Family's loss, father's pain

Lenny Moore: While he gives thanks for a final football moment spent with his son, Les Moore's fatal fight against scleroderma has made this a somber time for the former Colts great.

Pro Football

March 06, 2001|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

They watched the Ravens' football playoffs together, muffling their whoops in the hush of a hospital. Les Moore lay propped in bed in the critical care wing, more mindful of the TV than the IV in his arm. Beside him sat his father, Lenny, the Colts' Hall of Famer.

Finally, things appeared to be looking up. Baltimore led Oakland by seven ... 10 ... 13 points. As the Ravens neared victory, Les looked more alert. Forgotten, for a moment, was his nine-year struggle with a chronic illness. Les sipped juice, ate mashed potatoes, urged the team on.

Then, the Ravens won.

"Man, we're going to the Super Bowl!" Les exclaimed, grasping his father's hand. "It's Baltimore and New York in the championship again."

That was the last time Lenny Moore would see a football game with his son.

Les died before dawn.

At 43, he had battled for nearly a decade against scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease in which the body attacks itself. On his last night, a roomful of relatives gathered around him to watch the game.

"That Sunday was tonic for us all," Lenny said. "It was a happy, happy moment - one of the main remembrances of Les that we have."

The former Colt replays those last moments, when things looked hopeful, the Ravens were destiny's team and even the nurses wore purple.

These are sobering times for Lenny Moore, 67, who tonight will officiate at the 23rd annual Ed Block Courage Awards banquet at Martin's West. Moore is president of the Block Foundation, whose fete honors one player from each NFL team who epitomizes a commitment to sportsmanship.

The foundation was named for a former Colts' trainer during Moore's years with the club. In 12 seasons with Baltimore, the elusive back scored 113 touchdowns, gained more than 12,000 yards and led the Colts to NFL titles in 1958 and 1959. He was Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year and a shoo-in for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1975.

But nothing that transpired during his playing days prepared Moore for the grief he has endured of late.

Exactly five weeks after his son died, Lenny's ex-wife succumbed to a stroke. Frances Moore was mother to four of Lenny's five children, including Les, their first-born (Lenny has another son by a previous relationship).

Only days before her death, Frances recalled Les' infancy - and Lenny's first glimpse of his son upon returning from a road trip in 1957.

"Lenny was afraid to hold him at the hospital. He kept saying, `I might break him,' " she remembered. "I said, `Lenny, he's not porcelain.'

"Finally, he took this 7-pound bundle, tucked it into the crook of his arm like a football and started down the hall, like he was headed for the end zone. He was just so proud."

Lenny delighted in showing off Les to friends, said Jim Parker, the Hall of Fame lineman and Moore's roommate on the Colts. "I'd go by his home [in west Baltimore] and he'd be playing with Les in his crib, pinching his cheeks," Parker said. "You couldn't leave until you told Lenny that the baby looked just like him."

Come the off-season, Lenny showed his toddler the town. They perused the stores on North Avenue and played in Druid Hill Park. Sometimes, Lenny took his son to the Colts' training camp in Westminster. "Spats" and his shadow, they called them.

When he was old enough, Les entered McDonogh School, in Owings Mills, where he stayed through seventh grade. He liked football, but loved ice hockey, skating for hours on a frozen pond in Dickeyville, near his home, or at the Civic Center following Baltimore Clippers games.

At Northwestern High, Les played football for the Wildcats, who were Maryland Scholastic Association champions his junior year. Coach Jim Welsch remembered him as "a good, hard-working kid," a special teams player who never sought special treatment.

"I never pushed Les to play," said Lenny, who attended many of his games. "Did he feel pressure from his peers? Sure. They'd say, `Hey man, you gonna wear No. 24?' But he didn't.

"Les wanted to be his own man. He wasn't about coattails."

Lenny saved his son's old football shoes, which he keeps in a closet beside a battered cleat worn by former Colts star Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb, the huge defensive lineman who died of a heroin overdose nearly 40 years ago.

Les himself used illegal drugs after high school during a difficult stretch. He overcame his addiction with help from his family and went on to use his experience to caution others.

Lenny, now a juvenile justice program specialist with the State Department of Education, takes pride in describing how Les once accompanied him to address troubled teens - and tried to turn young lives around.

"He spoke freely about what drugs he'd taken, what they tasted like and their chemical breakdowns," Lenny recounted. "He told them what it felt like to get high, using street vernacular, and how `you'll never quite get to that little light at the end of the tunnel - or back to where you were when you started [using].'

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