Former Saints defensive lineman Derland Moore dead at 68 after battle with cancer
There is this sobering fact to report.
Former New Orleans Saints star defensive lineman Derland Moore has passed away after a battle with cancer. Moore was 68.
Derland was one of the most competitive players and persons I have known in my lifetime.
He was also one of the nicest men I have known.
Derland Moore was not the biggest defensive linemen in the NFL, far from it.
Moore was not one of the fastest defensive linemen in the NFL, far from it.
Moore was not one of the quickest defensive linemen in the NFL, far from it.
What Derland Moore was as a player was one of the hardest working, determined individuals I have ever seen play at any level.
Moore arrived in New Orleans at a tough time in franchise history.
Then again, Moore was a tough guy, going back to his roots from his hometown of Malden, Missouri and growing up in Poplar Bluff as a farm boy.
“You had to work to achieve,” Moore told me. “You earned everything. I learned the whole concept of work ethic at a very young age. It carried over in my life. It helped form who I became.”
Moore went on to become an All-American at Oklahoma.
In his junior season (1971), the Sooners of Chuck Fairbanks finished second in the nation to conference rival Nebraska, losing the Game of the Century, a 35-31 thriller to the Cornhuskers at Norman in a back-and-forth game as Jeff Kinney scored his fourth touchdown of the game to win it with 1:38 to play.
“We had a great, great team,” Moore told me. “So did Nebraska. No one else in the country was close to either one of us. If we played them again, we beat them. If we played 10 times, we probably win five and so do they. That was such a bitter loss to take because we played well and we were so good.”
Nebraska won the national championship, walloping Alabama 38-6 in the Orange Bowl.
The 1972 season, Moore’s senior season, also ended with the Sooners second in the nation. Oklahoma avenged its loss to Nebraska, winning 17-14 at Lincoln, but lost at Colorado 20-14. Once again, the season concluded in New Orleans as the Sooners blanked Penn State 14-0 in the Sugar Bowl at Tulane Stadium.
That season concluded with an appearance at his future home as Moore and Oklahoma whipped Auburn 40-22 in the Sugar Bowl at Tulane Stadium. USC went unbeaten and won the national championship.
“We could have won it all either of those two seasons,” Moore said. “You appreciated being part of a great team and winning but experienced the pain of coming close to winning it all and coming up just short. I guess you could call that the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
Subsequently, Oklahoma voluntarily forfeited eight victories for use of an ineligible player.
Then, the New Orleans Saints drafted Moore with the 29th pick overall in the second round of the NFL Draft in 1973.
New Orleans did not have a first round pick that season so the focus of all eyes was on Moore.
J.D. Roberts, an Oklahoma guy, wanted Moore and got him drafted. It looked like a Sooner marriage that would be around later, for a long period of time.
It did not even reach the regular season.
Roberts was fired before the regular season began.
John North took over.
Then came Ernie Hefferle.
Then came Hank Stram.
Then came Dick Nolan.
Then came Dick Stanfel.
Then came Bum Phillips.
Then came Wade Phillips.
Moore played for eight head coaches (three interim) in 13 seasons, dizzying math, to say the least. Of course, it was an indication of failure and instability.
The Saints were a poorly run organization with no direction or continuity.
New Orleans never experienced a winning season with Moore on the roster but it had nothing to do with him.
The Saints became respectable in 1978, going 7-9 and went 8-8 in 1979, collapsing in a 42-35 Monday Night Football loss to Oakland after leading 35-14 in the third quarter. The Saints also lost a 40-34 thriller to Atlanta in the season opener in overtime. They were that close to winning.
Then came 1980 and owner John Mecom messed with a good thing, changing the upper management of the franchise, disrupting progress, the team had a serious drug problem with several players involved and the team collapsed, going 1-15 and Nolan was dismissed with four games left in the season.
“We were so close,” Moore recalled. “Our offense was really good but then we had contract issues, drug issues and we had to mess with success at the top. Coach Nolan was a good man. It was so frustrating.”
Bum Phillips arrived in 1981, the Saints started over, improved in the strike-shortened season of 1982 and then looked poised for a first winning season and playoff appearance in 1983.
It did not happen.
New Orleans lost by three points at Los Angeles to the Rams in week two.
The Saints blew a lead in a game they outplayed the Cowboys in and lost 21-20 at Dallas in week four. There was a six-point loss at Buffalo.
Then, New Orleans let a fourth quarter lead get away in a 31-28 Monday Night Football loss to the Jets. There was a 7-0 loss to the Patriots in the snow at New England.
Still, the Saints were 8-7 with a chance to post a winning season and clinch a playoff berth going into the regular season finale with the Rams in the Superdome.
New Orleans overcame shaky quarterback play by Ken Stabler and Dave Wilson, each of whom threw a pick six, to take a 24-23 lead in the fourth quarter.
The Saints had the ball as the two minute warning approached.
Phillips had a chance to add to the lead but rather than try a 49-yard field goal with future Pro Football Hall of Fame kicker Morten Andersen, he chose to punt with reserve punter Guido Merkens.
The Rams, who had done nothing offensively in the second half, proceeded to drive to the New Orleans 25-yard line and Mike Lansford calmly drilled a 42-yard field goal to sink the Saints, sink the winning season and playoff appearance, and to sink the career of Phillips.
“Again, we were so close,” Moore told me. “We had almost everything you needed with really good young players, really good experienced players, we could run the ball well. Who knows if we had tried the field goal? Of course, it hurt to give them two touchdowns and yet we were in position to win. I don’t think Bum or the team ever really recovered. I really liked playing for Bum.”
Moore was a Pro Bowl performer that season, an anchor of a good defensive front.
In Moore’s final two seasons, the Saints went 7-9 and 5-11 as Phillips quit with four games left in 1985 and handed the team over to his son, Wade.
Moore played 13 seasons with the Saints, playing in 170 games, still 10th most in franchise history. Moore made the Pro Bowl in 1983 but never experienced a winning season with the Saints.
That did not define Moore, a leader and a winner.
“We had a lot of people who did not know what they were doing but we could not control that,” Moore said. “All we could do was to work hard and play the best we possibly could. We had some good people involved in running things, at times, but we never kept them.”
Despite the turmoil of a poorly run organization, Moore played in every scheme, at every position, regardless of who the coach was. There was the 4-3, the 3-4, the flex, playing nose tackle and getting double-teamed, playing defensive tackle or defensive end. He was a willing soldier and did his job well on a consistent basis.
When Derland left the Saints after the 1985 season, he had a press conference at Impastato’s Restaurant to announce it. He was that popular. He was quite emotional that day. It was tough saying goodbye.
He went on to play one more season in the league with the Jets but his heart never left New Orleans. He returned to the area after that season, retiring and living here, in the latter years in Mandeville, for the remainder of his life.
Moore was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame in 1991. It was truly my pleasure, running the Saints Hall of Fame and as part of the nominating and selection process, to see Derland get inducted.
“That meant so much to me,” Moore said. “It validated the hard work, the blood, sweat, tears, pain, the injuries. It was hard losing so often. I really appreciated that people recognized that some of us worked their tails off and played well.”
As competitive as any player to ever wear the black and gold, another example of Moore’s desire to compete and win burned hot in the NFL Players Arm Wrestling Championships, which Moore won in both 1983 and 1984 in Las Vegas. Moore defeated Fred Dean of Ruston High for the title in 1983 and downed Steve McMichael to win it in 1984.
Both Dean (twice) and McMichael (once) went on to win Super Bowl titles, with San Francisco and Chicago, respectively, something the Saints and Moore never came close to.
“If I get involved in anything, I get involved to be my best, to be the best, to win,” Moore said. “We lost every year or almost every year with the Saints. To represent the team and win a title against other NFL players, many stars from winning teams, was special. It was fun whipping those guys. It is fun winning.”
After his playing days, there were ups and downs.
Moore went on to run Gridiron Construction, which had a good run but then fell on hard times, as did Moore.
Moore hit rock bottom.
He would not stay there.
As always, Moore fought off his demons, refused to accept defeat and beat down the negativity and restoring his life and family.
On Sept. 15, I was at home, watching a game with my son, who was in town, back home. It was a special, bonding time for us. Life is too short. Time flies, gets away from us much too quickly. We should appreciate all that we have, all that we love and never take anything or anyone for granted.
In the middle of that game we were watching, I received a call.
My phone registered the name of Derland Moore.
Instantly, my mind did not conjure up a good image.
A few months previous to the call, I had spoken to Frannie, Derland’s wonderful wife. He had not been doing well. Fortunately, Fran said he was improving.
I barely recognized the voice on the other end. It was weak. It was meek.
Derland Moore told me that he wanted to call me personally to tell me that he was not long for this earth, that he had terminal cancer and that he was going home for Hospice care.
I had a lump in my throat.
Then, I had a tear in my eye, make that tears from both eyes.
I recovered to ask him if he was certain, if he had sought a second or third opinion.
He told me that the game of life was essentially over. It was coming to an end.
Derland said he wanted to tell me because of our close friendship, our mutual respect.
My eyes began to leak as I listened to my friend tell me that he had no more than four months, if not mere weeks to live.
In the process, my mind raced wildly.
Have you sought a second opinion? Do you believe in miracles? Have you prayed? What about Fran, his wonderful wife?
I was a bit numb.
First came denial. Then came solitude. Next came me telling my friend that I loved him.
The call ended. The tears started, though I tried to conceal the grief from my son.
I went into the bedroom to tell my wife, whom I love deeply and who also knew Derland well. She knew how good of a person he was.
He was convinced, in his mind, that I had done quite a bit for him by inviting him to join me on radio shows, television shows, for print interviews, having him sign autographs at the Saints Hall of Fame Museum or to attend Saints Hall of Fame events.
The fact of the matter was that Derland did quite a bit for me.
He never said no, unless he was physically unable to perform, in NFL terminology.
Derland appreciated his legacy with the Saints and appreciated the fans, those who supported him and his team, despite their lack of success on the field.
Now, it is inherently more difficult to say goodbye to man who overcame his own shortcomings, overcame adversity in his business life and in his personal life to a place of restoration with his family and friends.
Derland Moore was an excellent football player. He was a superb person. Derland was always there when I would ask him to participate in events for the Saints Hall of Fame.
His wife, Fran, and his children Kim, Michelle, Chip and Brad are special people.
Yes, Moore battled health problems in recent years. Eventually, prostate cancer, which I am acutely familiar with, invaded his body, spread, and became too much to overcome.
It is a reality which we will all face, at some point. There are so many superlatives which can be applied to describe Moore.
Most of all, Derland was my friend. I will miss him greatly. So will many, many others. He was that kid of guy.
The journey ended on Thursday night. It was one I was happy to be a small part of.
Moore was 68, two weeks short of his 69th birthday.
In my mind, Moore was 74 and always will be, wearing that black or white jersey.
On the grading scale of human beings, Moore was 100. He was passionate, loved his family, loved others and overcame large periods of adversity in his life to succeed.
When Michelle called me to tell me of plans that no one ever wants to make, she asked me if I would speak at the service in church commemorating and celebrating the life of her father, my friend.
I kept it together until hanging up after telling her I would be honored to do so.
Then, the waterworks began again.
That is the kind of emotion Derland Moore engendered. The loss of a great Saint will not dampen the memory of a great friend.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…