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father moon

Sept. 27, 1993
Sept. 27, 1993

Table of Contents
Sept. 27, 1993

Florida-Tennessee
Expos-Phillies
Browns-Raiders
Baseball
Warren Moon
Point After

father moon

At every stage of his carefully plotted life, Oiler quarterback Warren Moon has shown wisdom beyond his years

She kicked off her shoes to dance. Felicia Hendricks liked to dance and this was a party and kicking off your shoes seemed to be an obvious thing to do. Her boyfriend told her she was crazy. Why take off your shoes? Someone could steal them. They could be lost. This was somebody else's house. Why take off your shoes in somebody else's house? Anything could happen.

This is an article from the Sept. 27, 1993 issue Original Layout

"Don't worry, Warren," Felicia Hendricks said. "No one will take my shoes."

How about this guy? He was so different from the other kids she knew. Daddy. That was his nickname. Harold Warren Moon. Everybody's daddy. The average teenage boy in Los Angeles in the early '70s seemed to be a pinball of emotions and noise, bouncing off the city walls, screaming into the adolescent night. This boy...well, just the way she met him said as much about him as anything. They were sophomores in the same chemistry class at Hamilton High. He seemed, from afar, to be quiet and shy. When she first spoke to him, she asked him for a pencil. There was a test, and she did not have a pencil. He had three, sharpened, lined up on his desk. She wanted to borrow just one of them.

"No," he said.

No?

"You should have brought your own pencil," he said. "You knew there was going to be a test. How could you come to a test without a pencil?"

So different. She grew to like him, to like his methodical and solid ways, his quiet, his calm, his good sense; but he could drive a person to distraction. He was so...well, just the way he finally became her boyfriend said as much about him as anything. They were going out night after night, week after week, and he never clarified the status of their relationship. He came to her house most nights on his bicycle, a two-mile trip. He called her after his return every night to let her know that he was home safely. But he never said a word about their relationship.

"Am I your girlfriend?" Felicia finally asked. "Or what?"

"Until I tell you otherwise, I guess you are," he replied.

What did that mean, Until I tell you otherwise? Was that his idea of romance?

The party, that night she kicked off her shoes, was a celebration in a couple of ways. First, Hamilton had beaten neighboring Crenshaw High in football, and second, Moon, the Hamilton quarterback, was still alive. There had been a death threat during the week. A Crenshaw player had told Felicia that if Hamilton won, Moon was going to be killed. Simple as that. In other places on the national high school map, this perhaps could be dismissed as pregame trash talk. But in L.A. in 1973 the gangs had begun their lethal rise—the Crips and the Bloods and all the rest—and this Crenshaw player was a known gang member. When he talked, it paid to listen.

Moon, for one, had listened. Felicia pointed out the guy on the street, and Moon went straight for him. Felicia thought there would be trouble, a fight. Moon put out his hand to shake. "Hi," he said. "I'm Warren Moon. Good luck on Friday night." So different. Following a sensible discussion with the Crenshaw player, he had nevertheless sensibly informed his mother, his coach and the appropriate authorities, and then he proceeded to play the game in which he sensibly cleaned Crenshaw's clock.

Now there was the victory party. Felicia danced and Moon danced, and at some point in the festivities, some kids from Crenshaw arrived. Moon stopped dancing. Were they here for him? No. A Hamilton kid was dancing with a Crenshaw kid's girl, and as the fight began, as the kid from Crenshaw grabbed a lamp and swung it at the Hamilton kid's head, Moon grabbed Felicia's hand and pulled her out the front door. He started running down the street and she ran with him, and when the sound of pistol shots came from the house, Moon and Felicia dived to the sidewalk together.

"My shoes," she said. "They're still back there."

"I told you not to take off your shoes," he said. "Maybe now you'll learn."

Daddy. Daddy Warren. She never saw the shoes again and never went to another party for the rest of the season. Daddy Warren wouldn't allow it.

He is the father. Always the father....

This was not a normal postgame moment in a locker room. The son was crying, and the father had fathering work to do. The newly enriched quarterback of the Houston Oilers, the All-Pro, had to conduct an extemporaneous lesson on racism. The night was Dec. 2, 1991, or maybe it was the early morning of Dec. 3. Whatever. The Oilers had lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 13-6. The week before, he had thrown five interceptions against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The quarterback was married now to Felicia, and they had four children. Joshua, 9, was the oldest. He was sitting in the stands with his mother at the Astrodome, and the crowd became ugly. The quarterback was on the verge of signing a five-year contract extension, and the news was public. The Oilers could not cross the goal line, and the boos increased. The words became nastier. On the way out of the stands, Joshua heard a man say, "I can't believe they gave that——nigger $14.3 million." Joshua had never heard the second bad word before. He wasn't really sure what it all meant, but he knew it was bad.

His father had to explain. There were cameras in the room. There were reporters. It was the worst possible situation in which to talk about deep and disturbing subjects, but that did not matter.

"I am the type of person who confronts things when they arise," Moon says now. "This was something to confront."

He explained the word to his son. He explained what the man was saying. He explained that there are ignorant people in the world who say ignorant things. He said that while the man was directing those things at him, he was not the only target. The man hated a race of people. He would say ignorant things about a lot of people. Most people did not feel the way he did, but a few did. That was a sad fact of life.

The reporters who watched—John McClain of the Houston Chronicle was one of them—were touched. McClain says, "It made you want to cry." The amazing aspect of the episode was the fact that Moon already was a solid member of the Houston community. This was his eighth season since coming down from Canada; he had picked Houston over five other NFL cities in a flat-out bidding war. He was a civic pillar, living year-round in Houston, making appearances everywhere, even establishing his own charitable foundation. What more did he have to do? The team's record, even with the loss, was 9-4. Was he a quarterback when he won and a "black quarterback" when he lost? Or was he always a "black quarterback," no matter what he did?

The days that followed were ugly too. His foundation logged over 200 calls that echoed the racist words in the stands. The talk shows were brutal. Moon heard a list of rumors: He was a crack addict. He was separated from his wife. He had AIDS because he was a friend of the basketball player Magic Johnson. None of them was close to truth. Crack? He had never smoked a cigarette. He didn't drink—except perhaps on vacation, one of those drinks served in a carved-out pineapple with a paper parasol sticking out the top. McClain, the reporter, even talked to a man who was convinced Moon had thrown the game.

"He just signed a contract for $14.3 million," McClain said. "Why would he throw the game?"

"For really big money," the man said.

The rumors continued until Moon responded in the middle of the week on his TV show. He apologized. Apologized? He told the people that he was sorry that he had played lousy, that he would try not to do it again. He said the loss was his fault. He said he hoped to play better. It was an astonishing response.

"It defused everything," wide receiver Haywood Jeffires, a friend, says. "How could you beat that? An apology. I think of myself, if I heard those words, I'd be saying, 'Oh, yeah, well, come down here if you want a piece of me.' What Warren did.... He could have said a lot of things. Those live interceptions weren't all his fault. I think I was responsible for two of them myself. He could have talked about passes that were dropped, routes that were run incorrectly. He did none of that. He took the load the way he always docs. That is why he is such a leader. How could you not follow someone like him? He is like Cèsar Chàvez or Arthur Ashe or Martin Luther King Jr. He comes in the huddle, and he speaks in that soft voice, like the voice of an angel, and you strain to hear every word. Everything he ever says, he has thought about before he says it."

The response to the apology was as amazing as the apology itself. The phones rang again. People called to apologize for what they had said. The talk-show dialogue flipped to his accomplishments instead of his failings. The Oilers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-6 in their next game.

He has been the father for as long as he can remember....

The face on the TV screen in the small house in the center of Los Angeles often belonged to Lawrence Welk or to a member of the cast of one of the various soap operas. The voice coming from the stereo belonged to Billy Eckstine or to Nat King Cole or to Harry Belafonte. The one bathroom belonged to women. Or at least that was how it always seemed.

The boy lived with women.

"Why don't we watch Rat Patrol tonight?" he would ask.

"Lawrence Welk," his mother would reply. "It's my time for the television. We have to share."

The boy would understand. He seemed to understand a lot. There were seven women in the house. His mother and six sisters. Three sisters were older, three younger, and he was the only male on the cramped premises. His father, also named Harold Warren Moon, had died from liver and heart ailments when the boy was seven. Nothing had been the same since. How many people had informed him of the obvious fact that "you're the man of the house now"? His mother disliked the phrase, thinking it put too much pressure on a kid with enough pressures already in his path. But the boy simply "took it on, full bore," as Moon would say later. "Probably I even went too far."

He didn't have to look any farther than the other side of the kitchen table, where his mother sat, to find his role model. Pat Moon's husband, a janitor, was 37 when he died. She was left with all of these kids, ranging in age from two to 17. Her family was back in Atlanta, the city that she and Harold—she called her husband Harold and her son Warren—had left years earlier for the more promising environment of California. Should she return to Atlanta? The promise of California, she decided, still remained. The pursuit was simply a little tougher.

She already had started classes to become a practical nurse, and now she accelerated her schedule. Welfare helped her finish school, and then she had a job, working those hellish late-night shifts that nurses must work, that helped her raise her family. The neighborhood bordered on Watts, where, in 1965, the National Guard, with machine guns mounted on armored personnel carriers, would be poised at a gas station only three blocks away. But life inside the house was as middle-class as Pat Moon could make it.

She was up when her kids left for school, home fixing dinner when they returned. The chores were assigned on a schedule, everyone sharing. Older kids helped raise the younger kids. Everyone worked at odd jobs. Money was saved for trips to Disneyland and to the museums and to the ballet and the beach and even the odd athletic event. Pat Moon wanted her kids to have the same advantages as any other kids, even if the advantages weren't as freely dispersed.

The boy learned to cook and sew and iron and clean house. To this day he cannot do the "man" things, working under the hood of a car or fixing plumbing or electrical problems, but he can bake three dozen cookies with ease. That was what he did, the high school star quarterback, on the eve of every big game: bake cookies and hand them out to his sisters.

Outside the house he worked at a succession of jobs and played every sport possible. He worked as a paperboy. He worked in restaurants. He even worked in high school as a clerk for the Veterans Administration. He played in the Pop Warner League up in Baldwin Hills, where the richer kids lived, the sons of Ray Charles and Tina Turner and Ram running back Dick Bass. He also played in his neighborhood. He played hide-and-seek. He built soapbox racers from shopping carts. He played in an electronic football league, the little men buzzing along the game board. He covered his fullback with adhesive tape for added size. He learned to make the little spring-action quarterback throw a spiral with the white cotton ball.

Football was his main game. He decided that early. He looked at his mother and older sisters and decided that he wouldn't grow tall enough to be a pro basketball player. Baseball seemed to be a bore. He decided that he could play only one sport in high school because he had to work the rest of the year to help the family, and the sport would be football. Quarterback would be the position. He had discovered that he could throw a football longer, harder and straighter than anyone he knew. He would take that arm all the way to the pros. That was his goal.

The obvious first step was high school, which was a problem. His neighborhood was in a district that sent its kids to cither L.A. High or Dorsey High. He didn't much like either of the inner-city, predominantly black schools, and he also didn't much like their football programs. He was in ninth grade, 14 years old, but already he could see how choices could be limited, talents stifled. Wouldn't it be better to go to Hamilton, a school with a racial balance, a better reputation for both education and football? He worked out the scam himself, registering at Hamilton under the address of one of his mother's friends, taking the city bus every day, then walking two miles or so from the bus stop to school. He had figured out early the tilted ways the world sometimes works. This was the maturity reflected in his choices. Daddy Warren.

By the time his deception was discovered a year later, he had become a part of the Hamilton scene and was given one of the handful of permits allotted to students from out of the district. For the first time he was dealing every day with whites, with Asians, along with blacks. The school at one time had been 95% Jewish and still had a large Jewish enrollment. He became friends with Jewish kids who came from much better economic situations. He watched them. Weren't the Jews also victims of discrimination? How did they handle that? They hung together, helped each other. They used education as a route to money, money as a route to empowerment, empowerment as a way to help people. Wasn't that the way to do it?

The football started slowly. As a sophomore he had a seat on the jayvee bench behind a booster-club father's senior son, but by his junior year Moon was the starter on the varsity. As a senior he was successful enough to be a Division I-A prospect, recruited by Arizona State and USC and other powerhouses. But they wanted him to be a defensive back, a wide receiver, something else. When what he wanted to be was a quarterback.

Was he not being viewed as a quarterback because he was a black quarterback? Or was it because he was a city quarterback matched against quarterbacks from those heralded football programs in the suburbs? Or was it...what? Whatever it was, it left him with an uneasy feeling of injustice. There were all-star teams he did not make, honors he did not receive that he thought he should have received, scholarships that were not offered.

A high school all-star game was held at the Rose Bowl at the end of his senior season. He was not selected for the game, but he went and sat in the stands with his friend Clyde Walker. Walker had watched him practice throwing for hours, had watched him go through workouts during the summers with stars at USC and UCLA and play as well as any of them. Walker watched now as Moon simply stared at the field with a fierce look on his face. No words were spoken.

But Walker thought to himself, I would bet anything that this is the last time I'm sitting in the stands with this guy, watching a football game I'm going to be sitting, watching him play. At quarterback.

He always has been the cool head, the sensible voice....

The urge was to give the middle finger, the digital salute, to the 59,000 fans at Husky Stadium at the University of Washington. Moon was at quarterback for the Huskies, who were beating Southern California 28-10 and holding on to the ball in the game's late moments. A hole opened on one of those do-nothing plays. Moon bounced through it and ran 71 yards for the touchdown.

He could not have planned the moment better. The USC roster was filled with people he knew. How'd they like this piece of work? Bring this news back to L.A. The stands were filled mostly with people he didn't know, never knew, would never know. They all were cheering at last.

"War-ren," they chanted together. "War-ren, War-ren, War-ren...."

"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."

He did not. He explained later that he did not need gestures or even words to win the argument. What he did on the field and in his life was his answer. That was how he treated all doubters, all detractors everywhere. Judge him in the end for what he did. Flipping the bird was not to be part of that judgment.

"If you know Warren, you know he wouldn't do that," Thelma says. "If you know Warren, you know he couldn't do that."

He didn't.

He always has known the right move to make at the right time....

Life in Canada was not bad. It was very good, in fact. For the first time in his football career, he felt that race was not an issue. He felt that way from the moment he signed with the Edmonton Eskimos. It was curious that he had had to go to another country, to an overwhelmingly white city, to feel that he was just a player, good or bad, color not involved. That was the way it was.

He had left the U.S. with all of the old stereotypes unresolved. The NFL basically had rejected him as a quarterback. He was the Pac-8 Player of the Year, the quarterback of the Rose Bowl champs (Washington was a 27-20 upset winner over Michigan), yet there was no interest in his talents. The mumbled word was that "he didn't have an arm." Didn't have an arm? That was the one thing he did have. His height at 6'2" might be average, and he never was the quickest runner, but he always thought he could throw with anyone. Not one NFL team had expressed serious interest in him. The talent hunters in their stay-press slacks had little desire to see the Pac-8 Player of the Year throw the ball. What was the (black) Player of the Year to think?

His agent, Leigh Steinberg, after making various calls, estimated that Moon would be drafted between the "fourth and seventh" rounds. Moon thought the fourth was being generous. Doug Williams, a black quarterback from Grambling, was projected as a certain first-round pick, but Moon did not think that fact eliminated the possibility of racism in his own case.

"Williams was a can't-miss guy, about 6'4" and coming out of a pro offense with some great statistics," Moon says. "I've always said the racism doesn't come with the obvious can't-miss guys. It's the guys who have to be developed, who have to sit on the bench for a while, who are affected. The NFL teams won't wait for them, for the black quarterbacks, to develop. They say, 'Go to Canada, then come back when you're ready.' The white quarterbacks sit on the bench in the NFL and learn."

He went to Canada. He never even waited for the NFL draft, signing early enough with Edmonton to be passed over by every team in the NFL in every round. He was quarterback on a Canadian team that won five straight Grey Cup championships. The football was free-form and fun with the wider field of the CFL. The practices were gentle enough that half the players were able to work outside jobs. The camaraderie was the best, the players and their families trapped together in this cold-weather city, almost forced to become closer friends. In 1981, still not having told Felicia "otherwise," they were married. He bought a house, his first big purchase, even before he thought about buying a car. Wouldn't any man who grew up with seven women, who always shared a bedroom with at least two of his sisters, buy a house first? Joshua was born in Canada, where, thanks to socialized medicine, the bill totaled $5. Canada was great, but....

There was interest at last from the NFL. The USFL had been born in 1983, and the two leagues were fighting for talent. Here in Moon was measurable, successful talent. A free agent. He announced his availability and entertained suitors. He visited six cities, talked with officials, researched teams and environments and two-minute offenses. In the end his choice was Houston. The contract was $6 million for five years. He became the highest-paid player in the game. Just like that.

He is the protector, the provider....

The accident happened as Judy Riley was heading to the TV station where Moon was to tape his show. She was driving the car he had given her, a 1992 Toyota Camry. That had been such a surprise, the car. She had been working in the office of the Crescent Moon Foundation one day and Warren had called from the downstairs reception desk to say that his car wouldn't start. Would she come down to give him a hand?

He was waiting in the circular driveway with two men in business suits. He always was talking with men in business suits, always on the move, traveling from one meeting to another. She stood back, not wanting to intrude.

"Judy, come here," he said.

Yes?

"Would you take the keys to your new car from these men?"

She saw the car and the keys and Moon's face at the same time. She enjoyed his enjoyment at her enjoyment as much she enjoyed the new car. This was the type of thing she had seen so much of since she had met him. What was it she always said? Football allows Warren to do the things he wants to do. This was the type of thing he did.

He gave $200,000 to a church building campaign simply because he had read about the church's fiscal plight in the newspaper. He gave a free trip from Seattle to Los Angeles to the girlfriend of one of the Oiler public relations interns, simply because he had heard that the intern would not be able to see his girlfriend for the entire season unless he met her on the L.A. road trip. He gave a trip to Hawaii and the Pro Bowl to Oiler offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.

"Warren's a hard guy to get to know," Gilbride says. "He doesn't say much, and you look at him and you have no idea what he's thinking. I had come in as coordinator, and we were testing each other out, I guess, for the first four months of the season. The last month came, and one day he asked me if I could go anywhere in the world, where would I go? I told him I had grown up in Connecticut near water and I loved the water. The one place I was determined to sec sometime was Hawaii.

"A month passed. Warren was picked for the Pro Bowl. He asked me if I could get permission to go to Hawaii for the game with my wife. It was really nice—not so much the trip, which was great, but the fact that he had remembered what I said. He stuffed that idea in his mind, and then he acted on it."

Riley had started with him in 1986, handling his various marketing opportunities, which had started to grow; as the Oilers played better, his name became more widely known. Eventually, with Moon now endorsing at least eight products, most of her work was shifted to Crescent Moon, his charitable foundation.

The foundation was started in 1989. Moon had been doing charitable work for several agencies, but he decided to concentrate on raising money for one foundation to do work that he thought should be done. That work was with kids. Before long the foundation was thriving, heading toward a point where 82 kids would be attending college on Crescent Moon scholarships during the 1993 school year. The foundation also sponsored field trips to zoos and museums and restaurants. Kids were sent to camp by the foundation. Sports clinics were held by the foundation, with Moon shaking every kid's hand, posing for an individual Polaroid with each kid, then signing his name across the front.

"You have to understand how isolated some of these kids are," Moon says. "They may never leave a four-block radius during their lives. We take kids out.... They live in the city and they never have ridden on an elevator."

Now, on the afternoon of Jan. 20, Riley hurried to the studio for the taping of the show, but her trip was interrupted by a flat tire. She pulled to the side of the freeway and felt lucky when a sheriff's deputy pulled in behind her. The deputy offered to change the tire. Amazed at her good fortune, she moved to the side of the car and leaned against a 36-inch-high concrete barrier. She felt good that she did not have to deal with changing the flat tire by herself.

Coming down the road, however, was a car being driven by a 19-year-old kid. The kid was taking a test drive in a new Lexus with his friend and his friend's wife, who was sitting in the backseat. The test drive was being conducted at approximately 80 miles per hour. Seeing the flashing lights of the deputy's van, the 19-year-old abruptly hit the brakes. He went out of control. His car slammed into Riley's car, knocking her and the deputy over the concrete barrier. The woman in the backseat of the moving car was killed. The driver and his friend were not injured, because the impact was cushioned by front-seat air bags. The deputy sustained a broken leg.

Riley was taken to the Ben Taub Hospital trauma center. Her leg was broken in six places, and she had facial injuries. Her first visitor was Moon. His arrival sparked an increase of diligent activity around the patient. He stayed the night and stayed closely in touch with her for the seven surgical procedures that followed. Ten more still await. "Despite being a guy who is not real good at blood and gore, even though he is a football player, he was right there," she says. "He was very caring and concerned. There are times he's hard to work for—it's always hard to work for a man whose standard is perfection, because he works everyone's butts off—but it's certainly worth it. The people who work for him love him and his wife and his kids. They truly do."

She said there was a nickname for him in the office. The nickname is Dad.

He is the father. Always, the father....

He will be 37 years old in November. His age has finally caught up with his disposition. There is a maturity to his face, a hairline that has started to retreat. He has a Denzel Washington sort of good looks. He is the player on his team. Every complete pass he throws adds yardage to the all-time Houston passing record he already owns.

He and Felicia have been married for more than 12 years. They moved with their children a year ago from a house in Sugar Land that was spacious enough to be profiled on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Their new house, in Missouri City, has a gym and a movie theater, a large pond in the back where the kids can fish and a tall wall in the front for privacy. The house was two years in the building, with Moon involved until the last brad was nailed. The location of the house is interesting, set in the midst of more modest homes. Gilbride, the offensive coordinator, is a neighbor in one of the modest houses. The wall is jokingly called Kevin's wall, built so Gilbride cannot see what Moon is doing in luxury.

"I didn't want my kids to grow up in an exclusive neighborhood," Moon says. "I wanted them to know all kinds of people from different backgrounds. They go to public schools. I want them to grow up in a normal environment."

Felicia says his closets are, of course, color coded, everything arranged to perfection. Even the hangers are all the same color. She says he will sit in the living room, watching TV, and spot a mote of dust on the carpet. While Felicia will let the same mote sit on the floor until it is vacuumed, her husband, she says, will jump from his seat to pick it up. That is the way he is.

He is on the move constantly, especially in the off-season, one meeting after another in one city after another. There are periodic reports that maybe he will enter politics when he finishes football, but he says he doesn't think he will do that. Politics is too dirty. He does not want his life put under the scrutiny that politicians face. Acting is a possibility. Television commentary is a possibility. Entrepreneurial moves are a certainty. He would like to be part owner of a professional sports team. He already was part of a group whose bid to buy the NBA Houston Rockets fell short. He says Walter Payton, the retired Chicago Bear capitalist, is his model.

Moon seems blessed with a body, though, that will allow him to play much more football before any further career decisions have to be made. He is a workout perfectionist—no surprise—and still one of the strongest weightlifters, pound-for-pound, on the team. He has been injured only three times in all of the football he has played, a broken finger and a separated shoulder. He had one clean-out operation on a knee. The question that he asks over and over of the Houston coaches is this: Am I still playing at the same level I always have? The answer routinely is yes.

"I don't expect that they would tell me anything else, no matter what," he says. "But I think I'd be able to see it in their eyes if they were lying. I haven't seen that yet."

There is one piece of football business unfinished: Moon has yet to appear in the Super Bowl. The Oilers have been playoff flops for the past six seasons, never getting into even the conference championship. This is a statistic that bothers Moon. He wonders if he ever can be considered in the top echelon of quarterbacks if his team does not go to a Super Bowl. It would be as easy for Hall of Fame selectors to say "couldn't win the big one" as it was for the scouts to say "arm not good enough."

The disappointment last year was memorable. Coming back from the separated shoulder, he played as good a half as any quarterback ever has played, leading the Oilers to a 20-3 halftime lead in the AFC wild-card game in Buffalo. He hit 19 of 22 passes in the half for 218 yards and four touchdowns. He remembers still being nervous in the locker room.

"I went around, telling guys, 'It's not over,' " he says. "Thirty-five to three, you could feel it on the sidelines, everyone just letting down. Then it all fell apart."

The 41-38 Buffalo win in overtime was the biggest playoff comeback in history. Moon finished the game, answered the many questions in the locker room about the historic fade, then went to a telephone. He called Felicia in Houston so they could discuss whether or not the kids should be sent to school the next day, because things might be said. The decision was to keep them out for a day, then send them the next.

"It really wasn't bad for the kids," he says. "The whole city of Houston was in such trauma for about a week. Nobody was saying much of anything."

Moon could be leaving Houston after this year if the Oilers deem the last year of his contract to be too expensive. There is impatience in Houston, and it was not assuaged on Sunday when Moon was benched after his fourth interception in an 18-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers. The way to stay in Houston would be to win, though the season has not begun with promise. The Oilers, at 1-2, are an older team, with 29 potential free agents at the end of the season, 13 of them starters. There is a last-roundup look to this season: It's now or definitely never.

"Maybe this will be a motivating factor," Moon says. "Maybe it'll be like the movie Major League, when the owner is trying to get rid of all the players and they just go out and win the son of a bitch for spite. Maybe that'll be us."

He smiles at the possibility, the thought. Daddy Moon would like that. Daddy would like that a lot.

PHOTOWILLIAM SNYDEROn his home turf in Texas, Moon's starting lineup consists of (from left) Chelsea, Jeffrey Blair and Joshua.PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERMoon's commanding presence has made him the Oilers' focal point since his arrival in '84.PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHOn Sunday, Moon's efforts were eclipsed by those of the Chargers.PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHNeither big nor fast, Moon has succeeded on the superior strength of his arm.PHOTOMOJGAN B. AZIMIWarren's world of women included his mother, Pat (lower left), and sisters Natalie, Harolyn and Gail.PHOTOCRESCENT MOON FOUNDATION[See caption above.]PHOTOPETER READ MILLERAt Washington (above), Moon had to endure racial taunts, but his years in Edmonton were blissful.PHOTOEDMONTON SUN[See caption above.]PHOTOWILLIAM SNYDERSafe at home with Warren, Felicia can kick off her shoes.PHOTOJOHN BIEVERThe Buffalo comeback was easily the lowest point of Moon's career.PHOTOLOUIS DELUCAIf Houston fails again, '93 could be Moon's last season with the Oilers.