Monday, December 13, 2010
During the spring and summer of 1964, the Baltimore Colts looked to see what sort of trade they could make for HB Lenny Moore. Moore, who had been drafted out of Penn State in the first round in 1956, had been a key player in winning back-to-back championships in 1958 and ’59. As a halfback who posted gaudy yards-per-attempt averages on his occasional runs from scrimmage and was perhaps even more dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield (often lining up at flanker), he was named to the Pro Bowl in five consecutive seasons and was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection from 1958 thru ‘61.
But injuries had dramatically reduced his effectiveness in 1962 and ’63. He fractured his kneecap in ’62 and went down with a rib injury in the 1963 preseason. Two days before the opening game of the ’63 season, he underwent an appendectomy. Returning to action for the third game of the year, new Head Coach Don Shula moved him to split end because of an injury to another of the offense’s stalwarts, Raymond Berry. After five games he was shifted back to halfback, but a week later suffered a head injury that cost him the remainder of the season (he had also suffered a head injury in 1961). Along the way, Moore got into feuds with both the Colts front office and Head Coach Weeb Ewbank (prior to his departure following the 1962 season).
Appearing in 10 games in 1962, Moore played more as a halfback than a flanker and accumulated over a hundred carries for the first time in his career (106) but also caught the fewest passes (18) since his rookie season. In ’63, making it into just seven games, he gained only 136 yards on 27 rushing attempts and caught 21 passes. At age 30, and with the younger Tom Matte showing promise at halfback, it appeared that he was on the way out.
However, while the Colts came close to dealing Moore to the Giants and Cowboys, they couldn’t get the price they wanted and the halfback remained with the team. On December 13, 1964 against Washington, Moore capped an amazing comeback by becoming the first player in NFL history to score 20 touchdowns in a season.
It had not looked promising for Moore when he started the ’64 season on the bench, with Matte in the starting lineup, in a loss to the Vikings. However, he did get into the game and scored twice, including his one pass reception of the day that covered 70 yards. Moore was back in the starting lineup the following week, and scored two more TDs in a 21-20 win over Green Bay. By the season finale against the Redskins, he had scored 18 touchdowns, putting him one short of Jim Taylor’s league record of 19 set two years earlier with the Packers. He also, counting the last three games that he appeared in during the ’63 season, had scored at least one TD in an NFL-record 16 straight games.
The Colts were doing well, too. After the opening game loss to Minnesota, they weren’t beaten again until the previous week against the Lions, giving them a record of 11-2. In combination with fullbacks Tony Lorick and Jerry Hill, Moore gave the club a potent running attack, thus improving the effectiveness of the passing game which, with star QB Johnny Unitas at the helm, was already formidable.
Washington, under Head Coach Bill McPeak, had an outstanding quarterback of its own in Sonny Jurgensen, a great receiver in flanker Bobby Mitchell, and exciting rookie halfback Charley Taylor. But there were too many holes, especially on the offensive line, and the Redskins were 6-7 entering the game at Baltimore.
Conditions were foggy at Memorial Stadium, and some of the 60,213 fans in attendance had difficulty seeing the action on the field. The Redskins scored first on a 17-yard run by HB Pervis Atkins thanks to a Baltimore fumble on the opening kickoff. Baltimore came back with a 25-yard Lou Michaels field goal and took the lead in the second quarter on a 30-yard pass play from Unitas to Berry.
Play was sloppy throughout as the Colts, no doubt looking ahead to the title game in Cleveland, fumbled the ball away four times. Moore coughed the ball up once, at his own 11, but Washington fumbled it back as DE Gino Marchetti recovered at the 20. However, Unitas fumbled and the Redskins’ Jim Martin kicked a 25-yard field goal to tie the contest at 10-10 at the half.
Baltimore took command in the second half. First, safety Jerry Logan recovered a Washington fumble at the Redskins’ 40, leading to a seven-yard Jerry Hill TD run. While Washington responded with a two-yard scoring run by Jurgensen, Unitas threw another TD pass, this time of 22 yards to TE John Mackey. It was all Colts the rest of the way as they outscored the Redskins in the second half by 35-7.
Moore scored twice in a five minute period in the fourth quarter. The first touchdown, a run of three yards, tied Taylor’s record for TDs and extended his streak. The second, from a yard out, was the record-setting 20th. Moore received a huge ovation from the home crowd after the record-breaking TD. With the game safely out of reach for the Redskins, Shula was able to rest most of his starters for the remainder of the game that the Colts won by a final score of 45-17.
Jerry Hill was the running star for the Colts – used effectively on trap plays in the second half, he scored one touchdown and set up another with a 56-yard run as he totaled 90 yards on 8 carries. Before backup Gary Cuozzo entered the game to mop up, Johnny Unitas completed 13 of 20 passes for 226 yards with two touchdowns against one interception. Also of note, Raymond Berry, by catching 5 passes for 89 yards, passed Billy Howton to become the NFL’s all-time career pass receiving leader (506, to Howton’s 503; Berry would eventually end up with 631).
The Colts ended up with the league’s best record at 12-2, but were upset by the Browns in the NFL Championship game. Washington finished at 6-8, tied with the Eagles for third in the Eastern Conference.
Other than setting the touchdown record, Lenny Moore had a rather ordinary day against Washington, running for just 22 yards on 13 carries. But there was no question as to his value to the Colts throughout the year, and he received the Jim Thorpe trophy as league MVP from the Newspaper Enterprise Association (Unitas was the consensus MVP choice, however) and was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection and Pro Bowl choice. Utilized more as a runner than a receiver, he scored 16 of the 20 touchdowns on the ground and gained 584 yards on a career-high 157 carries (he also scored one TD on a fumble recovery). To be sure, he was still an effective pass receiver and averaged 22.5 yards-per-catch on 21 receptions for 472 yards with three TDs. Moore was the NFL’s leading scorer with 120 points and his 1056 total yards from scrimmage ranked eighth.
Moore’s consecutive game touchdown streak finally ended at 19, in the second week of the 1965 season (it was eventually tied by the Chargers’ LaDainian Tomlinson in 2005). At the time of his retirement following the 1967 season, he ranked second to only Jim Brown in career touchdowns with 113. It is a testament to his versatility that 63 of those TDs came on the ground while 48 came through the air (in fact, from 1959 thru ’63, most of his touchdowns had come via pass receptions). He also scored on a kickoff return and the aforementioned fumble recovery.
The 6’1”, 190-pound Moore gained 5174 yards on 1069 carries (4.8 avg.) and 6039 yards on 363 pass receptions (16.6 avg.), making him the first player to gain 5000 yards both rushing and receiving. His versatility made him invaluable to the Colts, and their decision to not give him away in 1964 proved to be a good one. The five consensus first-team All-Pro selections and seven Pro Bowls attest to that value. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1975.