CITY OF INDUSTRY, Calif. — This is the week for heroes, for the best and the brashest of college football. They are stars — these quarterbacks and running backs and mammoth linemen. But because they are stars, chances are they have been carefully handled. Chances are they haven’t seen as much bad as good.
Pat Moons, who is not a star, has seen it all — the top and the bottom of college football in America. The Rose Bowl will be his last game as a Michigan Wolverine, the end of a career he calls “both memorable and forgettable.”
And a lot more typical than you think.
The college vultures spotted him early, because a great kicker is like gold to a football program. Even as a high- schooler in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Moons was getting phone calls and visits and favors. Some alumni from the University of Florida brought him things at Christmas, and arranged for summer jobs — if you can call them jobs.
“It’d be like painting a house,” he said. “I’d show up, and most of the house would already be painted. I’d work for five minutes and get paid.”
His sister wanted to attend Florida. No problem, said the alumni. His friend wanted to attend, also. No problem, came the answer.
Then Pat Moons decided to go to Michigan.
The sister and friend were suddenly ignored. Those same alumni began calling Moons’ house, insulting his family, telling his mother, “Your son used us.”
He used them? That’s a good one. Trouble, then fame
As a freshman at Michigan, Moons did not play. He could deal with that. But then the NCAA investigators showed up. They got Moons alone in his dormitory. They wanted information on recruiting violations. They said if he didn’t tell them what had happened with Florida, they could take away some of his U-M eligibility. Bo Schembechler and his staff encouraged Moons to talk, but the kicker could sense resentment.
“It was like, Michigan was a clean program,” he said, “but suddenly there was talk of illegality floating around, all because of me.”
Moons talked to the NCAA. That helped uncover a major recruiting scandal at Florida, which resulted in the Gators’ probation and the departure of head coach Charley Pell.
It left Pat Moons “afraid to go home.”
We haven’t even mentioned football yet. Does that tell you something about college sports?
Moons didn’t expect the world. He understood he wasn’t exactly the Midwest football stereotype. He was small, had long blond hair and, in his words, a
“party person look.” It hurt him some, he said, but it was important to him that he have his own identity.
When his junior season came around, the kicking job was open and he felt he had earned it. But in the last two days of practice, he missed one field goal, a 51-yarder. Mike Gillette didn’t miss any.
Gillette was given the job.
“I thought about quitting,” Moons said. This certainly wasn’t what he imagined as a blue-chip kicker back in Florida. But he stuck it out. Stayed on the team. Stayed in class. Then, on the Friday before the Ohio State game
— the biggest game of the year — he was watching TV when his roommate came in and said, “Gillette’s been suspended. You’re kicking this weekend.”
Moons thought it was a joke. But he went to practice, and suddenly, people who usually ignored him were looking his way. Jim Harbaugh, the quarterback, smiled knowingly. Then Schembechler called Moons in. “We have all the confidence in the world in you . . . ” he began.
And Pat Moons delivered. He kicked the first three points of the game and hit another field goal in the third quarter. Michigan won, 27-17. ‘That was my moment,” he said. “Sure, it was kind of phony — suddenly I’m one of the boys and all. But that’s the fantasy world of college athletics.”
He shrugged and joined the party. Falling back to earth
His senior year has not been as kind. Despite his performance against Ohio State, the coaches, he said, continued to ride him. He resented it. “You don’t handle kickers like you handle offensive linemen,” he said.
As a result of the criticism, he was tentative, and in the Iowa game, the sixth game of this season, he was replaced. He has not started since.
So here at the Rose Bowl, Pat Moons — one-time hero, one- time bench-warmer — will handle only the kickoffs. And when the game is over, the career is over.
He is not a star. But how many really are? What he has gone through — the wooing, the praise, the ridicule — is closer to the truth than the gilded four years of some Heisman Trophy candidate. What did he call it? “Memorable and forgettable”?
Yes. Well put. There was a time when Pat Moons thought football was just a game to be played. But that was a long time ago.