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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

(continued from page 1)

"I realized I was good at football in tenth grade. During the summers, football players at the University of Washington would play touch football in the park. I was picked one time, the guys were all PAC-8 [the PAC-10 today], some were coming up for All-American, and I remember holding my own with those guys. My cousin was supposed to be a big star at the University of Washington. He was covering me one day, and I caught one pass and took off about 60 yards, he couldn't catch me and that gave me so much confidence. I knew I could play. I could run; no matter where I caught it, I could run with it."

The success continued at Oregon, where Rashad was the No. 1-rated wide receiver and running back on the team one year. But leaving college, he didn't want to be a back anymore. "You get beat up," he explains. "I was the first offensive player picked in the 1972 draft. With salary plus bonuses I made about $65,000. But that didn't matter much to me either. I just didn't think that all life was wrapped up in that. I was just into living, the experience of life. I just knew there was a bigger experience outside that practice field. I knew that. My brothers and sisters weren't playing football and yet were enjoying themselves. I used to wonder what everyone else did during the fall?"

Rashad's first experience in the pros was far from memorable. "A guy from St. Louis calls and says 'we just drafted you.' That was it; nothing more. Nothing like 'glad to have you aboard.' Most guys were like 'yeah, I got drafted by so and so and they're glad to have me....' But St. Louis started negotiating right away. They figured 'if we act like we don't like him, then we don't have to pay him so much.' The strategy backfired because I didn't want to be there."

Rashad, mindful of his father's counsel to "always have options," had another option. "I was really into my religion at that time. It was very important for me to spend time developing myself as a Muslim; reading, learning, things like that. My teacher was a guy named Rashad Khalifa, who lived in St. Louis. Football was like a job; I couldn't wait for practice to end so I could go over to Rashad."

Then he changed his name from Bobby Moore to Ahmad Rashad. "That was funny. We had coaches who would say 'Goddamnit, your name is Bobby Moore. Coach Don Coryell would say 'get over here, whatever your name is!' I went from being Bobby Moore to 'whatever your name is.' I put my name on the front of my helmet. 'My name is right here,' I'd tell him. So I always had that attitude, which pissed him off. He would say: 'Where's that wide receiver 'A-med Rash-id?' " Rashad laughs, recalling the time.

Rashad's career as a football player didn't take flight until he was with the Minnesota Vikings for seven years beginning in 1976. "Playing with Fran Tarkenton was one of the biggest reasons. I had never played with a QB of that caliber before. Joe Ferguson was young, and we ran the ball all the time in Buffalo because of O. J. Then I wrecked my knee my second year there. In St. Louis we sucked: Jim Hart was pretty good, but we didn't have a line. So we didn't throw any passes. So all of a sudden I've got Fran Tarkenton, and me and Fran are like connecting." With Minnesota, Rashad went to four consecutive Pro Bowls, where he was also the MVP in 1979.

After 11 years in St. Louis, Buffalo and Minnesota, the 33-year-old Rashad decided to call it quits in 1983. "All the great players we had were gone. We had a lot of young guys who didn't really want to make the commitment. Here I was busting my ass every day, and we had a lot of young guys who didn't really care whether we won or lost, but were just glad to be in the league. That killed me. Before we had Tarkenton--and Jim Marshall, Carl Eller, Alan Page...." Rashad breaks the thought, naming the great "Purple People Eaters" on the defensive line. "These guys were never late; they would never miss a practice.

"My last year, guys would show up whenever they wanted to. Oh man, I just couldn't take it! No commitment, just no commitment; when there has to be a commitment that you guys are together, you're gonna play--you can't play half-assed or they'll kill you! You can't be lollygagging out there or you'll lose your head. 'I'm taking a night off,' " Rashad mocks. "It's not like basketball or baseball. You take a night off in football and that'll be the last night you'll play." And Rashad was surprised to happen into hotel rooms and find young players doing lines of cocaine; so casually they didn't even try to hide it. "When I decided to quit and go home I never went back--I never even went back to clean my locker out. Bud Grant didn't try to talk me out of it."

Despite his early departure, Rashad left his mark on the league. One day, before retiring, Grant came up to him and pointed out Charley Taylor's total of 649 catches, then the all-time leader. "See that," Grant said. "You can do it." Three more years of 60 catches a piece and he would have done it. "I was physically able to play, but not mentally able," Rashad says, weary of the antics of the new players. He retired with 495 catches, 10th on the all-time receiving list at the time.

But the hard reality of retiring was softened for Rashad. He had already begun broadcasting at a CBS affiliate, WCCO television in Minnesota. "I was working in television and after practice I went to the studio to work on my craft in television."

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