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Catching It All

Ahmad Rashad has gone from all-pro receiver to all-network announcer.
Ken Shouler
From the Print Edition:
George Burns, Winter 94/95

Former television announcer and NFL star Ahmad Rashad strides safely into the Plaza Hotel's Oak Room--the same room where, in North by Northwest, Cary Grant is kidnapped for an improbable journey to South Dakota. In a linen summer suit, Rashad navigates the tables without being tackled, fouled--or kidnapped. Looking as fit as a receiver, hauling a leather bag over his shoulder, he weaves across the floor, heading for the plush leather booth in the corner. The alcove is made to order for two-hour lunches and one-hour-long smokes.

In a few minutes, Rashad talks about everything: from basketball and football, to Islam and vegetarianism; from Marv Albert and television to his good friend Michael Jordan. And cigars. Rashad possesses a fresh stock of ideas on a broad spectrum of subjects--in and out of sports. But that's not out of character. Marv Albert, America's best play-by-play voice in basketball, says of Rashad: "When you look at the athletes who turned broadcasters, he's one of the best out there."

His bright-eyed television persona isn't far from the way he comes across in person. Rashad is not one of the athletes who took the Lite Beer trail after retirement, but looks as if he could step back on the field and snag a touchdown pass on a post-pattern. "I work out every day. I run or I ride a bike when I'm tired of running. I have a gym in my house and I work out there. I never lifted a weight until two years ago. Then Michael Jordan gave me his routine, and I went through it with him. It takes about 45 minutes. It's light weights with a lot of repetitions, but you go through four or five stations three times a week and that's it. And I play tennis, sometimes two or three times a day."

We come around to his age and he says, "I'm 44--I was trying to figure out if I was 44 or 43, but I think I'm 44." In November he turned 45. "I eat whatever I want to eat because I work out so much." Indeed, Rashad--with an earring and jet-black hair--still looks youthful, even boyish.

"I don't eat [red] meat. I was a vegetarian before I changed the name (from Bobby Moore, in 1972). I went to school during the late '60s and early '70s," he says, shifting gears but keeping to the same road. "Oregon was a hippie school. People were into good food and good health, eating grains and not so much red meat. We didn't have guys who had steaks for pregame meals; we had guys who came in with some kind of bag of grain or something--that's probably why we got beat all the time! Half of our guys had their hair pinned up or their hair beneath their helmets all down the back. We didn't win any national titles, but we had very well-rounded people on the team. We weren't football jocks." Rashad then orders the Caesar's chicken salad and clam soup, after repeated assurances from the waiter that there is no bacon in it.

He quickly gets back into his story. "Our coach, Jerry Frei, was one of those guys who said you could miss practice if you had a good reason. Guys would come to practice and say 'I couldn't make practice yesterday because there was a protest. Dow Chemical was on campus and we don't think that's right during the Vietnam War.' With Frei, that was fine. He wanted guys to be successful human beings, and that was more important to him than turning out good football players. Football was never primary. It wasn't primary when I got out of high school and when I got out of college it still wasn't primary.

"As I was driving here I thought about this one coach I used to have. I was with St. Louis, about 25 years old, and he was a short, stocky guy who smoked big, fat, long cigars. I wasn't practicing one day. This coach saw me talking to someone who wasn't on the team and he just went ape shit. He looked at me and yelled 'Hey, get your ass over here. You keep your head in the game. I don't care if you're not practicing, I want you to stand over here and watch everything we're doing. Get over here now.' I was thinking to myself 'how funny is that?' I thought this guy was going to have a stroke," Rashad smiles that boyish grin. "I thought 'Hey, chill.'

"I didn't have a relaxed attitude. I just had priorities," Rashad continues. "When it was time to practice, I practiced. But in between plays you didn't have to have this crazed look all over your face. I didn't feel like I played better if I got myself into some frenzy. Some people did and that was fine. I watched guys get ready to play by knocking their heads on walls. I talked to people on the sidelines, I talked to fans if they were close, I talked to the other team, I talked to refs. I talked to everybody. Then one morning, it dawned on me that I didn't want to do this anymore."

Not playing football was nothing new for Rashad. For most of his life he didn't know it would be his future. Born in Oregon in 1949, Bobby Moore was raised in Tacoma, Washington. He was the youngest of six children--three boys and three girls. And if ever a child needed a life lesson, young Moore had his--a trial that served as constant motivation. "When I was six years old, I started developing a skin disease. And they never did figure out what it was. It was something that drove me inside a lot. It was ugly; I had it on my ears, hands and elbows and wrists and everything. Big bumps. I'd be embarrassed about them. Crueler kids called me 'Bumpy' or 'Raisin Ears.' I felt like a freak. If I caught a ball the bumps would burst and spill blood all over me.

"I remember when I was 12, my mother and I got on a bus to go to a medical convention where they had all these unknown diseases. I thought of myself as being pretty normal, but when I saw these people they had at this convention, man, they had the most deformed people I had ever seen in my whole life! All the people were kept in one wing of a hospital and doctors would come around with their assistants and pinch you and do all kinds of things to you and take notes. I can still remember a nurse nod toward me and spell out l-e-p-e-r. Just because I had bumps all over, she didn't think that I could spell out a two-syllable word when I was 12-years-old? I just remember that was my lowest point ever. I would always draw on that and make sure that gave me strength rather than tear me down. I remember my mother crying all the way home from Vancouver to Tacoma." But Rashad's childhood trial ended almost as mysteriously as it began. After a doctor cut the bumps off, they stayed away.

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