The NFL has changed a lot in 40 years since the playing days of the 1964 MVP and 1975 NFL Hall of Famer Lenny Moore. During his time with the Baltimore Colts in the 1950’s and 1960’s only a certain number of black athletes were on every NFL team. The NFL was still moving towards equality. During road games, Lenny Moore faced many signs of racial hatred in certain cities and wasn’t allowed to go out on the town because they were mostly all white areas. In his book All Things Being Equal, Lenny Moore touches on the early days of the NFL and a search for equality among everything.
Chris Yandek: First off how are you?
Lenny Moore: “I am doing fine.”
CY: Why do you think it was so hard for you growing up as a teenager to almost ignore college and go play for Penn State University besides the fact no one else in your family had gone to college?
LM: “It wasn’t what you call really hard. It was because I hadn’t really thought about going to college. Like you said earlier, nobody in my family went away to school. The other piece of that was I didn’t see anybody else in my hometown going to college to give me some kind of influence or something like that you might want to think about. I didn’t see any of that. Therefore I thought it was never there. What happened was that my high school coach intervened. Had he not intervened to the measure he intervened, I probably wouldn’t have gone.”
CY: How much did Penn State college coaches Rip Engle and Joe Paterno motivate and help you during your time in college?
LM: “When I first went there during my freshman year the first thing they told me to do was get your curriculum together. Have all your classes set up before you come see us and then we’ll talk football. That’s the way it’s been.”
CY: Your first season in the NFL was in 1956 with the Baltimore Colts and you ended up winning rookie of the year. You say in your book, “For the first time I felt like I belonged, which gave me more motivation to follow up this award winning season to prove to myself that it wasn’t a flush.” When you talk about belonging, are you talking about just on the team or that you finally felt like you belonged in life overall?
LM: “Well, overall on the football field. I guess what would happen is that things were just starting to happen. My thing was am I good enough to make it? Am I good enough to play professionally? I played collegiate ok. Now am I good enough to do it on the professional level? Sometimes that takes one, two, three, or four years. What happened gave me the confidence to know I could belong. From then on my positives became more positives. That’s what opened the gate for me. Mine was step by step. It wasn’t anything like high school and then I am going to college and from there into the pros. The mind wasn’t like that.”
CY: It was during that season and the rest of your career also that you got the opportunity to play with Johnny Unitas who came off the bench. In your book you say you didn’t know Johnny well, but he treated everyone equal and just wanted to win the game and didn’t care who you were. Tell me what else you remember about Johnny if anything?
LM: “When Johnny came to Baltimore the same time I came we were rookies. He did have some pro experience. He did go with the Pittsburgh Steelers and they cut him. I had no pro experience. My thing was that hey I got to make this team. Johnny Unitas wasn’t Johnny Unitas. He was just Johnny Unitas. He was trying to make it too just like I was trying to make it. My eyes weren’t on him. My eyes were on me. He got the opportunity to move up to the number one quarterback position during mid season when George Shaw went down with a knee injury. He was just like every other quarterback. You couldn’t see the things we know that evolved out of that years later. He was just a quarterback. He was our quarterback. As the years went on I could really start to see him settle in that position. Fortunately for Johnny U., Weeb Ewbank was there and he worked with his quarterbacks. He had them knowing every aspect of the game. Johnny caught on and from then on whether it be Weeb Ewbank or Don Shula it didn’t matter. Once Johnny took over, I don’t care if they sent it down from the press box or sent it over from the bench, if he didn’t think it was going to work he wouldn’t call it. Ninety to ninety five percent of your quarterbacks who send something in there automatically call it because that’s basically what it is about. Not Johnny U. Called his own shots.”
CY: During the 1957 pre season you talk about how each NFL team had an average of seven black NFL players and you go on to say, “Many players were cut just because they were black.” Is it safe to say reading this that even if you were more athletic than a fellow player of a different race you could easily be cut if there were already seven black players on a team?
LM: “They kept it limited. We felt that as blacks there was a quota. We used to talk with other blacks on other clubs. There was a way they use to do it called stacking. If you had five halfbacks instead of one being a left halfback and one being a right halfback then you would stack them all at left and let them cut each other. It kept the numbers down. A lot of them went to Canada. It was a little bit more wide open in Canada than the NFL where it was limited numbers. We would talk with guys on the other clubs including Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco and whoever. The numbers remained relatively about the same in the 1950’s. They weren’t carrying more then six. We talked about what it was like in training camp. We would say this guy really should have made this ball club, but they cut him. We knew pretty much what was going on.”
CY: What did it feel like to win back to back championships in 1958 and 1959 against the New York Giants and play in Yankee Stadium for the 1958 championship in front of 64,000?
LM: “Well, you don’t know anybody is in the stands when you are out there on the field playing. You don’t know what the number is or who, what, or whatever. You are playing and trying to give your best. The only time you realize people are there is when you come on the sidelines. When you are in the game you got so much going on in your head and your so attentive in listening to the quarterback call whatever shots he’s going to call. Your mind is concentrated on your responsibility and what you have to do on every given play. You don’t know anything else is around, but your responsibility.”
CY: In 1963 after a handful of disappointing seasons Don Shula was named the new coach of the Baltimore Colts and you claim to have had a rocky relationship with him while he was your coach. What was your relationship with Don Shula like then compared to how it is now?
LM: “Now it’s fine. After the 1964 season our relationship was fine. I wanted to prove something in 1964 because I felt personally they were unfair. The reason I felt they were unfair to me was because I got kicked in the head. In 1963 I had an appendectomy the Friday before the Sunday game. I was back on the field ten days later playing against Green Bay up in Green Bay. I played all the way through. I put a little pad where the incision was. I played all the way up till about three quarters of the season and than I got kicked in the head. My helmet came off and it was a pile up on the sideline. We went to the hospital and they diagnosed me with a concussion. There was a blow there and we played it cautiously. I was a little dizzy now and then, but other than that I am ok as far as what I know. The doctor said he wanted to hold me out for a while and just see how things are rather then expose you or whatever. They sent me to one of their doctors on the coast in San Francisco. We went to one of their doctors they sent me to and he said, ‘How many games do you have left?’ I said, ‘About two or three.’ He said, ‘I checked you out there is no question that there is a contusion there at that spot where you got kicked in the head. I wouldn’t risk it with just three games left to play. I am going to call your team doctor to tell him I think you should ought to hang it up for the rest of the year just for safety measures.’ I said, ‘Is it that bad?’ He said,’No. You may not feel that bad, but I am going on what I see. I am going on what I know as a doctor. I wouldn’t risk another blow to the head.’ He called the doctor as I am going back to the hotel, and as soon as I walk into the hotel the doctor comes to me and says to me, ‘Ok we heard from the doctor and you are going to put your uniform on.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘You are going to put your uniform on. You are going to play today.’ I said, ‘That’s not what the doctor told me. The doctor told me to hang it for the rest of the season. Lets get the doctor on the phone right now so I can hear what he’s saying to you, and we can all be on record. This is your doctor not my doctor. I went to where you guys sent me.’ So they talked to the doctor and they said you aren’t going to play today. It went on for the next couple of games. I started hearing that my name was going to be up for trades and Lenny Moore isn’t giving it all. Some guys kind of ignored me and that hurt. I just felt isolated. That really hurt. Carol Rosenbloom called us in going into the 1964 season. I saw my name in the paper that they were getting ready to trade me to Green Bay or trade me somewhere else. Rosenbloom called us in and said to me, ‘Do you want to play for the Colts in 1964?’ I said, ‘Yes Carol. I certainly do.’ He said, ‘The meeting is over.’ I had made my mind up that all they had put me through and all they did scouting my name around to other teams went on when I did absolutely nothing. When I went to training camp I had my mind made up. I had that time to work on it. I said to myself that they would never have to say a word to me one way or the other. They would never have to say a word to me. I had my mind completely fixed on what I was going to do. It was the best years I had from the standpoint of my mental condition. After that season I said man you did it. It was the hardest thing I had to do because I liked being loose and relaxed. I never got in a conflict. I didn’t want Don Shula to say a word to me at all. My play emphasized that. He couldn’t get me for anything or whatever. After that we were ok. I just didn’t like the way they used me at the end of the 1963 season going in 1964. I felt that they played games with me.”
CY: In 1964 the Baltimore Colts finished 12-2 on the season and lost to the Cleveland Browns and Jim Brown. What was it like to make it back to a third championship, but also play against Jim Brown and your thoughts on him overall?
LM: “They were just another team. We felt we had the better ball club. We felt that we could beat them. Unfortunately we were unable to execute and I don’t know why. We got flattened out and we tried to come back and make things work, but it didn’t happen. Going against Jim Brown wasn’t any different than going against Jim Taylor and any of the other guys. He’s just an obstacle that we have to overcome. We just couldn’t put anything together. Even Johnny’s passes were a little off. We just couldn’t execute. I cannot tell you to this day what happened to us. We just flattened out.”
CY: That year you were also voted the 1964 NFL most valuable player. Many people felt going into that ninth season maybe your career was ending. How did it feel to win the award and show you weren’t done as a football player?
LM: “That was very appreciative because all the players vote for that. That’s the highest award anyone can get in the NFL. Every team in the NFL votes for the most valuable player. I was injured. I had appendicitis the first part of the season, but I came back after ten days. Nobody came back that early. No player wants to sit on the bench. No player wants to be inactive. Everybody wants to play. I came back before they told me I could come back. I came back in ten days. I had the uniform on and played. I played those next games until I got kicked in the head.”
CY: You retired in April of 1968 instead of possibly being cut and joined CBS Sports for the football season. What was the transition period like for you and though it only lasted a year, being the first black sports broadcaster with CBS?
LM: “I was probably the second. They had another black before me. He wasn’t there long. He came in 1965 I think. When I got there, there was nobody there. I checked with everybody, my producers, directors, and all the folks that were supposed to be doing the right thing. Till this day I have not heard from CBS. They never called me. They never sent a letter that you are being terminated. I went up to New York for a few days where I could walk right across the street to CBS. They never called me. That was very disappointing because I thought it was the start of possibly a new career. I was praying and hoping that was going to be an opportunity for me. Evidently that wasn’t the time in 1968. I went around to all the top agencies in New York in 1969 trying to strike while the iron was hot. One guy from one of the agencies told me the timing now isn’t for blacks. Nobody else will tell you this and I know you have been around all the other agencies, but this is 1969 and the timing for blacks won’t be until the mid to late 1970’s. He was right because that’s when the black films started to come out. He called the shots. He said, ‘I don’t want to see you waste your money running back and forth from New York because nothing is going to open up that is going to be beneficial to you.’ ”
CY: How did it feel to be inducted into the NFL of Hall of Fame in 1975 and what do you remember about it 30 years later and are the ceremonies any different today?
LM: “It’s still difficult for me to believe I am in the Hall of Fame. When I went in it was unbelievable the first year. All the years after that I am still mesmerized. It’s so big. It’s so huge because only a handful of players are in the Hall of Fame of all these folks that have played professional football and I am one of them. That’s hard for me to deal with. If you ask why is it hard for me to deal with? I guess it’s because all the ups and downs and ins and outs I have had to deal with and whatever. Nobody can take this away from me. They can’t deny me and maybe that’s why it takes some getting used to.”
CY: How do you think the NFL changed almost 40 years later since your playing days besides the salaries, number of teams, and equality among races?
LM: “I never thought we would rise to the height where the salaries are today. The rules have changed an awful lot. That benefits the public. Let’s put it this way. It makes the game a little more exciting is what I think they were trying to work for because there would be more scoring in the games. The only thing we could do was limit the referees from calling certain things like you can’t touch a guy after five yards if you are a wide receiver and I am a defensive back. The blocking techniques are very different from my day because their hands had to stay hooked to the body and now you can extend your arms out. You cannot hit the quarterback. In my day, as soon as Johnny Unitas releases the ball I want that helmet right into him because his body is in an awkward position once he throws the ball. That was their game place. Same thing with Bart Starr or any of those guys. Now you can’t touch the quarterback. Lot of those things have changed.”
CY: Finally, today you a program specialist in the Education Department for the Maryland State Department of Juvenile Justice. How much do you enjoy trying to make a difference in these misguided children’s lives and I am assuming it must feel good to help guide those children for a better future?
LM: “I try to represent what the title says All Things Being Equal. We are out there working for everybody. Of course the numbers change. My thing is that you break it down almost all the way to going to the homes to find out what’s behind that door because that’s where that kid comes out of. You will see a lack of father, some aunts, some uncles, and grandparents. Where is Mom and Dad? That’s the whole key. If Mom and Dad aren’t there then they aren’t running the household. That is what the family tree is all about. You got problems man. That is what we are dealing with. House used to be number one 30 to 40 years ago. House is in third place of the five institutions that affects family life. Peers and TV are battling for first place. Church isn’t even on the list. Family is about three or fourth. That’s unbelievable my man and school. My role model growing up was Glen Davis who played for West Point. That was my role model. I used to go to the movie theatres and sit there all day to watch his highlight reels. That was my idol.”
You can purchase a copy of Lenny Moore’s All Things Being Equal by visiting the link below.