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Saturday, August 5, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A once-in-a-lifetime party for the Moons in Canton

Seattle Times staff reporter

Today on TV: Induction ceremony, 10 a.m., ESPN

CANTON, Ohio — His college roommate, Clyde Walker, left Seattle a little bit before midnight on Thursday.

His mother-in-law, Bonnie Ritter, departed Minneapolis not too long after that for a 14-hour drive.

His aunt Mary Kilpatrick left Atlanta on Friday morning.

Those three shared more than just a destination this week. They were together on Warren Moon's guest list, three of the 330 people he has brought to watch his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame today.

His career stretched across three decades and two countries, so it's only fitting his crowning achievement would pull people together from all parts of the country. They came together after red-eye flights and interstate drives and formed a guest list so large it required three assistants and two hotels to accommodate it.

"Getting ready for this thing is like putting together a reunion, a family reunion, a wedding, an induction ceremony, all at the same time," Moon said.

On Friday afternoon, there was a news conference for the six people to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Moon was the last of the six to arrive.

"That's only because I am worried about making arrangements for everyone, trying to get everybody where they need to be," he said.

That's a full-time job this weekend.

His mother arrived on Thursday. His coach from Canada, Hugh Campbell. College friends from Seattle. There is family from Atlanta, Ohio, California. They've all come to this 200-year-old town that has 80,000 residents and hosts the highest honor a professional football player can receive.

"You do have all these people that you want to include in this special weekend," Moon said. "Because all these people have passed through your life and had something to do with your career."

Glenn Taylor is Moon's friend from the University of Washington. He lives in Federal Way, but has been fighting prostate cancer the last seven months. This was the first trip he made in that time, coming with his son, Elliott. Their red-eye flight landed before 7 on Friday morning.

"I couldn't miss this," Taylor said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance."

And it has been full of once-in-a-lifetime encounters.

Like that of Walker, Moon's college roommate, who arrived just before noon after flying all night and still hadn't slept by the time he reached Canton's Civic Center for Friday night's dinner to honor the enshrinees. Walker came down the hallway of his hotel and complimented another guest on the sharp suit he was wearing. Turned out he was the driver of John Madden's luxury bus.

"I told him, 'You're not a bus driver, you're a pilot,' " Walker joked.

Ritter didn't need a pilot to get to town. She left Minneapolis at about 2 on Friday morning in a minivan with her husband, her parents and her son. They drove straight through to reach town in time for Friday's dinner.

She first met Moon about three years ago. Before Moon proposed to her daughter, Mandy, he called to ask her permission.

"He was very gallant," Ritter said. "He wanted to do it in person, but the ring was burning a hole in his pocket."

The wedding was last summer in Hawaii. So in a 14-month span Moon has had a marriage in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and a spot on center stage at football's greatest shrine with his family gathered to watch.

"It has been quite a year," Ritter said.

Allan Kilpatrick, Moon's cousin, came from Atlanta along with his mother, Mary, and two of his older siblings. Allan lived with Warren while he attended Texas Southern. Moon was playing for the Houston Oilers then, and was true to his Scorpio nature, said Kilpatrick.

"Strict and tight," he said.

There was a time that Moon's car was having difficulty starting. He asked Kilpatrick to drive it down to a nearby garage, keep it running and ask a mechanic to take a look. Moon gave him $20 in case the mechanic charged. When the mechanic didn't charge, Moon made sure to ask for his money back.

Shopping for Felicia, Moon's first wife, was easier. She would give Kilpatrick a shopping list and cash, sometimes giving him $100 to go out and buy about $20 of groceries.

"She would say, 'Keep the change, but don't tell Warren,' " Allan said.

Another cousin of Moon's, Linda Hardy, is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who lives in Virginia Beach, Va., and flew in with her sister and her niece.

Christopher Fomby, 35, was one of the only family members who didn't have far to travel. Moon's cousin is from Cleveland, where he had a cookout on Thursday and has been putting the rollaway couch to good use to host family members.

Fomby is a Browns fan, and the only time he can remember rooting against his team is when he cheered for his cousin.

There are plenty of people in Ohio who are rooting for Moon on a weekend when there's simply not enough time. Not in today's induction ceremony, when he will have 8 minutes to recount 23 years of football. Not this weekend, when he has three days to try to spend time with a lifetime's worth of friends and family.

"Just trying to shake everybody's hand here is going to be tough, give them a hug," he said.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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