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Moser not feeling negative effects of NFL career

By TODD SLISS
SCARSDALE INQUIRER/FILE PHOTO


Rick Moser, far right, applauds as coach Ron Bouchier is presented with a commemorative team ball from the 1972 Scarsdale Raiders.

 

It hit close to home late last month when Frank Gifford’s family released a statement that the former New York Giants great, National Football League Hall of Famer and popular broadcaster, who died of natural causes at 84 in August, was posthumously diagnosed with chronic traumatic ence
phalopathy (CTE). For a decade, Gifford lived in Scarsdale, where the three children from his first marriage grew up, the boys, Jeff and Kyle, playing football for two of the greatest Scarsdale teams ever under coach Ron Bouchier.

CTE, which can only be diagnosed after death at this point — scientists are working on changing that — is a progressive degenerative disease that is the result of repeated head trauma. In the most severe cases, CTE can lead to dementia, strange behaviors, violence and depression, to name a few.

One of Kyle Gifford’s teammates on Scarsdale’s 8-1 1972 championship team — Jeff’s 1969 team was 9-0 — was Rick Moser, the lone Scarsdale High School graduate to play in the NFL. Fifty-nine-year-old Moser, who lives in California and works for Advanced Exercise Equipment selling new and used commercial equipment to colleges, high schools, rec centers and police and fire stations, said he is symptom-free from CTE.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t wonder what his four years of high school, four years of college and five years of pro football might have in store for him when he gets older.

“I think, ‘OK, how am I going to be when I get older than I am now?’” Moser said. “I’m not worried about getting dementia — well maybe I’ll get it anyway — but as far as football being responsible for it, I think I protected myself well enough. I don’t think I had too many hits to accumulate and lead to that disease, but again, who knows? I had one concussion definitely confirmed, but all the other hits, they could add up.”

Moser graduated from Scarsdale in 1974 and went on to play for University of Rhode Island before being drafted in the eighth round by the Steelers in 1978. As for high school ball, Moser said, “It was not a big deal, but I’m sure people got their bell rung and some guys did sit out, but I don’t remember it happening to me.”

In his first two years in the NFL, Moser, a running back and special teams player, scored a pair of Super Bowl Rings (XIII and XIV). He played for the Miami Dolphins in 1980, the Kansas City Chiefs and Steelers in 1981 and the Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1982 before he retired. Moser played 49 games, compiling 190 yards and a touchdown on 54 carries as a running back, while also having three receptions for 10 yards and a touchdown. He had six kick-off returns for 108 yards. Where he really made his mark was on special teams.

The first — and only — actual concussion diagnosis Moser had was his junior year at URI. It came against future All-Pro Jet Joe Klecko.

“I cut blocked him and I got him down, but his knee hit my head and then I just came out and went to the sideline,” Moser said. “I kinda knew I wasn’t right and they kept me out. I didn’t play the next week. It was considered a mild concussion. I couldn’t remember any of the plays or flying back on the plane after the game. My roommates were playing tricks on my saying we had a test on Monday in some courses I had dropped a week before.”

The level of concussions diagnosis or rest protocols did not exist like they do now. “Now they’re doing what they can for the sport,” Moser said. “They’re making these rules and it’s hurting the defensive guys more than the offensive. I’m sure the quarterbacks are grateful because they’re not getting smacked as bad. They’re bigger, faster and stronger now and that’s the No. 1 thing. You get a guy 330 pounds who can run a 4.8 40 and that’s insane. It’s the size and speed and you add those to equal force.”

The NFL is starting to take note of the issue in a real way, not just for show, with its new concussions protocols, which have already caused controversy by failing at least once already this season.

“Did they sit out as long as they should have? Probably not,” Moser said. “But again, this was late ’70s early ’80s when I was in the pros. It has come to light in the past decade. They’re making a big deal about it. Getting your bell rung was just part of the game. Everybody did, in a way. If you didn’t it means you didn’t hit. It also depends what position you were playing. Some people are more prone to getting it. It’s not just the equipment, but your physical makeup. Some people can take a lot more hits than another person at the same impact.”

Moser said that eventually “You’re going to have to wear a damn bubble on your head,” asking, “How much can they change the game from before? They’re doing stuff, and they can’t all of a sudden make it a touch football game. People won’t like that. People still like gladiators. It’s part of the game. I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Moser gets mail from the NFL Players Association, a Harvard player’s study and the Concussion Legacy Foundation co-founded by Chris Nowinski with surveys and other information. He did not put his name into the recently settled lawsuit filed by ex-players against the NFL.

“I couldn’t actually fill it out being honest and qualify for that because I would have had to make stuff up,” Moser said. “It asked about memory and things like that and I’m totally fine. Then again in five more years I could be a basket case. Who knows? I could have it. I think I protected myself. I didn’t get dinged enough. I don’t think it did anything permanent. I never get headaches, seriously, maybe once every few years at the most. I’m lucky that way.”

CTE has been diagnosed by Boston University and Dr. Robert Cantu of the Concussion Legacy Foundation in 87 of 91 brains of former NFL players whose families donated the brains for study, mostly under the suspicion that something was wrong towards the end of the ex-players’s lives.

Gifford played for the Giants from 1952-64, well before Moser’s time, but Moser knew him as a Raiders supporter when the Gifford boys played for Scarsdale. He was not surprised to hear of the CTE announcement based on Gifford’s exposure to repeated head trauma during his playing days. While the equipment was not as protective then — though no equipment can prevent the brain from rattling around in the skull — the players were not as big and fast. Then again, Gifford suffered one of the most brutal hits in NFL history that kept him out the entire 1961 season.

The next natural step is getting former players who have no symptoms to donate their brains for study as a comparison and to get truer percentages as to just how prevalent CTE is in former players.

“All the ones who played, I bet 50 percent have some form of that in them,” Moser said. “It depends on genetics, too, and your position. [Gifford] was a running back and a wide receiver. He would make high impact plays. His chance of higher impact collision was great at his position. Obviously kickers will have the least. There’s not many positions besides kickers.”

CTE was discovered in 2002 by Dr. Bennet Omalu, who performed an autopsy on 15-year NFL veteran and 1997 NFL Hall of Famer “Iron” Mike Webster, a former teammate of Moser’s with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Webster was a tortured man towards the end of his life, living in his truck, doing a host of prescription drugs and using a taser on himself. As it turned out, Webster was sick, not an eccentric. In the 13 years since he was diagnosed, the topic of concussions has exploded, with several players who would later be diagnosed with CTE, including Junior Seau, Terry Long, Dave Duerson and Andre Waters, committing suicide. The news of Omalu’s diagnosis of Webster as the first CTE case certainly caught Moser’s attention over a decade ago.

“Webster was the first player that was diagnosed after he was dead with CTE,” Moser said. “We hit hard and they hit hard in practice. It’s the constant hitting they are coming out with now. It doesn’t have to be one big hit. Especially the offensive linemen, the defensive linemen, the constant every single play hit.”

Webster played center, perhaps the most attacked position on the field on a per play basis. Moser called him “the prime example.”

“He took hits to the head every single snap and in practice I remember that the defensive guys after the play would come up to you, grab your head and pull the facemask and pull it as hard as they could and butt their head to yours,” Moser said. “They were playing around with you and showing you they were tough. When you get somebody 260 pounds doing it to you I’m sure it’s not the best thing for you. Even now if you watch players celebrating, like Tom Brady, he head butts and knocks head-to-head with his guys. They used to do it and it’s breaking an old habit you know is not good for you. The whole game is not good for you.”

That statement begged the questions constantly asked of retirees and active players: Would you let your children play tackle football? Moser himself originally played soccer in Heathcote, switching to football in high school.

“Would I want my kid to play football? Probably not. No,” Moser said. “But it depends what position. It can give you an advantage as far as scholarships and it helps with things, especially the higher up you go. But no, I would probably steer them towards track and field and soccer, even though in soccer they get it from heading the ball. And hockey players, too.”

Among the many positives Moser took away from playing football were the feeling of “never wanting to lose,” trying your best and discipline.

“You find out what you’re made of and you find that out in high school,” Moser said. “I remember preseason in high school was about the worst thing in the world, worse than college and worse than pro. Seriously, as far as the conditioning part of it with Ron Bouchier. I’m not saying the hitting, but I remember what we had to do. I remember people would be puking in high school from the conditioning part of it.”

One of the big things Moser remembers about his high school, college and pro career that spanned over a decade, was the constant change in football helmets. He always felt he was properly protected, including wearing a mouthguard.

“When I went to the Steelers I had Lynn Swann and all the receiver guys making fun of me because I had a mouthguard you’d put in boiling water and you’d mold it to your teeth and I had it hanging from my facemask so I didn’t have to hold it,” Moser said. “They used to make fun of me. They had the ones — and not all of them wore them — that didn’t have a strap on it, so they had to take it in and out with their hands, but stickum was legal back then, the sap you put on your hands to give you grip. I had that all over my hands. I wasn’t going to get that [stuff] in my mouth.”

Moser nearly walked away from the NFL. In his first training camp he went to coach Dick Hoak and expressed his opinion that it wasn’t going to work out. Hoak convinced him to stay and it worked out for Moser, who then almost didn’t get his five years in the league and NFL pension. His third year in 1980 he broke his collarbone in the first preseason game and was on injured reserve for a year. He then played for Don Shula in Miami in 1981. He arranged to be waived the next year. He was picked up by the Oakland Raiders and cut. The Chiefs called and he opted to return to the NFL, giving up a role in Tom Cruise’s first movie, “Losin’ It.” When Cliff Stoudt got injured, Moser returned to the Steelers.

Yes, Moser was also an actor. From 1980-1993, Moser’s TV and film credits are “Fighting Back: The Story of Rocky Bleier,” “Lovely But Deadly,” “B.J. and the Bear,” “Mr. Merlin,” “Diff’rent Strokes,” “The Facts of Life,” “Everybody’s All-American,” “She’s the Sheriff,” “1st & Ten: The Championship” and “Dazed and Confused.”

“Concussion,” a movie which tells the story of Omalu’s battle to get the NFL to listen to him about the CTE problem, stars Will Smith and hit theaters Christmas Day.

“I’m curious,” Moser said. “Hollywood and the sports community, because they’re both entertainment, don’t want to pick on the other too bad. I like Will Smith, so I will see it. But I’ll wait for HBO.”

No rush when you already know how that one begins and ends.


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of The Scarsdale Inquirer. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

 

December 31, 2015