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On the college gridiron, grandad lives a dream, offers a lesson

By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
December 14, 2011 -- Updated 2143 GMT (0543 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alan Moore began kicking in seventh grade, after mom called it "the prettiest play in football"
  • Vietnam interrupted Moore's college career; back home, he worked in construction 40 years
  • Economy tanked, Moore lost job, built goalpost, began quest to return to college football
  • With BELIEVE on kicking shoe, Moore wants teammates to "be persistent, persevere"

Montgomery, Alabama (CNN) -- Barring one photo on his desk, Alan Moore's dorm room looks like most others.

Sparsely furnished and 12-by-15 feet, it has cinder block walls and a sole window overlooking the Faulkner University campus. Three pairs of jeans hang from the back of the door near a cooler of soft drinks. A half roll of athletic tape straps a 13-inch TV to the foot of the bed.

On a recent afternoon after class, the place smells like air freshener, perhaps in anticipation of yet another reporter's arrival. A practice football uniform sits crumpled on a chair in the corner. There are no dartboards on the wall, no supermodel posters, no rock 'n' roll icons -- only a Faulkner football schedule.

On Moore's desk, cluttered with pens, paper, a calculator, Bible, thesaurus and a bottle of Advil, the framed photo stands out: It shows a padded-up Moore alongside his five grandkids.

At 61, Moore may seem like an odd fixture on campus, but in many ways, he fits right in. He came here to go to school, to play football.

He's also teaching his teammates that dreams shouldn't die.

The junior kicker wears a rigid, black, square-toed shoe. Across the top are block letters spelling "BELIEVE."

Mama's boy

Moore was in seventh grade when Mama told him she thought the extra point was "the prettiest play in football."

He tied a chain between two power poles and constructed a tee out of a board and two 16-penny nails. When his dad planted a pecan tree between the poles, he practiced kicking over that, then over the garage, then the house.

Alan Moore was named best male athlete in the 1968 Taylorsville High School yearbook.
Alan Moore was named best male athlete in the 1968 Taylorsville High School yearbook.

"When you're 12 years old and your Mama tells you something like that and you love football, you just go do it," he says.

Moore and his three brothers grew up on a 300-acre farm in Taylorsville, Mississippi. The family wasn't wealthy, but the brothers always had clothes on their backs and food on the table.

Along with school, there were plenty of chores: cutting hay, pulling corn, planting vegetables, feeding chickens, slaughtering steers.

There was also plenty of space to play. The front yard was designated for football games. A pine tree in the backyard hosted a basketball goal. The boys played baseball in a nearby pasture.

"Mama didn't have furniture in the living room and dining room till after high school," Moore says. "That's where we wrestled and fought."

When Moore made his high school football team, Mama, a housewife, and Daddy, a carpenter and World War II veteran, showed up for every game. They sat on the 50-yard line.

Moore's kicking prowess drew the attention of schools like Arkansas State and Oklahoma State, but no scholarship offers. His family couldn't afford tuition, so Moore went to a small college about 25 miles south, in Ellisville.

At Jones County Junior College, he put on a special show during warm-ups before games, strutting out toward midfield and booting a 55-yard field goal "just for my Mama."

The team went 9-0 and won a state championship his freshman year. It gave the school a reason to celebrate; the nation was in the throes of a protracted war in Vietnam.

Moore and his pal, Dana Bailey, weren't going to school after the 1968 season and their draft numbers were "getting real close," Moore recalls. They decided to join the Army, in hopes of picking their assignment and not being sent into combat. Moore wanted to be a crew chief for an AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter.

The plan didn't work. Both were assigned to infantry divisions and shipped off to war. Moore spent almost a year in Vietnam and lost touch with Bailey. Later, he would learn his buddy had been shot and paralyzed.

Moore earned the attention of some NCAA schools but attended a Mississippi junior college.
Moore earned the attention of some NCAA schools but attended a Mississippi junior college.

When Moore returned to Fort Rucker, Alabama, he learned to lay pipe before embarking on a career in civil construction -- roads, bridges, sewers, that sort of thing. The work would span two wives, three kids and four decades. He'd see both his parents and his younger brother die in that time.

Though the deaths of Daddy and brother Jerry Pat had big impacts on his life, the loss of his mother was the most painful. Stricken with Alzheimer's, she no longer recognized her son.

"When I went back to kicking," he says, "I thought about her a bunch. I did it for her."

Getting back in the game

In 2009, after the housing market crashed, Moore was laid off from a North Carolina development company. He went back to his avocado farm in Homestead, Florida, before moving to Mississippi to be with those five grandkids pictured on his desk.

There, he got the kicking bug and decided he would play college football again -- at age 59. Just like he'd done as a kid, he fashioned a goalpost, this time a PVC contraption in the backyard of his daughter's home in Mount Olive.

"It wasn't high tech," he says, "but it worked."

Forty years had passed since he'd seriously booted a pigskin, and a shift in kicking style had most kickers wearing soccer cleats. Moore didn't receive the memo.

He went to Dick's Sporting Goods, bought some footballs and a square-toed, Tom Dempsey-style kicking shoe, scrawled BELIEVE across it in paint marker and started practicing his childhood craft.

"This is old school," Moore says of his straight-on kicking style and his shoe, which has the front cleats removed so they don't catch the turf. "Back when I was growing up, there was no soccer-style kicking unless you were playing soccer."

On Thanksgiving weekend 2009, Moore made 28 of 30 extra points during a training session at the local high school and decided he was ready. He paid a visit to Jones County Community College and told Coach Eddie Pierce, "Don't give away jersey No. 34" -- the number he wore in 1968 -- "because I'm going to come down here and kick for you next year."

Moore wanted to return to where he played college ball in 1968, but it didn\'t pan out.
Moore wanted to return to where he played college ball in 1968, but it didn't pan out.

He told plenty of folks the same thing. Many, including his friends, laughed; it sounded like the plot of a 1986 Rodney Dangerfield movie. Moore welcomed the naysayers.

"Assholes are great motivators," he says.

Jones wasn't interested in Moore, but after a tryout, Holmes Community College in Ridgeland, Mississippi, outside Jackson, gave him a roster spot.

On the way to games and practice, Moore would pop the unlikeliest music into his CD player to get pumped up: the voice of Susan Boyle, the Scottish songstress who blew away a "Britain's Got Talent" audience, and later the world, with her moving rendition of a song from "Les Miserables." She was 47.

"She probably believed all her life she could do this. ... People all over the world laughed at that lady when she walked out there, but when she opened her mouth, nobody laughed anymore," he says. "Kind of the same with me."

A second chance

When Faulkner University's linebackers coach told head coach Gregg Baker that Holmes had a sexagenarian kicker, Baker laughed.

A 61-year-old man wanting to play college football? What a lark.

They joked about where they would house him if he played for them. How about Camellia Gardens, the apartment complex for the elderly near the dorms?

A couple of weeks later, Baker talked with Moore on the phone, and after hearing the codger could actually kick, Baker told his staff, "Let's get him over here and see what he can do."

Moore didn't have an informal visit in mind. He wasn't going to drive more than four hours to Montgomery, Alabama, to tour the campus. The season at Holmes hadn't exactly been the comeback he'd envisioned -- the team went winless, averaging fewer than two touchdowns a game. He was looking for a chance to move up to the NAIA for the 2011 season.

Moore, seen here with friends in Vietnam, had hoped to avoid combat duty by volunteering for the military.
Moore, seen here with friends in Vietnam, had hoped to avoid combat duty by volunteering for the military.

He arrived at Faulkner with his workout gear and BELIEVE shoe. He was there to kick.

Immediately, Baker could tell Moore was a competitor, and he liked what he saw.

"Coach, it is going to be a lot of PR. I understand that," Baker recalls Moore telling him, assuring his would-be coach that he wasn't doing it for the press. "I want to show people that they can follow up on what their dream is or finish what they start."

Growing up a good Southern boy, Baker, 45, replied, "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" to everything Moore said. After all, he was taught to respect his elders. Moore would have none of it.

"Coach, look, you can't call me 'yes, sir' and 'no, sir' anymore. That's got to stop."

"OK, I'll do my best," Baker replied.

The role reversal would take some getting used to.

"I still want to treat Alan with respect," Baker says now, "because he deserves that respect, but it was kind of a weird deal."

Who couldn't admire a man who kicked in college, left to join the military, fought in Vietnam, worked in construction for almost 40 years, started a family, then went back to college to kick again when a tough economy snatched his job?

"If you can't get excited hearing that story," Baker says, "there's something wrong with you inside."

'This guy's gotta be joking'

The young men on Faulkner's football squad didn't know what to make of their new teammate, who was signed on as a backup kicker primarily for extra points

Sophomore Dylan Vires says he thought it was a joke when coaches first said Moore was joining the team.
Sophomore Dylan Vires says he thought it was a joke when coaches first said Moore was joining the team.

Sophomore offensive lineman David Clemons and senior defensive lineman Matt Enyart thought it was "weird" to see a man thrice their age in pads.

"I thought it was like a big joke. I thought the coaches were just trying to make us mad to make us kick better or something," says sophomore Dylan Vires.

Sophomore wide receiver Kam Clay and freshman right guard Tucker Smith didn't notice Moore until he took off his helmet.

"I seen this whole bunch of gray hair everywhere and then I had to go introduce myself," Clay recalls.

"Is that a guy with gray facial hair?" Smith thought to himself. "This guy's gotta be joking."

In mid-October, after half a semester on the Christian university campus, Moore still seems out of place in his marriage and family counseling class, where a stand-in lecturer explains to the mostly freshmen students that their great grandparents viewed debt quite differently than today's generation.

As old as some of his classmates' grandparents. Moore probably could have afforded to cut that class. Along with Life of Christ, it's one of his easier courses. Freshman comp and algebra tend to escape a man after four decades without writing essays or solving for x.

His 50 or so classmates, most of them packed on the back rows of the lecture hall, scribble in binders or spiral notebooks. Others peck away on laptops. Many rock hoodies, ball caps or sneakers.

Not Moore. The gray-haired fellow on the second row wears a pressed white button-down, jeans and a pair of square-toed oxfords. He takes notes on a handout the teacher distributed at the beginning of class.

'You're my boy, Blue!'

Walk with Moore around the 84-acre campus, and he seems more celebrity than student.

Moore cuts up with offensive lineman David Clemons prior to the Campbellsville game.
Moore cuts up with offensive lineman David Clemons prior to the Campbellsville game.

Newspaper clippings about him adorn the walls of the athletic department and the E.L. Collum Rotunda, location of the registrar, financial aid and student newspaper offices. An administrative assistant gives him a key to show a reporter the chapel. His Bible professor calls him "Mr. Moore."

His teammates are no longer standoffish, says Chris Palmore, a senior on the basketball squad who doesn't know Moore personally but has seen the old-timer mingling with the football team.

"He still jokes and plays with them like he's younger."

Clemons says Moore watches TV and goes to the movies with his teammates and is "just one of the guys now." Enyart adds, "He's a good guy -- just a little older with more gray hair."

Moore gave Clay a Nike Dri-FIT shirt one day after practice. The two started throwing a football in front of Burton Hall and have "connected ever since," the wide receiver says.

It's easy to see how Moore makes friends. He's gregarious, fast with a joke and just as quick to take one. Bridging the generational divide is a breeze when you're a kid at heart.

He sneaks off the tobacco-free campus for the occasional cigar. He teases his "homeboys" about their clothes and their hair. En route to class one afternoon, he calls out freshman kicker Jacob Smith and flips him the bird.

"He can read sign language real good," Moore says, laughing. "He's a good kid."

"He's always making fun of us," says Justin Bennett, 24, a manager and former offensive tackle. "At first, I didn't want to make fun of him, but he started ragging on me all the time so that's all there is to do."

One of their favorite taunts is to call him "Blue," after the galoot in the movie "Old School" who dies at his own birthday party. Moore has never seen the film.

Justin Bennett says he didn\'t want to tease Moore at first, until Moore started teasing him.
Justin Bennett says he didn't want to tease Moore at first, until Moore started teasing him.

Despite the goofing around, Moore is a friend, several players said. He knows what to say when you're down and imparts many lessons: the importance of discipline, respect and a positive attitude. Most of all, persistence.

They say he never doles out advice condescendingly.

"He's down to earth and doesn't walk around like he knows more since he's older and you gotta listen to him," says redshirt freshman defensive tackle Kenny Beck. "He's pretty cool."

The young men see the word BELIEVE written across the toe of his kicking shoe and they get it.

Some say it's cool "Blue" is getting so much media attention so his message can travel beyond Montgomery, Alabama.

Big spotlight, small school

The media began flocking to Faulkner in August when news of Moore making the team started to spread. If he were to kick an extra point or a field goal, reporters the world over asserted, Moore would set a record: the oldest player to score in a college football game.

It didn't take long.

Before the Eagles' September 10 home opener against the Ave Maria University Gyrenes, Baker fielded questions about whether Moore would play.

"If we get up," he decided, "I'm going to give him an opportunity."

Once Faulkner secured a two-touchdown lead, Moore started lurking behind Baker in anticipation. When the Eagles went up 24-0, after a missed extra point and a pair of failed two-point conversions, Moore got the call. He stepped up behind center and nailed it.

The home crowd and team erupted. It may have seemed like poor sportsmanship to Ave Maria, being trounced in its first-ever college football game, but Faulkner's kicker had just made history.

Moore went back to the sidelines, where his teammates circled him, gave him high fives and emphatically rapped his helmet.

Head coach Gregg Baker gives his team a pep talk during the Campbellsville game.
Head coach Gregg Baker gives his team a pep talk during the Campbellsville game.

"Coach," Moore told Baker, "I don't think I can kick anymore."

"Why?" Baker asked.

"Because I've got a concussion."

Two weeks later, on a 540-mile road trip to Pikeville, Kentucky, Baker was reminded again of his player's AARP eligibility.

As was the norm, the kids were quiet, listening to their iPods and otherwise occupying themselves on the journey. Later, the coach learned his kicker was complaining. His knees were sore and the bus driver hadn't made enough stops for bathroom breaks.

'The most powerful word'

The locker room is quiet except for the players' mutterings and Cypress Hill's "Insane in the Brain" emanating from one player's headphones. Gym bags, cleats and shoulder pads cover the floor, as dozens of young men sit on folding chairs and run through their pregame rituals in front of lockers not nearly as wide as their shoulders.

Moore tapes up his kicking foot in the shower room, as two news outlets and a documentary crew get close-ups. He slugs an energy shot and pulls on pink socks for breast cancer awareness as cameramen surround him.

"Last week, the cameras were blocking the urinals. Nobody could go to the bathroom," offensive lineman Oscar Valladares says, thanking a reporter for keeping the toilets clear.

It's the Eagles' October 22 game against the Campbellsville Tigers, and Moore says he'll be "happy as a pig" if he can kick a field goal.

But it isn't meant to be. Down 28-17 at the half, Baker rallies his men, asking if they want to be doers or losers and reminding them they lost last year's game against the Tigers on a missed field goal.

Kam \
Kam "Hot Rod" Clay considers Moore a good friend. They eat lunch together two or three times a week.

Back on the field, the second half is a shootout. Both teams score within the first four minutes, and when Moore's pal, Clay, coughs up the ball late in the third quarter, Moore is there as he comes off the field.

He grabs Clay, distraught over the untimely fumble, by the jersey and pulls him in close, whispering in his ear. Clay nods and disappears into a sea of blue jerseys on the sideline.

About two minutes into the fourth quarter, Clay catches a touchdown pass to put Faulkner up 38-35.

The kicker's message seems to resonate on these sidelines.

Believe.

"I think it's probably the most powerful word in our vocabulary," Moore says.

"It wasn't a me thing. It was a we thing. It was about the kids not giving up on their dream or not giving up on anything in life, that they should be persistent and persevere. ... If I didn't believe that I would be here today, I wouldn't be here today."

A personal fan club

As Faulkner and Campbellsville rack up touchdowns, a contingent of Moore's biggest fans -- two of his daughters and five grandchildren -- sit on the 50-yard line, just like Mama and Daddy did in 1968.

Daughters Brandi Welch and Annashi Wyatt say they have been to all but one game and try to arrive early, but it's a slow 250-mile trek from Florence, Mississippi, with five youngsters in tow.

"We had one that was sick, a couple that were hungry. It's a long drive with five kids, but it's something we'll always remember. The drive is just memories, making memories," Welch says.

Grandchildren Ashleigh Wyatt, left, and Ava Welch are two of Moore\'s most ardent fans.
Grandchildren Ashleigh Wyatt, left, and Ava Welch are two of Moore's most ardent fans.

Taylor Welch, Owen Welch, Ava Welch, Ashleigh Wyatt and Cody Wyatt wear their breast cancer pink to match Moore's socks. Annashi Wyatt stayed up all night making the T-shirt iron-ons depicting the kids with Moore and the caption, "Granddaddy -- 61 and still kicking."

Taylor, the oldest at 13, says her friends think it's "cool and stuff" she gets to watch Moore play every weekend.

"They're like, 'Wait, your granddaddy plays football?' "

She understands the message Moore is trying to send by going back to school: "It's really important. He's finishing what he started, and that's a good thing."

Asked if the message resonates in her life, if there are things she has trouble finishing, she shrugs.

"Cleaning her room," her mother interjects.

Taylor laughs shyly, her multicolor braces shimmering in the sun, but her own mother isn't immune to Moore's message, either.

"He's always harassing me to go back to school," Welch says, "and I'm not sure I'll get out of not going back to school after this. He's always wanted me to go back so I might follow in his footsteps, but I won't be kicking."

With three minutes left in the game, Faulkner scores again to go up 52-42. Ava and Ashleigh shake their pompoms and yell, "Go, granddaddy!" between breaks for Skittles and M&Ms. Owen, still a little under the weather, says he will be going out for football soon.

Welch gives him the skeptical glance of a worried mother, but when he says he wants to be a running back because he's fast, Welch confirms it with a nod.

"I don't take after my granddaddy," the 10-year-old says, explaining why he doesn't want to be a kicker.

When he grows up...

Campbellsville returns a kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown, but less than a minute later Faulkner scores on a 4-yard touchdown pass to finish off the Tigers, 59-49.

Two of Moore\'s three daughters and his five grandchildren have attended all but one game this season.
Two of Moore's three daughters and his five grandchildren have attended all but one game this season.

Despite it being one of only three wins for the season, Moore says he was proud to be part of the Eagles squad and hopes his teammates learned the importance of that word written across his shoe.

"I think it was a pretty damned good call," he says. "I'm proud of what I've done. I did things people said I couldn't do and impacted a lot of people."

Like the kid at Holmes last year who threw his arm over Moore's shoulder and told the old man he'd changed his life.

"That meant a lot even if it's one kid out of 55 or 56 on a football team," Moore says.

On Monday, Moore will cap off the season in South Bend, Indiana. He kicked only three extra points, missing one, in the course of the Eagles' season. But it was more than enough to take him to the College Football Hall of Fame, where he is scheduled to present a jersey, football and kicking shoe to commemorate his achievement.

His seven-member entourage of Wyatts and Welches will accompany him.

He won't say for certain, but it might be time to hang up his kicking shoe. He hopes to mentor or speak to youngsters one day, but after college and football, his immediate focus will be on those five superfans who watched history unfold from the 50-yard line.

"When I grow up -- that may be the end of this semester; I might have grown up -- and what I want to be is a granddaddy. That's all I want to be."

CNN's Nick Scott contributed to this report and produced the video.

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