Looking up to Lenny

His longtime admirers think it's time for a statue of Colts great Lenny Moore

November 21, 2011|Dan Rodricks

Is it time for a statue to Lenny Moore, too? The great man, who played beautiful football for the Colts when they were Baltimore's team, turns 78 this Friday, and his admirers think that's an appropriate time to discuss commissioning a statue and getting on with a permanent public tribute.

The idea would be a bronzed likeness of Mr. Moore, his big right hand cupped around a football held close to his side as he makes one of those great runs — usually after snaring a pass from Johnny Unitas — that live in the memory of so many Baltimoreans who cheered for the Colts in the stadium now gone from 33rd Street. You can see the moment, with Mr. Moore's left hand warding off a tackler as makes a sudden cut for extra yards. The upper portion of his cleats are wrapped in the trademark white tape that led fans and sportswriters to call him "Spats."

It would seem fitting to place this statue in the plaza outside M&T Bank Stadium, a partner to the large bronze of Mr. Unitas that was commissioned by the Ravens and a decade ago.

Other sports legends have been honored in bronze in this town. Baltimore-born Babe Ruth stands at the entrance to Camden Yards. A 9-foot-tall Brooks Robinson, commissioned by the former Crown Central Petroleum CEO Henry Rosenberg, went up last month on the city-owned plaza between Washington Boulevard and Russell Street, across from Oriole Park. In addition, the Orioles just announced the commissioning of another statue of Brooks, along with statues of four other Hall of Famers who played for the Birds — Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr. and Jim Palmer — as well as manager Earl Weaver. Those statues, slated for dedication in 2012, the 20th anniversary year of Oriole Park, will stand in an area beyond the bullpens in left-center field.

So, that's a lot of bronze.

And here comes Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, longtime community activist and former head of the Baltimore NAACP, to say it's time for one more.

Here's how Lenny Moore's career is summarized at the NFL Hall of Fame in Ohio: "Rookie of Year, 1956 … Started as a flanker, moved to running back in 1961 … Amassed 12,451 combined net yards; 5,174 yards rushing; 363 receptions for 6,039 yards … Scored 113 TDs, 678 points … All-NFL five years … Played in seven Pro Bowls … NFL Player of the Year and Comeback Player of Year, 1964 … Scored touchdowns in record 18 straight games, 1963-1965."

Lenny Moore was a key player in the Colts' long and happy run of winning seasons, including the two NFL championships of 1958 and 1959. In 1964, the year he came back from a season of injuries, he scored 20 touchdowns and the Colts won their division.

That's the football part of the story, and only part of the reason Mr. Cheatham would like to see a permanent tribute to Mr. Moore in his adopted hometown. "Lenny Moore is even more an MVP with his community service," he says. "Much of his work is quietly done behind the scenes. Mr. Moore constantly speaks with students, serves as honorary co-chair for just about every cause one can think of. He's constantly sharing with students how to endure and accomplish despite discrimination and injustice."

Mr. Moore worked for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, helping kids in trouble. He's a past president of the Ed Block Courage Awards, an annual event that raises funds to support abused children in NFL cities.

In 2001, Lenny Moore's son, Leslie, died at the age of 43 of a chronic disease called scleroderma. His father established a foundation and scholarship fund in Leslie Moore's name. A year later, several retired Colts attended the first fundraiser for the foundation, including one of Mr. Moore's successors at running back. "You were a great football player, Lenny," said Lydell Mitchell, "but you're a greater man."

So Doc Cheatham is going to have a meeting to discuss a statue this Friday at 11:30 a.m. at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum on North Avenue. But don't get the wrong idea; he's talking bronze, not wax. "John Unitas assuredly deserved a statue," Mr. Cheatham says. "And Brooks Robinson is more than deserving. But so is Lenny Moore."

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday on WYPR FM. His email is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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