Over the past two months, I’ve tried to find interesting things for your countdown that are numerically related to the countdown date. Most of the time these have involved superstars, record holders, standouts, players who made era-defining moments and the other plays and games that have been etched into our collective consciousness.
But, what about the regular guys? The ones who barely register in the stat sheet, if at all? The quiet contributors that are readily forgotten, that make up the team, that help win games? The players who go on to become men, raise families, have a career, and make their mark on the world in other ways large and small.
As the NCAA likes to remind us, student-athletes go pro in other things -- this is a stage of their life, not the entirety of it.
This one of those stories.
The 1966 Alabama football team entered the season coming off of back-to-back national titles, and at No. 3 in the AP poll was expected to contend again. In a time of exceptional turmoil, change, and violence the Tide football program was one of the few points of pride for the state. And the ‘66 held a lot of preseason promise: it was a defensive juggernaut; it had a backfield that went a legit eight-deep; it featured a solid receiving corps highlighted by Dennis Homan and All-American team captain Ray Perkins. And it returned an exciting young quarterback, a guy named Kenny Stabler.
With all that firepower, it was easy to overlook one of the Tide’s blocking fullbacks, Harold Moore. A senior out of Chattanooga from a long line of Tennessee fans, Moore always expected he would go to Knoxville and be a Vol. That is until the Bear came to town pay him a visit. He was sold.
On campus in the wild ‘60s, Harold found ways to get in trouble, usually hitting the bars with Stabler or playing pranks with his best friend, fellow running back Frank Canterbury. But, when it came to the gridiron, he was all business.
Moore wasn’t the most physically-gifted specimen by today’s standards. But, measured by Bryant’s undersized speedy teams, he was perfect. Coming in at 6’2” and a shade over 200 pounds, Harold had a job and it was one he loved — hitting people. In Alabama’s pre-wishbone offenses of the late 60s, the Tide frequently platooned backs out of the option with a lead blocker. For many reasons, he is credited as being one of the first innovators of the spread. (Gus Malzahn even adopted part of Bryant’s 1970s wishbone playbooks.)
But, central to that ground-and-pound, win-the-fourth-quarter war of attrition was its lead blocker -- there’s a reason Harold Moore was important to the offense. It’s the same reason that the 1966 team had not just one or two but five fullbacks on the roster. And Moore did it well on both the ground and in the passing game. He even got rewarded with a few tough carries in 1965 (23 att. 56 yds, 1 rec. 22 yds.)
The 1966 season opened with Alabama riding its No. 3 ranking into Legion Field to take on a first-time opponent, the lightly-regarded Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. According to Alabama’s Assistant AD Charley Thornton, the game was only scheduled because "none of the teams we called wanted to play us because of the racial climate. The image of the state was so bad, they didn't want to play in Alabama." That would not prove to be a problem for Tech: they also were a strictly segregated school.
The Bulldogs were led that day by the right arm of Tech’s Phil Robertson, he of Duck Dynasty fame/infamy. And, to La Tech’s credit, they walked in unafraid, and proceeded to throw the ball all over the field on the vaunted ‘Bama D. On a day where the Tide’s defense had its work cut out for it, it turned out that the offense needed to do most of the heavy lifting.
The second half looked to be more of the same, it was late in the 3rd and the Tide were still in a cat fight with Tech, 14-0. But, late in the frame, the Tide’s talent took over. After grinding the Tech defensive front down on the ground with its option attack, with a balanced drive, Alabama found itself on the two-yard line of Louisiana Tech. Stabler handed the ball off to Moore, who picked and powered his way into the end zone for a score. It was 21-0 Alabama and was the first of Moore’s career.
After getting the ball back in the fourth, Stabler hit Homan for a 79-yard strike on busted coverage by Tech, and the Tide were dealing, up 28-0. The Bulldogs were still winging it all over the yard, but a more physical Crimson Tide had found its rhythm. Getting the ball back, Alabama moved the ball at will, both on the ground and in the air. After a 40-yard completion, Alabama was at the Tech four yard line and again Moore would be called to get the carry. He took the handoff and went off the guard and plunged in for the score.
12-0, Harold Moore. They would be the first and last scores of his career.
Alabama won the battle...and ten others that season. Despite finishing 11-0, with one of its most dominating teams of all time, the racially-charged environment in Alabama and the policies of the Wallace administration gave voters a perfect excuse to snub the Tide and split the championship between 10-0-1 Notre Dame and 10-0-1 Michigan State. Much of the rationale provided by those voters centered on this very game -- the best game of Moore’s career would also be one that heavily contributed to the Missing Ring.
As happens, life moved on for Harold. He graduated and decided to give it a go in the NFL. He signed an undrafted free agent contract in 1970 with the St. Louis Cardinals (confusing, I know.) But, injuries from college and the rigors of NFL camp caught up with him and he sustained a severe knee injury.
Again, life would go on. Harold never had a particular dream to be a professional player. His dream was to be a helicopter pilot, a combat pilot. In college he not only participated in college football, he was also ROTC. So, with his options still open to be an officer candidate, he joined the United States Army.
While in the Army, Moore served with distinction and eventually achieved one of his life’s goals: He qualified as a Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter pilot, and then flew combat missions in 1970 and 1971 in Vietnam with the 238th Aerial Weapons Company, “The Gunrunners.” In Vietnam, his aircraft was downed and he was forced to confront the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. Later, he flew the first group of new experimental attack vehicles known as the now-ubiquitous Blackhawk, and he was even short-listed for the abortive embassy hostage mission in Iran. By the time Moore retired he earned a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star.
He and his wife Maragret, and their children Jon and Stevee, lived in Tennessee, Alabama, Germany, and finally in the San Luis Obispo / Monterey region. After retirement, Harold became a security consultant. However, his health diminished rapidly in his late ‘50’s; that is when he developed “dementia,” which his family now recognize as the signs of CTE.
A heart attack took his life on May 25, 2004. He was 59. Margaret, a former beauty queen and educator, was lost. She too passed away, within two years of Harold. Their son Jon is a congressional aide in New Mexico where he lives with his wife and their daughter. Harold and Margaret’s daughter Stevee is the assistant director of sales for the University of Alabama athletics department.
Just a life. Better than some, not as blessed as others.
Every year, Alabama mans a roster of 85 scholarship players. With walk-ons and scout teamers, the “team” is 101-deep. Each one of those players has a story that is yet to be written. We tend to remember the stories that remain static in time, those that have been. But, for them, it’s just another chapter in an ongoing book.
This piece is for them. Have a great life.
42 days ‘til Alabama football.
My special thanks to the Moore family for sharing their story with me. - EJE