A couple of weeks ago I was browsing the internet and saw that Derland Moore, a defensive lineman for the New Orleans Saints in the 1970s and 1980s, had died Sept. 24 at age 68.
It brought back a great memory. Not what you’d think — that growing up in New Orleans, I went to most of the home games he played in.
Or that, when the Saints picked him in the second round of the 1973 draft, I was very well aware of who he was, as I was a big fan of his Oklahoma football team as an 11-year-old. (My brother still gives me grief about that and tells the story often to my kids.)
Instead, it was my conversation with him and several other Saints players one night in December 1985, when they were grand marshals of the Summit Christmas Parade.
More on that in a bit. First, some football history.
Today we are used to the Saints winning lots of games. It was not like that at all when Moore played.
If you need to be reminded that the Saints had some bad teams during Moore’s time in New Orleans, you have forgotten how historically horrible they could be.
Moore’s first two games were among the worst in Saints history. In the 1973 season opener, the Atlanta Falcons beat New Orleans 62-7 in Tulane Stadium. That is the game, in my opinion, that made Saints-Falcons the rivalry it is today. In all the years my dad took his family to Saints games, it is the only one that he ever left early.
Their next game that year was a Monday nighter at Dallas, and the Cowboys rolled over them 40-3. The Saints finished 5-9 that year, which was about average for Moore’s 13 seasons.
I checked the records. During his time in New Orleans, the Saints won 63 games while losing 128 — a 35% winning percentage. They lost almost two of every three games. They never had a winning season and only hit .500 twice.
That is an amazing record of futility, and when I had the chance to talk to Moore during his visit to Summit, I thanked him for sticking out the tough times. How frustrating must it have been to go from Oklahoma’s winning tradition to the Saints?
Free agency didn’t exist back then, so maybe he couldn’t switch teams. But he could have retired or sought a trade.
We met because somebody in Summit must have been good friends with LSU and Saints running back Hokie Gajan, who was grand marshal of the town Christmas parade in 1983 and 1984.
I dug into our archives and found the 1985 story announcing that Gajan would return once again, this time with three other Saints: Moore, quarterback Dave Wilson and offensive lineman Stan Brock.
Anyway, after the 1985 parade there was a reception for the players at M.V. Cornwell’s house, and I went over with my notebook to ask some sports questions.
It turned out that none of the players had much to say about football. I never did write a story, and really just enjoyed visiting with everyone who was there.
I was outside the home, either on the carport or driveway, when I bumped into Moore. I told him everything — I had been a big OU fan, was very excited when the Saints drafted him and now, at age 24, I really appreciated the fact that he had stayed with the Saints for so many years.
What I most remember was how pleasant he was to talk to. He thanked me and said the players always appreciated their fans.
He told me, off the record, that he thought 1985 would be his last season with the Saints. He wound up with the New York Jets in 1986, his final year in the league.
We probably talked for three minutes. Maybe five. A little while later, the players were on their way back to New Orleans.
The next time I saw Moore was 31 years later, at halftime of a Saints game in 2016. The Saints introduced members of their 50th anniversary team, and I recall being sad that Moore walked so slowly onto a field where, in a different lifetime, he had been a giant. I figured 14 years of pro football had taken a toll on him.
In all honesty, I cannot remember a single play Moore made. There had to be a bunch of good ones, but that was a long time ago. What I recall was the night when he was friendly to a young reporter.
A lot of the obituaries called Moore a legendary Saints player. To me, though, he just seemed like one of the good guys, and he proved it that night in Summit.