A boy who loved football, an ex-Colt who cared Ball given to shooting victim's family

November 09, 1993|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

Ten-year-old Tauris Johnson loved throwing a football on the street outside his East Baltimore home. Today, his family will bury him with one.

But his father must make a choice between the football he was playing with when he was gunned down five days ago and a cherished ball donated to his memory yesterday by Baltimore Colts Hall of Famer Lenny Moore.

"We don't know which ball he should be buried with. They both mean a lot to us," said the boy's father, William Morton. "It's something I'll have to decide soon."

Tauris was hit near his home by a stray bullet about 6 p.m. Thursday during a gun battle on the sidewalk near East Oliver and Regester streets between a pedestrian and several men in a black Ford Escort. Police are still looking for the gunmen.

Tauris dreamed of becoming a professional football player and often played street football with friends in his neighborhood, his father said.

Mr. Moore decided to give the ball to the family after Tauris' aunt called him and asked if there was anything he could do for "a fTC young boy who loved football" and died playing it.

Mr. Moore, a running back for the Colts from 1956 to 1967, went to Tauris' home yesterday and gave the family one of the National Football League game footballs he has kept for more than 25 years at his Randallstown home.

"It's an actual game ball that was awarded to me in the locker room after one of the games," said Mr. Moore, 59. "I have several of them from all the years I've played. I cherish them, and I thought it would be something the family would cherish, too."

Mr. Moore autographed the ball, as did another former Colts star, Jim Parker. The ball had its place amid the flowers yesterday underneath Tauris' coffin during a wake at the Unity Funeral Home on North Avenue.

Tauris was dressed in a white suit matching the color of his coffin.

Playing down the gift, Mr. Moore said, "I gave several of the balls away over the years. Sometimes I give them to people with serious illnesses. I wish I'd known the boy before he died. It would have been nice if I could have given it to him while he was alive."

The ball was nevertheless a meaningful gesture for Tauris' family, many of whom are avid sports fans and remember Mr. Moore from his glory days.

"He came to the house and said he felt sympathy for [Tauris] because he died playing football," said Tauris' uncle, Joseph Wiley, who wore a Penn State sweat shirt and a Chicago White Sox cap.

"We talked for about 20 minutes. He really made me feel good. He brought that football because he felt for the people and for the children dying in Baltimore. He did this because he loved children," Mr. Wiley said.

Mr. Wiley, tears clouding his eyes as he looked at Tauris in his coffin, said, "Tauris didn't know who [Mr. Moore] was. He was too young. But he still would have appreciated this. He was a real athletic little dude. Sports meant everything to him."

Mr. Moore said he thanked Tauris' aunt for thinking of him during a time of grief and tragedy.

"It's nice to know people still remember you after all these years and that you can still influence their lives," he said.

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