The Longest Yard wasn't made by Burt Reynolds or Adam Sandler. African-American athletes traveled an unwelcome road. From Paul Robeson to Vince Young, black players tried harder and struggled longer to be equal. White players got more pay, more fame and more advantages. As thousands of blacks donned NFL uniforms, these three superstars led by their chosen position. They also succeeded in transcending their league.
Despite the influx of African American players, there were no starting quarterbacks. One did appear by way of the Canadian Football League. In 1985, the Houston Oilers franchise drafted Warren Moon. Coach Buddy Ryan implemented his strong quarterback into his run and shoot offense. It didn't matter that Moon was black. Ryan had the confidence this quarterback could win games. And, he did. He guided the Oilers to several playoff appearances during the late 1980s and early 1990s. After a stellar AFC (American Football Conference) career, Moon got picked up by the Minnesota Vikings. He enjoyed continued success until retiring in 2004. He racked up over 40,000 passing yards and 200-plus touchdowns. If you added his CFL contributions, Moon exceeded Brett Favre's ridiculous 61,000+ passing yards!
Michael Vick was a product of Hampton, Virginia. He literally owned the high school gridiron. He accumulated all-time passing and rushing. After high school, Vick took his superstardom to Virginia Tech. His powerful arm and quick legs electrified Blacksburg fans. He almost singlehandedly beat Florida State in the 2001 Sugar Bowl.
He was drafted by the Atlanta that fall. The Falcons found themselves playing in the NFC postseason. He defeated Brett Favre at Lambeau Field in 2004. Two seasons ago, Vick rushed for over 1,000 yards and passed for over 3,000. His dual threat provided fans with many great moments.
However, legal problems probably ended his career. His prison sentence for dogfighting cost Vick 22 months. He won't be back with Atlanta. He probably won't be back as a quarterback. In his brief time under center, he amazed us all!
In 1988, the former Oklahoma State running back won a Heisman Trophy. With some college athletes, a Heisman was the epitomie to their careers. However, this 5'9" 220 pound superstar wanted more! He got drafted by the Detroit Lions. He began an era that included many of professional football's, most exciting runs. Against Tampa Bay, he had two, 80 yard touchdown runs in one game. He blistered NFC North teams, Green Bay and Chicago for several, 40-plus yard touchdown scampers.
Sanders made these epic behind a porous, offensive line. He also had quarterbacks named Scott Mitchell and Gus Ferrotte. They weren't exactly Joe Montana and Steve Young. Defensive coordinators placed eight or nine on the line of scrimmage against Sanders. Sometimes, he had games where he got 20 carries and only ran for five, positive yards. He'd have first halfs finishing with negative yardage gained. And then, he broke off a long run of 50 yards. He always gave fans the inkling of taking it all the way.
The greatest receiver to ever play came out of California. Former Mississippi Valley State star, Jerry Rice was that. He accumulated six Superbowl titles with two hall of fame quarterbacks. He had five with Joe Montana. He had one with Steve Young. In 1987, he racked up an overpowering 22 touchdowns in only 12 games! Only the Patriots, Randy Moss had more with 23, but he did that in 16 games.
Rice signed a one-day contract to retire as a San Francisco 49er. He caught touchdowns for them, the Oakland Raiders and the Seattle Seahawks. He left the football field #1 in total number of touchdowns, receiving touchdowns, receiving yards and Superbowl championships.
Thanks to Moon, Sanders and Rice, the African-American race had three more heroes to model after.