterback. (Ironically, the University of Minnesota’s star quarterback, Tony Dungy, was given the same options that year and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers after he agreed to become a defensive back.)

Moon continued his tireless efforts at improving as a leader and a player, pushing not only himself, but also his teammates. And his hard work paid off almost instantly when he led the Edmonton Eskimos to a record five consecutive Grey Cup championships from 1978 to 1982, and was named the MVP of the game twice.

Moon wasn’t content with his success north of the border. He had a goal that was driving all of his efforts. Every workout, every game, he knew was getting him closer to playing in the NFL. Time off wasn’t an option for him. He had gone to the CFL to get better and sure enough, he did.

moon3In 1984, he finally got the chance he so desired. With several NFL teams fighting for services, Moon finally signed as a free agent with the Houston Oilers. He went from being undrafted six years earlier to the highest paid player in the National Football League. And he would play 17 more years in that league. Before his retirement in 2001, Moon had been named to the Pro-Bowl nine times, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year, the NFL’s Man of the Year, and had his jersey number retired by the Tennessee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) among many other honors.

With Moon’s election to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2006, he became the first and, to this date, only African American quarterback to receive the honor, opening doors for many young players today. Moon’s election to the Hall also was the first ever for an un-drafted quarterback. He is also the only player enshrined in both the CFL and NFL Halls of Fame – an impressive legacy for someone whom no one wanted to give a chance.

Watch Warren Moon discuss the writing of his autobiography:

Tips from the Great Ones

The Great ones don’t take “No” for an answer – and they don’t accept that they can’t do something because someone sees them as incapable. It is necessary to be proactive, to take whatever steps are needed – to go wherever you must to take those steps – to reach the next level. And that may mean you have to work twice as hard and twice as long as others before you get your just reward. Warren Moon is a perfect example.

Rather than giving up on his dream each time someone told him he should, Moon decided to pursue alternatives that he knew would put him in a better position in the future. He understood that he had to work continuously, never resting, to prove he was capable. His “off-season” became an extension of his work day, because that was what it took to succeed.

Have there been times in your own career when disappointments have waylaid your progress? What did you decide to do? The great ones keep moving forward, knowing that whatever new skills, experiences, and professional growth that result will only serve to keep their momentum going.

moon4Moon might have never had the chance to make the impact that he did in gaining acceptance for black quarterbacks if he had simply given up. By choosing to chase his dream in a different venue, he gained notice and notoriety – and became one of the most celebrated athletes of his generation.

Take a look at your own career today. What are you counting on? What if things don’t play out the way that you have planned? Make a list of other routes that you can pursue that will still get you to your ultimate goal. For example, if you don’t land that account you were hoping for, what leads are you working on right now to take its place?

The great ones understand that there is no off-season – there should be no lapse in activity that can break your stride, because only hard work can lead to better results. Don’t allow someone to tell you no, because as Warren Moon proved, refusing to accept that answer can propel you towards Greatness!

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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