Memories Of Being With Mal Moore
During the course of the evening I asked Ronny Robertson, senior associate athletics director, if I could hitch a cab ride with him to the alumni affair.
Ronny instructed me to rendezvous in front of the hotel at a designated time. I presumed he received permission from Coach Moore to honor my request and provide that courtesy. To my surprise as I approached the curbside, a stretch limousine -- not a yellow cab, -- was the mode of transportation waiting to carry the Alabama contingent to the next engagement.
Coach Moore; his daughter Heather and son-in-law Steve; Ronny and his wife Sue; former Alabama and New York Jets quarterback Richard Todd; along with a few others snuggly fit in the fashionable modern day version of a Manhattan chariot.
My seat location in the vehicle was in the very back sitting comfortably should-to-shoulder with Coach Moore. The 12-block ride was enough to soak up the memorable moment with the gracious and powerful leader of Alabama athletics. After arriving at the function, he proceeded to update the chapter on the state of the university's athletic programs and socialize with the crowd.
Coach Moore was always happy to rekindle relationships with former players at these types of events. Curtis McGriff, Robbie Lee Jones, Johnny Lee Davis and other Tide players living in the area recounted stories with their beloved assistant coach.
Flash forward three years later and Moore is named the 2012 recipient of the John L. Toner Award for "having demonstrated superior administrative abilities and shown outstanding dedication to college athletics, and particularly college football." Thirty years ago ESPN was the sole 24-hour sports network available nationally to viewers. In the aftermath of Coach Bryant's death, they aired a special program with George Grande as the host honoring the esteemed gridiron giant. The special studio guest selected to reflect the historical legacy was none other than Toner, former University of Connecticut Director of Athletics and NCAA President (1983-85).
Coach Moore's daughter, Heather, urged me to convey the story linking the trio to her Dad. When reminded of the uncanny coincidence during a November 2012 telephone conversation with Toner, he replied, "It's a small world."
He recalled meeting Moore professionally years ago. Toner expressed intentions to be in New York for the presentation of the award, but was unable to attend the National Football Foundation December 4 press conference and subsequent banquet that evening due to an injury suffered from a fall at a Connecticut football game the prior weekend.
Moore had enthusiastically anticipated getting acquainted with the namesake of the award. Toner confirmed in a telephone conversation that day the reason for his absence and implored me to pass on his telephone number to Moore which I did. Whether the communication between the two ever occurred, I do not know.
We had a chance to sit down for a one-one-one interview that morning in the Empire Room of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel after the National Football Foundation Annual Awards press conference. Raised by a South Alabama country boy myself, I always felt at ease around the Crenshaw County native. Moore was courteous, quick witted and candid with answers during the exchange. He explained all pending problems were viewed through a hounds tooth shaded prism of parameters set forth by his mentor as the ingrained philosophies of Bryant shadowed every decision.
The sun never set a single day without him thinking of his former coach. "I think Coach Bryant would be so proud of where The University is today," Moore said. "He would be so proud of Nick Saban," said Moore in the December interview.
Any praise directed at him was always deflected to recognize the collective efforts of the players, coaches and administrative staff. His career achievements caused him to ascend to the pantheon of legendary names associated with The University of Alabama. He never forgot his humble beginnings in Dozier, Alabama.
"You don't have any idea how far. That's just what America is all about. You have an opportunity in your life and good things can happen. I'm certainly one of those," said Moore. "I had a great mother and father, great family life. We lived on a farm and worked every day. I never dreamed I would be here."
Lucky for Alabama the reality surpassed the dream. Paul Bryant's maxim repeated to his players was "always show your class." Mal Moore, the true Southern gentleman, personified class to the very end.
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