His eyes are fixed as always on players, and this particular day, on a bunch of college stars with aspirations of joining him in the NFL.
Tom Moore has been in this league for what qualifies as forever, since 1977 when he became the Pittsburgh Steelers’ receivers coach. So while other 76-year-old men are just glad to be alive and taking it easy, Moore is sitting on steel bleachers on Jan. 22 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.
Nothing has changed for the former longtime Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator, who has always been quick to remind, “It’s about the players.” This day, he’s checking them out at a practice two days before the 66th Reese’s Senior Bowl.
“I’m going to go until nobody will hire me, which means I’m never going to quit. I just can’t get a job,” Moore said. “As long as I can get a job, I’m going to do it.”
Moore’s 38-year NFL adventure has taken him from the Steelers to the Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, the Colts, the New York Jets, the Tennessee Titans and since 2013 the Arizona Cardinals with old friend and head coach Bruce Arians.
Yeah, he defines true lifer. On Monday, Moore was named a recipient of the Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award given by the Professional Football Writers of America. The honor recognizes lifetime achievement by an NFL assistant coach and is named after the former Sports Illustrated NFL writer of 29 years.
“Yeah, it’s fun,” Moore said back in January. “If I would have retired when people think you’re supposed to retire, I would have missed two Super Bowls. And I would have missed all the excitement we had playing last year. I didn’t want to miss all that.”
“And do what?” Moore said with amusement. “Hang around old people?”
Get serious. Even when this man was serving his country for two years in the U.S. Army in 1963 and 1964, he was coaching a division team in Korea and a post team in Fort Benning, Ga. As long as Moore can take a breath, he’ll impart wisdom on football players.
“It’s not old school,” he clarifies. “It’s the right school.”
He’s won three Super Bowl rings, the first two with the Steelers as a receivers coach in 1978 and 1979, and a third with the Colts in 2006. He spent 13 seasons with the Colts from 1998 to 2010. He was also with the Steelers for 13 seasons from 1977 to 1989.
Moore reflects fondly on his time with both AFC teams.
His stay with Indianapolis was during the glory years of quarterback Peyton Manning. That’s when Indy took a significant step as an NFL city.
“It’s one of those towns where I probably wouldn’t go there to find a job, but if your job sends you there, it’s a great town to live in,” he said of Indianapolis.
“Yeah, I had a great run. It was a great place to live in. It was fun to see it grow. I remember the first game we played against Miami, we had about 43,000 there. There were more Dolphins jerseys. To see it grow from a basketball state to a football state was fun.”
Now he comes back to Indy for the annual NFL Scouting Combine and sees cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium, nicknamed “The House That Peyton Built.”
“And they should call it that,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
He laughs at the joke it’s not the “House That Tom Moore Built.”
“It’s players,” he said, with a gravely chuckle. “I told you that a long time ago. We went through that discussion several years ago.”
In that previous interview while with the Colts, he repeated, “It’s all about the players” a half dozen times.
That’s Moore. He’s not looking for credit. He loves the game and just wants to stay involved.
His wife, Emily, doesn’t mind. She knows who she married.
“You can get over being lonely, but you’ll die of starvation,” Moore said. “You’ve got to work to make money.
“I’m having a ball. I’m living the dream.”
Then he mentioned the first of several memorable quotes from retired Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy.
“It’s like Marv Levy says, ‘Where would you rather be than right here, right now?”
His time with the Steelers couldn’t have been more special. And what a great job to land. As receivers coach, he coached Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, among others.
“They had great players,” Moore said of the Steelers. “Nine players, a head coach and the owner are all in the Hall of Fame.
“How about this one? The 1974 draft. Swann is the first pick. (Jack) Lambert is the second pick. We didn’t have a third pick. Stallworth is the fourth pick. (Mike) Webster is the fifth pick. And all four are in the Hall of Fame.”
The entertaining observations continue when asked what it was about football that resonated so deeply.
“Competition. The games are fun,” he said. “I tell those young guys, I’ve never smoked that stuff you smoke, I’ve never snorted that stuff you snort, I’ve never shot that stuff you guys shoot. But if it’s any better than Sunday at 1 o’clock, that’s powerful stuff. Sunday at 1 o’clock is powerful.”
He insists the game hasn’t changed as much as everyone says over four decades, that it’s still about blocking and tackling, fundamentals and techniques.
Moore mentions a couple other Levy quotes when talking about the media attention shown today’s NFL.
“Marv Levy had two of the greatest lines going. The people in the media world always want to talk about must wins. This is a must win and that’s a must win,” Moore said. “Marv told me one time, ‘There was only one must win, and that was the second World War.’ And then, ‘You know what the second World War taught us? You better be able to win on the road.’”
Levy, 89, spoke from experience. He served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.
Moore’s Super Bowl rings are stashed away, rarely seen on his fingers.
“I don’t wear ‘em unless I’m with the team I earned them with. If we win one in Arizona, I’ll wear the ring,” he said. “It’s what it stands for. It’s not the ring itself. It stands for you were the very best at your profession.”
Moore qualifies, as Monday’s award attests. Just don’t expect him to accept much credit for his life’s work. Remember, it still and always will be about the players.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.