There’s a tired trope that sports columnists re-visit every November when they need to scratch something out. We tell you what we’re “thankful” for in the world of sports. It’s not particularly fresh, and it’s typically rather self-serving, two of our favorite qualities in this profession.
Obviously, I’m writing this to preface my own “thankful” column. There’s no world in which I’m above such rehashed drivel. But I also preface it this way to tell you that I struggled to actually come up with a direction for my appreciation this Thanksgiving. Actually, the answer was literally right in front of me. I just had to wander out to the Baltimore Ravens’ practice facility in Owings Mills, Md., earlier this month to see it.
Leonard Edward Moore will turn 84 in November. Dec. 17 will mark the 50th anniversary of the last time he stepped on a field as a member of the Baltimore Colts. And yet, when I bumped into him at the Ravens’ facility recently, my face lit up the way I did when I met him for the first time as a 12-year-old.
This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that we’ve had five decades of Lenny Moore here in Baltimore after his playing career was finished.
I spent most of my Saturday mornings in my childhood at a Joppatowne, Md., barbershop owned by a high school friend of my father’s. I didn’t always need a haircut, but that didn’t matter. The haircuts were a nearly irrelevant part of the experience. In fact, I’m not sure that my father wasn’t already bald at this point in his life. I’m nearly certain he was. We went to the barbershop so that my father and I could sit around and shoot the breeze with friends. Or perhaps we were there because my father knew I needed to hear a weekly lesson about Baltimore’s pro football history.
Having been born in 1983, I had no Baltimore Colts memories of my own. Until I was 13, I had no team to support. But sitting in that barbershop every Saturday morning made me feel like football had never left. I distinctly remember — I’m not remotely kidding about this — watching them re-create a Lenny Moore touchdown run. Three or four of the guys acted it out while another played the role of Chuck Thompson, announcing the play. The group celebrated as if Moore was actually still patrolling the Memorial Stadium field to that day (which if my memory serves me was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1993).
“Watching Lenny Moore run was breathtaking,” my father would tell me. He took me to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and tried to convey to me how special Moore was as we admired his bust.
A few years later, the Ravens had arrived and I wore a Vinny Testaverde jersey on the first day of school. But the first true football memory I have after their arrival is … Lenny Moore. He came to speak at my father’s church. During an intermission I approached him and asked him to autograph my Testaverde jersey. I told him how much my father loved him. Just moments later I watched tears roll down my father’s cheek as he was hugged by that hero of his youth.
That’s what Lenny Moore has meant to Baltimore. After his playing days he spent 26 years working with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services helping at-risk kids. He’s given his time to so many charities and events that it’s far more surprising to attend one and not bump into him.
He’s been an integral part of the relationship between Baltimore’s two pro football franchises, embracing the Ravens early and being regularly present with everything they’ve done. Players who have no understanding that there was ever a “Baltimore Colts” have sought counsel from him.
And there he was, just weeks shy of his 84th birthday, departing the facility just as I was entering. Still approaching others to say hello who may have been intimidated to approach him. Still engaging. Still an absolute light to all whose paths he crossed. Still breathtaking.
So this November, I’m thankful that my father’s football hero became my own football hero. I’m thankful that we’ve had 50 years after retirement of an athlete embracing a new hometown and trying to make it better. This November, I’m thankful for Lenny Moore.
Issue 239: November 2017