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Life of a Saint: Derland Moore

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Whether it was playing defensive tackle, defensive end or nose tackle, Derland Moore brought consistency, and one of the quickest first steps in football, to the field throughout his career.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Gin Ellis/Getty Images

At first glance, he’s a big guy, but unassuming in nature. His mild-mannered temperament and southern accent are comforting to the soul. He’s got a laugh as infectious as they come. If you ran into him wandering his storage facility in Mandeville, Louisiana today, you’d hardly know what a ferocious, punishing defender he was.

A terror to opposing offense and a gentleman to everyone else, that’s Derland Moore.

Life of a Saint: Derland Moore

Today, he’d tell you, “I’m like a used car. All of the parts are there, just some of them don’t work”, but back then he was the stereotypical big, strong farm boy. And growing up on a farm in Poplar Bluff, Missouri not only filled his days with work, but life lessons as well. Moore explained, “You learn work ethic. You have to if you want to eat. There was always something to do. You never had to look around for something to stay busy.” Being up before sunrise and done working after sunset helped Moore learn at a young age that hard work was the only way to accomplish his goals.

Aside from a great mental makeup, the hard work also helped Moore built raw strength by high school. That strength was beneficial both on the football field and in track. “Track was my entry into college football. I was involved in Junior Olympics in Poplar Bluff. A gentleman who was my mentor, Sam Giambelluca, was badgering my dad to have me do shotput. I hadn’t even practiced it that summer. I set the record and won the AAU meet there in Poplar Bluff. It just so happened that the regionals were at the University of Oklahoma”, Moore stated. Oklahoma track head coach J.D. Martin offered Moore a full-ride scholarship on the spot to attend the University of Oklahoma. Although there were other suitors to Moore’s talents, none carried the weight of Oklahoma. Moore exclaimed, “My God, Oklahoma, if you get an opportunity to go there… That was the golden nugget!”

Derland Moore, the Sooner

Prior to Moore signing with the Oklahoma Sooners, he kicked the tires at a few school, including the University of Missouri. Moore shared, “At the University of Missouri, I asked them if I could walk on. They told me it would be a waste of my time and theirs too. So, we played the University of Missouri every year and I made sure that they paid a price. They got the 120% game. I got a game ball every year we played against Missouri. Dan Devine was the head coach at the University of Missouri. It was my sophomore year and I nailed one of the running backs. He went flying underneath their bench. It was on their side of the field and the game was played in Oklahoma. So, I got up and there’s Dan Devine right there and I said, ‘Hey Coach Devine, Derland Moore. Remember? I wasn’t good enough to play for you.’ Then I was jogging on the field and I heard his voice, ‘Would you allow me to reconsider?’”

That comment was followed by about 30 seconds of laughter.

Every player that ultimately achieves the dream of playing in the NFL runs into a series of instrumental people in their life, but there’s always that one person that made the biggest impact. Moore would find that person while playing for Oklahoma in Jimmy Johnson. “Jimmy Johnson was all about technique and taught me to be more than just a one-way player. Jimmy demanded and wouldn’t accept anything but your absolute best. He brought out things that I didn’t even know I had in myself”, Moore recalled. Moore was also surrounded by talented coaches Chuck Fairbanks and Barry Switzer while playing at Oklahoma.

Family Ties in New Orleans

Derland Moore described the University of Oklahoma as a ‘family’. Well, one of his fellow Sooners just happened to be the head coach of the New Orleans Saints when the sought-after Moore entered the draft. J.D. Roberts, an Outland Trophy winner while at Oklahoma, took notice of Moore when he had an impressive game while playing a bitter rival in Texas.

Since the Saints had traded away their first-round pick in 1973, the question was whether Derland Moore would still be available when the Saints picked early in round two. Luckily, Moore was available, and Roberts came through on his promise to draft the 6’4”, 250-pound defensive lineman. While the two seemed like they were destined to work together for years to come, Roberts was fired after the final pre-season game of the 1973 season, making way for interim coach John North.

Moore recalled his first team meeting under Coach North. “It was turmoil in New Orleans when John North took over. What you’d expect the coach to say was, ‘Hey guys. This is not the way I wanted to get this job, but I’m here and we’re gonna make the best of it and win some games.’ That’s what you would expect to hear. But the first words out of his mouth were, ‘I don’t know how long you are gonna be here. I’m gonna be here a long time. I have a long-term contract.’ Those were the first words out of his mouth. We all just kind of looked around at each other like, ‘What the hell? Where did this lunatic come from?’” He then continued, “We proceeded to get beat by Atlanta that week, 62-7. It was almost a revolt. We actually had a meeting about whether we were going to not show up for practice until they changed coaches. He was just looney tunes.”

That 62-7 loss to Atlanta still holds the mark for the most lopsided game in the history of the Saints-Falcons rivalry.

The problems with Coach North weren’t just in the locker room. To give an understanding of his time under Coach North on the field, Moore then offered, “We had three running plays and two passing plays, and we didn’t have a 2-minute offense. And this was 1973. They’d ask poor Archie Manning and he’s doing the best he can. It was near the end of a game and we needed a touchdown to win the game. Reporters would ask, ‘Why didn’t you go into the 2-minute offense to speed things up?’ He said, ‘Well, we don’t have a 2-minute offense.’” Whether it was embarrassment or pressure from the media, Coach North then started incorporating a 2-minute offense into the Saints playbook.

The Unpayable Debt

Aside from a single game playing for the New York Jets in 1986, Derland Moore played his entire career as a New Orleans Saint. With 13 seasons in the Big Easy, Moore took away his share of experiences while in the black and gold. While the coaching situation wasn’t ideal from the start, Moore shared that a veteran would pay him a debt he admittedly could never return.

“Jake Kupp, our offensive guard, was about a 10 or 12-year veteran at the time I arrived. Every day after practice, he’d say, ‘Derland, let’s go do some pass rushes.’ I was a little bit behind in my pass rushing technique because we didn’t rush the passer that much in the Big 8. It was mostly ‘crunch a bunch’. You just didn’t throw the ball that much. Jake, and I don’t even know why he did this because he had to be tired being in the league that long, but every day after practice he would get my ass over there and we would do about 10 to 15 pass rushes. He just did that on his own, just to teach me. I will never forget that guy as long as I live. He was a great player and is a great person, great family man. I could never thank the man enough for helping me”, an appreciative Moore shared. Moore also mentioned that if you could beat Kupp, you could beat anyone in the league.

Stability in an Unstable Environment

Whether it was playing defensive tackle, defensive end or nose tackle, Derland Moore brought consistency, and one of the quickest first steps in football, to the field throughout his career. He did all this through a very volatile time in Saints history. During his career, Moore saw the head coach change seven times in New Orleans, the opposite of today’s model of consistency with the Saints and Sean Payton. When asked about playing through the constant changes, Moore offered, “That was the hardest part. It was turmoil.

Turmoil, perhaps, but the Saints finally found a great combination of talent and coaching in the 80’s under Bum Phillips. “The 3-4 is designed to let the linebackers make the tackle. The defensive linemen scoop the trash. When we went to that under Bum, we were the number one defense for a couple years in the NFC. I played with some great guys. Bruce Clark, ‘Dirt’ Winston, Rickey Jackson, Frank Warren, Jim Wilks and the rest of us made up a pretty damn salty defense.” The group put the New Orleans defense on the map in 1982-84, finishing in the top five in the league in yards allowed all three years. Finally, the Saints had some consistency.

NFLPA Arm Wrestling Championship

Looking back at his career, Derland Moore admittedly jested, “It seems like my whole career goes into one big beating.” But when asked to pick his favorite memory, Moore went off the field, saying, “I would say that my greatest and fondest memories from the NFL was winning the NFL arm wrestling championship. Winning the NFL arm wrestling championship was the highlight of my career because we were looked down upon in the rest of the league. We were the doormat. On the other side of the coin, that gave me pleasure, just beating the s—t out of those guys. It’s weird that my favorite memory isn’t even playing football.”

Moore explained that this was something he really wanted and was willing to put in the work to achieve. He shared, “I didn’t exactly just show up and stick my arm out like an old country farm boy. I worked at that. I was getting second and third place. Russell Paternostro, our strength coach under Bum Phillips, asked me, ‘Do you want to win it?’ I would work out for two hours for football and then for another hour just on arm wrestling stuff. Also, a friend of mine had a milk farm and he’d save me a couple cows to milk to get my hand strength up. I would do that twice a week. It started out he’d save me one cow, then save me two cows from the milking machine. So, this wasn’t exactly a fluke. I actually worked and earned that. In the championship rounds, I beat Fred Dean the first year and Steve McMichael the second year.”

An Unforgettable Walk

The combination of genetics, a hard-nosed upbringing, being around the right people and pure luck allowed Derland Moore to put forth an outstanding 14-year NFL career. And with the incredible play came a host of honors. While every honor received is very special to Moore, there is one that stands out to him. “It was damn nice to be selected on the 50th team in New Orleans as the best of the best. That was a damn nice feeling. There are some good guys involved in that. John Hill was part of that. John passed away a year ago. John and I actually lived together for three years, so we were close friends. To be a part of it with him and Archie Manning, Stan Brock, Tommy Myers, Rickey Jackson and the rest of those guys was special”, Moore shared. He then continued, saying, “I’m fixing to get my knees chopped on finally in September. I’m getting some new wheels put in. My knees were bad at the time of that 50th team celebration and they said, ‘Derland, we’re going to take you out there in a golf cart’, and I said, ‘You’ll play hell too.’ I said, ‘All you have to do is get me to the ramp and I’m gonna walk on that field.’ And I did, but I gotta tell you, it was close. It came to the point where we had to get off the field and I didn’t know if I was gonna get off in time for them to start the game. The only option was that I was gonna walk out there and I was gonna walk off. Then I fell on that golf cart as soon as I got out of everybody’s view.” Moore finished that statement with another big laugh. He finished with, “All those awards are very special. But the 50th team with New Orleans, that was super special.”

As time has passed, Moore still holds those football memories dear to his heart. Not so much for the X’s and O’s, but rather for the people he had the privilege to meet along the way. He reflected, “We’re reaching the age where some of them are passing away. Hokie Gajan and I were roommates in training camp for three or four years. Seeing him pass away at 58 years old, man that hurt. Hokie was a guy that gave it up. He left it all on the field. He was beat up pretty bad and when he got to be 58 years old, I took a good look at him and said, ‘Damn Hokie. Do you have any good joints left in your body?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, Derland. I can’t bend down to find out.’ Another was Brad Edelman, who’s impact on Moore was so great that Moore named his youngest son after the former Saints offensive lineman. All in all, the game of football has given Derland Moore memories that will last a lifetime.

So, if you’re in the neighborhood of Mandeville, Louisiana, go find out for yourself. Maybe you’ll get to hear some of his memories about Steve and Tinker Owens and the impact they made in Oklahoma during his college years. Or maybe it’ll be about Fred Dean and how he was shot one morning and then set a 1.5 mile run record that same afternoon. If you’re lucky, it could be one of his ‘not fit for print’ stories.

Whichever story you get, you can bank on being greeted with hospitality, hearing that comfortable southern accent and enjoying whole lot of those Derland Moore laughs.