By Mike Klingaman
The Baltimore Sun
The photograph hangs in Lenny Moore’s club basement, amid the hundreds of trophies, plaques and keepsakes that chronicle the life of the Baltimore Colts Hall of Fame running back. But few treasures mean as much to Moore as the black-and-white snapshot of him and his mentor, former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, with their arms draped around one another.
Were the two to meet today, Moore said, they would again embrace. Never mind Paterno’s recent dismissal in the wake of child sex abuse charges brought against onetime Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky.
Paterno’s firing was a bum rap, said Moore, who remains fiercely loyal to the man who, as an assistant coach in the mid-1950s, helped shepherd him through a rocky college career. When Moore flunked out of Penn State as a junior, Paterno was among those who helped him see the light.
“What do I think of Joe? Same as before,” Moore said this week. “Penn State made a mistake in axing him.This is eating me to pieces, because I know what Joe is about. He’s a helluva guy who tries to open doors for his players, just like he did for me.”
In the Sandusky case, Moore said, Paterno “did what he was supposed to do — he reported it to the folks above him and then went back to his coaching. It’s not his job to call the cops. And now they’re talking about removing his statue from outside the stadium? C’mon!
“I’m going to call and tell Joe, ‘You’re my man, just like I was your guy when I was there. If there’s anything I can do, well, it’s done, believe me.’ “
It has been a hectic week for Moore, of Randallstown. He has delivered Thanksgiving goodies to dozens of needy families, knocking on doors in East Baltimore and handing turkeys to folks who have no idea that their greying benefactor was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1964.
“That’s not important,” he said. “What matters is bringing families together.”
Moore’s mercurial, high-stepping moves, often elegant and always electric, led the Colts to successive world championships in 1958 and 1959. Five times All-NFL, he once scored touchdowns in 18 straight games, a record that stood for 40 years.
“I’m just trying to keep this body and mind together,” said Moore, who turns 78 on Friday. Married 35 years, he has four children and eight grandchildren. He remains free of the prostate cancer he fought in 2001, the same year that Moore’s son, Les, 43, died of scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease.
Moore retired last year from his job with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services where, for 26 years, he traveled to middle and high schools, mixing and mingling with at-risk children and trying to set them straight.
“It was something I would have done anyway,” he said, “so I figured that I might as well do it and get paid.”
A Ravens fan, he often attends home games and will watch their game with San Francisco Thursday night with heightened interest. It was in a furious 35-27 comeback victory against the 49ers that the Baltimore Colts clinched the Western Division championship in 1958. Moore and his teammates have long claimed that contest was superior to the Colts’ 23-17 sudden-death overtime win against the New York Giants for the title.
“We trailed, 27-7 at halftime,” Moore said. “We were so twisted, we didn’t know what to do. The 49ers had three Hall of Famers in the backfield (quarterback Y.A. Tittle, fullback Joe Perry and halfback Hugh McElhenny). How do you stop those guys?
“But (coach) Weeb Ewbank said, ‘Fellas, we’re not out of this. Defense? Shut them down. Offense? Go to work.’
“When we went back out there, everyone was tuned in, and Johnny (Unitas) went to war.”
Moore did his part, racing 73 yards for a TD in the fourth quarter, a dizzying sprint in which he changed direction three times.
More than half a century later, there’s growing interest among Baltimoreans to honor Moore with a bronze statue. A group of business leaders will meet Friday to discuss it.
Does Moore deserve a sculpture? He hems and haws and stares at the floor.
“If they think I’m worthy of it,” he said.