Death of a Colt legend's son gives birth to hope for many

April 25, 2002|By Michael Olesker

THEY ARRIVED to honor a son who died too soon, and stayed to celebrate a generation that goes on forever.

Fifteen months ago, Leslie Moore died, at 43, of a disease called scleroderma that wasted his lungs and kidneys and pancreas. Three nights ago, the Baltimore Colt immortal Lenny Moore translated a father's grief, and his love for his son, into a desire to nurture lots of kids in the Baltimore area who need financial help for college.

Nearly a thousand folks arrived Monday evening at Martin's West in Woodlawn. There were out-of-town Hall of Fame football players such as Sam Huff and Rosey Grier and Chuck Bednarik, and the old Morgan State grads Leroy Kelly and Rosey Brown and Willie Lanier.

There were former Colt teammates of Moore's, and politicians such as Tommy Bromwell and Tiger Davis and Nat McFadden who'd grown up cheering the team. And William Donald Schaefer, who'd struggled to bring the new team here. And Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick with some of his players - plus their band, gloriously ending the evening with the old Colts fight song.

And, on big movie screens around the room, there was Lenny Moore with a taped message about his son - because, as he told the crowd, "I know I can get through it this way."

For 10 minutes, he talked about Leslie. "You never think you're going to lose a son or daughter," he said. He talked about a kid who fought through his troubles, a young man always stretching himself, a thinker and a learner, and "our last precious moment with him" in a hospital room watching the Ravens march toward a victory over the Oakland Raiders that put them into the Super Bowl 15 months ago.

But, at 5 o'clock the next morning, said Moore, there came the call from the hospital: They'd done all they could, but Leslie had died during the night.

"I asked myself, `What is there I can do'" to honor Leslie, his father said. "We're only here for so long - but we're here for a purpose. I thought, `What can I give that will make things better?' And the answer was love."

In the aftermath of that moment, Moore and some of his friends established the Leslie Moore Scholarship Foundation, which brought together Monday night's crowd.

They were there to remember Leslie Moore - and, in the process, they kept alive the Baltimore Colts legacy.

"It is astonishing, isn't it?" said Bruce Laird, who arrived here 30 years ago to play defensive back and stuck around. "It's one large extended family that never dies."

He looked around at John Unitas signing autographs, and Raymond Berry remembering that Sudden Death game in '58 when Unitas threw to him 12 times. "After the game," Berry remembered, "I said, `John, you kept throwing to me.'" And the laconic Unitas replied, "Well, I figured you'd catch it."

Then, one by one, the old ballplayers gimped up to a microphone to say a few words. There was Gino Marchetti, 75 now and still built like a municipal statue. Handed the microphone, Gino declared, "What am I supposed to do with this, sing a song? OK." And then he launched into one:

"Everybody goes to Gino's

It was a howler for everybody of a certain age. It took them back to a time when everybody went to Gino's - if they didn't "meetcha at Ameche's," that other chain of hamburger palaces.

After Gino came Bubba Smith. "I just happened to come at a great time - after Gino," said the big guy who succeeded Marchetti at defensive end. "I saw Gino do things nobody could do. I saw him jump over the top of a guy's head. It's impossible. He did it. I tried to do it. I almost broke my back. I wanted to be like Gino. I even bought his food. If I had stayed in Baltimore, I'd have had some Bubbas."

But the evening's good cheer was tempered by sincere tribute. The Rev. Joe Ehrmann, noting Lenny Moore's post-football career working for the state's Department of Juvenile Justice, declared, "Lenny Moore has walked the streets, and been to more funerals of kids, and this city's a better place because Lenny's been among us."

Lydell Mitchell added, "You were a great football player, Lenny - but you're a greater man."

And Artie Donovan said, "Lenny, you're the best I ever saw. I'm serious. And you're a great man."

Also, he's a man who lost a son - but turned his grief into an embrace of every other kid within reach.

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