Ahmad Rashad might have been too good at the broadcasting thing
The former Duck is best friends with Michael Jordan, busy as ever and kind of proud that some people don't know he played football
(Rashad with Ty Burrell and Joey Harrington at the 2015 Rose Bowl. Tyson Alger/The I-5 Corridor)
Ahmad Rashad doesn’t remotely look his age.
This isn’t written with direct knowledge. While The I-5 Corridor spoke with the former Oregon running back and receiver last week, it was over the phone — not Zoom. But the confidence in the lede is backed up from the fact that at 71 years old, it’s still nearly impossible to not have Rashad come across a screen these days.
On Wednesday of last week, cameras caught him in the second row with good pal Michael Jordan at Derek Jeter’s Cooperstown induction. On Saturday, he hosted the broadcast as Chris Bosh and Paul Pierce were enshrined in the basketball hall of fame. He still works for the NBA. He’s a consultant for the Knicks and occasionally has golf outings that require secret service detail. Tug of Words, his new show on Game Show Network, premieres in November.
“The quest is for happiness,” he said from his hotel in Indiana last week before the basketball ceremony. “And I’d have to say, I’ve been really happy my whole life. I feel really blessed about that. It’s just one of those things that when you start to get around 70, you peek backwards. You don’t live back there, but there are times you look back at a chapter and just see how it was.
“But then you have to make sure you keep moving on.”
The football chapter can get dwarfed by the fame he achieved in front of a camera. He was an All-American at Oregon and a four-time Pro Bowler with the Minnesota Vikings. Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike and UO alum, once called him “one of the greatest athletes in the history of Oregon.”
“Bill Bowerman, my track coach and co-founder of Nike, made a big pitch to Ahmad to become a decathlete,” Knight said at an NBA event with Rashad a few years ago. “And Ahmad said, ‘How many events is that? Which is why he decided to concentrate on football.”
Rashad had a coach at Oregon in Jerry Frei who preached balance to his players. Football was important, yes, but it wasn’t everything. With that, even as he became one of the 50 best Vikings of all time, Rashad moonlit at the Minneapolis CBS station preparing for his next chapter.
“After every game I had a show that night,” Rashad said. “I had to host, and I got a chance to write and produce and all those sorts of things. So by the time I got to network television, people who saw me we’re like, ‘That guy’s a natural.’ What they didn’t know is that I'd already been doing it for five years.”
Rashad retired from the NFL in 1982, joined NBC in 1983 and saw his career as a broadcaster skyrocket when the network paid $600 million for NBA rights in 1989. NBA commissioner David Stern chose Rashad to host the new weekly show, NBA Inside Stuff, whose premier coincided with the rise of Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
“It didn’t hurt that my best friend was the best player in basketball and every Sunday he was on our network,” Rashad said. “Inside Stuff was all basketball. That was all about the NBA and we did it so well that I think people forgot that I played for the Vikings and played NFL football…It’s kind of weird, but I’m also very proud I was able to do the job that well. But shoot, my Duck days and my Viking days are right up front now.”
The Ducks hold a special spot for Rashad. He was born Bobby Moore in Portland in 1949, and while he moved to Washington and played his high school ball at Mount Tahoma in Tacoma, he was drawn to Eugene for college.
“It was something about the uniforms,” he said. “Everybody else liked the University of Washington and I liked Oregon. I was just really determined that that’s where I was going to end up.”
Rashad’s Ducks never won a conference championship, but he was a transformative athlete — he led the Pac-8 in scoring from two different positions — on a transformative team — UO featured a future hall of fame quarterback in Dan Fouts, a future first-round pick in tackle Tom Drougas and another future NFL receiver in the recently-passed Bob Newland — during a transformative time for the university.
His career began in 1969, and later Rashad found that kind of funny when he was asked to participate in the 2015 Nike Oregon “Shout” commercial, which featured iconic players from Oregon’s past recreating the Toga dance party scene from Animal House.
“Me being in that commercial, I mean, that was when I was at Oregon. That’s the way it was in Eugene,” he said. “That was my Eugene. My Eugene was full of hippies. It was a very liberal university. It was a place where we had a coach in Jerry Frei that allowed us to say something if we had something to say.
“I remember a time Dow Chemical came on campus to try and recruit and we had about nine or 10 guys that wanted to go protest and try to get them off campus. And coach let them go. He was fine with them missing practice because he was more interested in building human beings than football. He was really into the football part, but you still had to become a working part of society.”
He sees parallels in current Oregon coach Mario Cristobal.
“I think he’s really one of these guys that’s a tremendous leader and makes a big impact on his players,” Rashad said. “I’m telling you, I love that guy. If I had a son that was playing football, I’d send him out there to play for Mario.”
Frei, of course, never won like Cristobal. It makes for good fodder for Rashad when ribbing Jordan about their alma maters — “North Carolina isn’t even better than Oregon at basketball anymore” — and his golf bag is embroidered with “Big Duck” on the side.
His latest encounter with good fortune was the 12 p.m. EST kickoff on Saturday, which allowed Rashad to watch UO’s upset of No. 3 Ohio State in his hotel room before commencing his evening hosting duties. He’s made some good friends over the years, such as actor Ty Burrell from Modern Family, based solely on their shared collegiate experience and ability to say Oregon the correct way.
“They say, ‘Ory-Gone’ out here.”
It’s not the biggest club, but it’s meaningful to him. And it’s why when you walk into his home in Florida, one of the few pieces of athletic memorabilia from his career on display is the 1995 Pioneer Trophy, given to the University of Oregon’s top alumnus.
Maybe that’s why, Rashad said, he remembers one time his daughter came home from school with a question.
“She’s about 12 and she goes, ‘There’s a kid in my class who wants your autograph and says you played football. Did you?’
“And when I quit playing football my goal was to take my next job and do it so well that people forgot that I played football. I might have done it too well.”
— Tyson Alger