Tomlinson's bid scores for Moore

Charger's pursuit of 40-year-old TD record puts Hall of Fame career back in spotlight

October 23, 2005|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN REPORTER

Back in the day - before Walter Payton rocked, Barry Sanders wriggled, Emmitt Smith rolled or ESPN dominated - Lenny Moore was special.

Hall of Fame special.

But when Moore turned the lights out in 1968 on an electric 12-year NFL career with the Baltimore Colts, he vanished into the darkness. Since that time, we've caught only flashes of him here and there.

Yes, he spent a year broadcasting NFL games on CBS. But he also spent two years hawking the all-volunteer Army. And he held a low-profile community relations job with the Colts, right to their bitter end in Baltimore.

But really, whatever happened to the man who helped usher in a new dynamic breed of halfback in the late 1950s? Whatever happened to "Spats," the almost elegant flanker in the blue-trimmed No. 24 jersey who made the hardest catches look routine and touchdowns look cheap?

Out of the limelight for decades, Moore is back now for a long-overdue, well-deserved cameo. Yesterday's hero is in the news because his NFL record of 18 consecutive games scoring at least one touchdown might be eclipsed today in Philadelphia when LaDainian Tomlinson, a modern-day Moore, leads the San Diego Chargers against the Eagles.

"It's probably more publicity than I've ever gotten," Moore said. "Before, I never heard anything. ... Now, I'm hearing something. Not bad. It's not bad to have your name out there."

For that, Moore, 71, can thank Tomlinson, 26, with whom he currently shares the touchdown record. Tomlinson would do well to remember the legacy Moore left as a brilliant playmaker on one of the NFL's most famous teams, the Colts of Johnny Unitas.

He apparently does.

"It's definitely a great record," Tomlinson said during a national conference call last week. "Any record that's held by a Hall of Famer like Lenny Moore, you have to be proud of it. And since Lenny Moore, no one has been able to touch it for 40 years. So it's something to be proud and happy about."

Tomlinson, in his fifth year with the Chargers, already is being touted as the best player in the NFL. He has been favorably compared with the best backs in league history.

It's a list that includes Jim Brown, O. J. Simpson, Gale Sayers, Eric Dickerson and Sanders, all of whom were in the discussion when Smith broke Payton's all-time rushing record in 2002. But curiously there was no Moore.

That's a travesty in the mind of Ernie Accorsi, general manager of the New York Giants and one of the league's unofficial historians.

"This is going to sound like a preposterous statement since he is in the Hall of Fame," Accorsi said, "but in my opinion, Lenny Moore is the most underrated halfback in the history of the National Football League.

"There was nothing he couldn't do. He could have made the Hall of Fame as a wide receiver. He was big. No one knew how fast he was, but he was never, ever caught from behind. He could run with power, and he had his biggest plays at the biggest moments."

Accorsi's passion for the Colts grew out of watching those powerful Colts teams. In 1970, he joined the team as director of public relations. Today, Accorsi ranks his top three all-time running backs, in order, as Brown, Sayers and Moore.

"And I have Moore and Sayers virtually tied," he said. "I don't want to hear about Sanders, Payton, Simpson, any of the other ones. Class of their own."

Moore appreciates Accorsi's consideration, but said he doesn't rank or compare runners.

"I personally felt if I were to go up against anyone, I wouldn't let anyone beat me out," Moore said. "That was the attitude I had. If I had to compete against any of the names you mentioned, they would not beat me out. That was the confidence I had."

Moore's career, stretching from 1956 to 1967, was a montage of big plays, long touchdowns and the ability to deliver in the clutch.

His 70-yard touchdown run in the 10th game of the celebrated 1958 season enabled the Colts to come back from a 27-7 halftime deficit against the San Francisco 49ers and clinch the division title. In the famed overtime championship victory over the New York Giants a month later, he had six catches for 101 yards, including a 60-yard catch-and-run.

In a Baltimore repeat in the 1959 championship, he had three catches for 126 yards, with a dazzling 59-yard touchdown on the first series.

During the 1960 season, he made one of the most memorable catches ever in a loss to the Detroit Lions at Memorial Stadium. Late in the game, Moore ran a pattern to the right corner of the end zone at the tight, closed end of the stadium.

Unitas flung a perfect pass and a diving Moore was parallel to the ground with his arms outstretched when the ball landed on his fingertips. Tapping his feet inbounds gave him a touchdown. Incredibly, the Colts lost the game in the closing seconds when two defensive backs collided and gave up a long touchdown.

"How did I catch that ball against Detroit? I don't know," Moore said. "I reached out for it and it stuck. Nothing but [God] caused that. You don't practice those kinds of catches."

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