A new award inspired by the legacy of Notre Dame icon Joe Moore

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

The first coldcock of culture shock once he arrived as a freshman at Notre Dame was delivered to Aaron Taylor by the very person the former Irish All-America offensive lineman figured would be in his corner forever mitigating it.

Instead Joe Moore changed the arc of not only the football career, but of the life of Taylor through tough, twisted love the player couldn’t completely decode until his final, wistful days as a college football player.

“What happened to the super-nice guy that was recruiting me?” Taylor, now 42 and a college football analyst for CBS Sports, said with a laugh when recalling his come-to-reality moment as a freshman. “Where’d that guy go?”

That Taylor was one of many driving forces behind the creation of the Joe Moore Award for the Most Outstanding Offensive Line Unit, unveiled Monday, is a testament to how differently he frames that experience now with the late Irish offensive line coach.

“He taught me to believe in myself and he taught me I was capable of achieving a lot more than I thought possible,” Taylor said. “He taught me that the limitations that I put on myself were unnecessary, that I was capable of achieving things far beyond my wildest imagination. And he ensured that I didn’t sell myself short.

“But it wasn’t just me. As I’ve shared my story, I’ve come to realize he did that for all of us — at Pitt, at Notre Dame, with the coaches he coached with. Everyone had that same experience.”

Many of those who were touched by Moore during his defining nine-season stretches at Pitt (1977-85) and ND (1988-96) stepped forward and brought Moore’s legacy back into the spotlight with an award that is the only one in college football that recognizes a position group.

And they did it quickly. The first phone call that put the award’s creation in motion took place June 7, and only with a couple of dozen synchronistic semi-miracles was it ready to launch just ahead of the first weekend of FBS games.

Unlike most college football awards, there’s no tedious preseason watch list, but there will be a weekly honor roll every Tuesday during the season, beginning Sept. 8. Semifinalists will be announced Nov. 16, with the field narrowed to five finalists on Nov. 30.

The award winner, evaluated and voted on by individuals who played and/or coached the offensive line positions, gets unveiled in late December.

The trophy itself was designed and created by renowned sculptor Jerry McKenna, whose past works include many of the statues of ND football icons around Notre Dame Stadium.

“My dad lived in the trenches with his players and for his players, and embraced the anonymity of the position,” John Moore said of his father, who died in the summer of 2003 from lung cancer at age 71. “In that sense, he probably would not be comfortable with his name being on anything, let alone a trophy.

“But the Joe Moore Award is a great tribute to the very things that define football as a sport: toughness and teamwork. He would have loved being associated with the only college football award to recognize a unit that embodies those principles.”

The principles that are to guide the voters are toughness, effort, teamwork, physicality, tone-setting and finishing.

Subjective? Yes. Evaluating offensive line play always has been, given the lack of exacting metrics to define the position.

“We’re going to evaluate the unit play of the offensive lines very similar to NFL scouts evaluating individual offensive line players,” Taylor said. “The same methodology, but all five players from tackle to tackle.”

The kind of lines who would make Joe Moore smile, and he did smile, on occasion.

Especially when his linemen were seniors, and he took the group out for sodas and burgers at CJ’s Pub late in their final seasons.

“That’s where you had your chance to (trash) him and laugh at all the stuff he did,” Taylor recalled. “And the fun, bubbly caring guy who recruited you showed back up.

“Because your career was done, and he had gotten you to become the best version of yourself against your will, he was able to let the guard down and really share with each of us in a special way how meaningful we were to him.

“We knew that viscerally, probably intuitively, but there it cemented it. And it was a rite of passage that not only did you get a chance to play for the greatest offensive line coach that ever lived, but you also survived that experience.”

And in that setting Taylor had a private moment he still can’t share to this day without getting choked up, which he hopes the award will come to stand for in the coming years.

“He brought up a drill we all hated, that made me as tired as I’ve ever been in my life,” Taylor recounted. “And just when you thought you had nothing left, he’d ask you to do five more.

“Joe said, ‘Do you know why I did it?’ And I said something smart to him, and we laughed.

“Then he said, ‘The reason I did that is that in the fourth quarter of a game, when you didn’t think you had anything left, that you really did have five more in you.

“ ‘And I wanted to let you know that as a man, when life gets hard, whether it’s in the NFL or you face adversity as a father, as a husband, as an employee, that you’ve always got five more in you, that you’re capable of doing more than you ever thought possible. I just wanted you to know that.’ ”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Former Notre Dame offensive line coach Joe Moore, here with his 1988 national championship ring displayed, left a legacy that gets a second wind now with the creation of the Joe Moore Award for the Most Outstanding Offensive Line Unit. (SBT File Photo).