By Sean Yoes
AFRO Baltimore Editor
I never saw Lenny Moore play football. But, it was my dad who passed down the legend of Lenny Moore to me.
My dad told me nobody actually knew just how fast Moore was, because he just ran fast enough for nobody to catch him.
And apparently, nobody ever did on the gridiron.
It is a sentiment shared by many, including Pastor P.M. Smith of Huber Memorial Church in Northeast Baltimore. “Lenny Moore revolutionized the whole game of football,” said Smith, referencing Moore’s transition from a pure halfback to the slot receiver position.
Indeed, Moore was a revolutionary offensive weapon during the golden era of the NFL. In fact, I have argued after Jim Brown and Gayle Sayers, he was the third greatest halfback in the league’s history. Yet, one of the most iconic images in NFL lore is symbolic of Moore in his greatest role in life after football.
In what many still call “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” the Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants 23-17, at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to win the 1958 world championship. It was the NFL’s first sudden-death overtime playoff game.
The prodigious struggle ended when Alan “The Horse” Ameche took the hand off from Johnny Unitas and plunged into the end zone. But, it was Moore, the lightning fast halfback known as “Spats,” ( because of the white tape he wrapped around his black cleats), who laid down the block that opened up the hole for Ameche to score the touchdown and secure the epic victory for Baltimore.
That image of Moore on the ground, sacrificing himself for the team and the win is the perfect distillation of Moore as the selfless public servant in his life after football. And he has scored countless epic victories for Baltimore after his playing days were over.
For decades, Moore has been the man to go to when you had to raise money for a good cause, or you needed a sparkling role model to inspire young people, or you needed a good man to deliver a good word to a group struggling to do the right thing in the community.
As great as he was on the field, the consensus is he was even greater off of it.
Now, after Moore recently buried his beloved wife Edith he faces the dusk of his life without her at age 86. Smith, who has known Moore and his late wife for decades (he grew up with her sons from a previous marriage, and the boys attended the Chick Webb Recreation Center together from 1958-1963), delivered some hard truths about the living legend after he spoke at Mrs. Moore’s funeral.
Smith described Moore as “a broken man,” as he witnessed him cling to his wife’s casket (please see Mrs. Moore’s obit also in the AFRO’s Baltimore section). He believes Moore is also in the beginning stages of dementia.
So, now is the time for Baltimore to wrap its arms around the man who sacrificed himself for so many, for so long.
For years, there has been talk of honoring Moore with a statue and a task force has been created to make that aspiration a reality. The group, originally formed by long-time community leader Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, is now being led by former Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes. There are other influential Baltimoreans who are part of the effort including defense attorney Billy Murphy, as well as community liaison and former AFRO reporter Tony White, among others. For the sake of full disclosure, I am honored to have also been tapped to join the effort to honor Moore.
Although the coronavirus pandemic has brought the country and the world to a standstill, we must find a way to fulfill our mission of erecting a statue in Moore’s honor. I can think of no person in Baltimore more deserving of such an accolade. But, we have to act now. And what we need now more than anything is for an individual or an organization to underwrite the costs of building a statue in Moore’s honor. In other words, we need somebody to write a check.
Nobody ever caught up to Lenny Moore on the football field. But, like all of us, even titans like Moore, time and death eventually catch up with us all.
We need to give him his flowers now.
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.