The Miami Dolphins will be hosting a special Gator Day celebration on Sunday to honor the 2008 national champion Florida Gators football team that won the 2009 BCS Championship 24-14 over the Oklahoma Sooners on Jan. 8, 2009 in Miami Gardens, FL. To commemorate the occasion, OGGOA sat down with Dolphins vice president Nat Moore, who had much to do with setting up this unique celebration.
Moore played for the Gators and head coach Doug Dickey from 1972-73 after transferring from a junior college. He played running back for two years and earned first-team All-Southeastern Conference as well as honorable mention All-American awards in 1972 after running 145 times for 845 yards with nine touchdowns and catching 25 passes for 351 yards and four more scores. A Gator Great who was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame in 1978, Moore earned his degree from Florida two years after entering the NFL.
After the 1973 season, Moore was selected by Miami with the No. 78 overall pick in the third round of the 1974 NFL Draft. He joined a Dolphins team coming off of back-to-back Super Bowl wins including the perfect season of 1972. Miami moved Moore to wide receiver, and he rewarded them with a Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro season in 1977, when he hauled in a league-high 12 touchdowns. Moore retired from football after spending his entire 13-year career with Miami. He broke nearly ever Dolphins receiving record at the time of his retirement, concluding his career with 510 catches for 7,547 yards and 74 touchdowns and earning him a spot in the team’s Honor Roll.
Since retiring from football, Moore has been involved in a variety of activities. He serves as a vice president with Miami, runs the Nat Moore Foundation and at one point was a broadcaster with Sun Sports for Gators football. He now does preseason broadcast work with the Dolphins in addition to his other duties.
OGOGA had the opportunity to speak to Moore for a half hour about his time at Florida, experience in the NFL, idea for a celebration of the Gators and opinions about some players he has come across throughout his career as a broadcaster.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: What was it that led you to the University of Florida considering you were born in Tallahassee and went to high school in Miami?
NAT MOORE: “As a kid growing up in Miami, I felt like I really wanted to get away to focus on my studies and have less distractions. You go to Gainesville and basically you’re there for two things. One – to get a good and solid education, and two – a chance to develop your craft in whatever athletic endeavor it is. For me, it gave me a chance where all my friends would be new friends unless they were up there from Miami or Tallahassee. It was close enough that I wasn’t too far away from home if I got homesick. It was a university that my basketball coach in junior college had played baseball with Doug Dickey, so that was the entry into attending the University of Florida. It was always the right place for me, and they were an up-and-coming program in the SEC.”
Read the rest of our interview with Nat Moore…after the break!
AS: Looking at how much attention the SEC gets now compared to when you played, does any part of you wish you were playing in the league right now?
NM: “Doing the Gator broadcasts for the last 14 years, this is the first year I’m not actually doing the Breakfast with the Gators until the end of the year. I’ve lived that. The one thing about college is that we all think that our time was the best time. I would never trade that experience of playing football and going to school up there at the University of Florida back in the ‘70s. I’m a 60-year-old individual, and I thought that when I was there it was the best thing since sliced bread. As things grow and change for the next group, it’s a whole different set of circumstances and terms. I feel that the University of Florida was the right place at the right time for me.”
AS: Is there one game or one play that you had while with the Gators that you still remember or look back on when you think about your college career now?
NM: “When I think about playing in college, the biggest game for me and really helped me bust upon the scene as a prolific open-game running back and a guy that could score from anywhere on the field was the Auburn game where I reversed my field several times and was able to put points on the board and score. That was when the SEC actually started to realize that there was some folks up at Florida that were pretty dang gone good.”
AS: How special was it for you to be drafted by the Miami Dolphins and be able to return home after you were done with college?
NM: “A couple things. One – every player’s dream that plays in the NFL if their town has a pro franchise is to one day play at home, play in front of their family and friends and people you’ve known your whole life and all of your supporters. That was great. For me it was scary because there were no guaranteed contracts back in those days. I was going to a team that had been to three-straight Super Bowls and had just won two with one being a perfect [season]. People were saying that was the best team there was. I had to go in and displace somebody to make the ball club. I’m being asked to be moved from running back to wide receiver. So as a rookie coming in, knowing that you have to make this ball club, that’s a very scary proposition even though you are going home. I had mixed emotions about it to be honest.”
AS: I know you caught passes at Florida, but can you talk a little bit about making the transition from college running back to pro receiver. How difficult was that to do and how long did it take you to really feel comfortable at wideout?
NM: “The one thing I’ve always learned is that the more you study the better you get. You go to class, you study when the test comes you got a pretty good opportunity to be successful. My first priority when I came to the Dolphins was to hit the books and learn the plays. If you didn’t know what to do, it’s kind of hard to showcase your abilities. I spent more time – unlike a lot of the other rookies – studying. I didn’t really get caught up in practicing back in Miami. I have seen all of Miami. While other rookies were driving into the city, I was studying. I was learning the game plan, learning the playbook. That in itself helped me a great deal.
“And then when the veterans came in, to have a guy like a Paul Warfield – who is still for my money is the best receiver to ever play a game. Here’s the only guy that I know of that’s in the Hall of Fame that averaged 20 yards per catch. A guy that played on a team here in Miami that threw the ball very sparingly, but when they did throw it everybody in the ballpark knew he was going to get it and he still had the ability to get open and come up with the big play. I had a guy like that as my tutor, who really taught me how to run routes, taught me how to be a pro. It ended up being my luck fortunately to come to the Miami Dolphins at the right time and have someone like Paul, Marlin Briscoe, Howard Twilley, Bob Griese that were willing to work with me to help me learn to be a quality receiver.”
AS: You had the opportunity to play in two Super Bowls. For those who are just excited when their team gets there, can you describe what it is like as a player to finally reach that point in your career?
NM: “You play the game to win championships – at least that’s what we did. It’s like a final climax that you’ve gotten that opportunity. There’s 32 teams every year that start out with the same goal – to get to the Super Bowl and win it. Along the way, a lot of teams lose their way. For 9-10 years, that’s what I experienced – so close but yet so far. And then when I finally in 1982 make it to the Super Bowl, we’re playing a team like the Washington Redskins. I’m looking at our team and I’m looking at our game plan and I just know that there’s no way that this team is supposed to beat us and I’m finally going to get that championship ring. You go through a week of listening to the media. You go through a week of dealing with all of the hype that goes with the game. The biggest issue is that you look up on Friday and, if you got caught up in the hype, you’re not ready to play because you’ve been so busy doing everything else that you didn’t focus on the game. We focused on the game. We thought we had a great game plan. For whatever reason it may be, it just didn’t happen.
“I’ll tell you, you have the butterflies starting to come like a rookie playing his first game because you know that this game is what you’ve dreamed about. The problem is, when the game is over and you’re not victorious, it’s the most deflating, depressing thing you could ever go through. To be honest – at the end of that game when we lost to the Redskins, a team that I thought if we played them nine times we’d beat them nine times but that day we didn’t get it done and the ball didn’t bounce our way and they made plays but we didn’t – I was ready to give up football. That’s how crushing that loss was. If it had not been for the fans when they gave us a parade downtown. They had heard I was thinking about retiring and giving up football that time and they start changing, ‘one more year,’ encouraging me to come back and give it another shot. If not for that, I probably would have retired. That’s how brutal that loss was to me. It’s sort of like I’ve lost before but never a game of that magnitude where the prize is right there. It was hurting. It really was.
“I think it’s the first year that’s the most demoralizing because after you lose the first time, you don’t accept it but you learn how to deal with it. The tough part is if you’ve never been there before, how do you know how to deal with it? When we lost my second Super Bowl to the 49ers, that one was much easier for me. Whether we were the better team or they were the better team, I now realize that I don’t care how good you are, things just don’t always fall your way. You don’t win because you’re the better team. Sometimes it’s not in the cards. That’s what I’ve walked away from the game realizing. It wasn’t meant for me to win a championship. It was meant for me to have that opportunity and for that to make me stronger in other facets of my life.”
AS: Since retiring from the NFL, I know you’ve had plenty of opportunities to cover the Gators as a member of the media. Is there any player in particular you remember watching and saying from the first time you saw them – that guy is going to be something special?
NM: “Percy Harvin. Percy Harvin was a guy that, as you watched him and you saw his athletic ability and his ability to make plays throughout his career there with the Gators, he was phenomenal. There have been several. I look at a Chris Rainey today, I saw him in high school as a can’t-miss product. Everybody was questioning his size but most people forget about his heart. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the heart of the dog in the fight. Doing college football, you see so many of those stories. You go back and you look at Danny Wuerffel. If you look at Danny, he doesn’t even look like a football player, but the guy made plays. It’s that intangible. Tim Tebow, the guy made plays. Chris Leak – you can just go right down the line. They were guys that, no matter what anybody said, they just continued to impress you, continued to work and continued to prove everybody wrong when they wanted to have all those negative connotations about those guys.
“I thought that first national championship in Tim’s freshman year, the way that both he and Chris Leak handled themselves, handled the media and handled all the people that tried to separate that team, I thought was phenomenal. A lot of it is also about the character of those young men and how they accept things that people are saying about them and don’t let it phase them.”
AS: You mentioned Chris Rainey. As a guy of similar stature to him – of course Rainey a bit lighter than you were when you played in the league – do you think he can make it in the NFL?
NM: “Is there a guy named Darren Sproles? The irony of sports is that we as media are sitting here trying to dissect and interpret what should and should not be. In the process, we sort of pigeon hole people at a position where they don’t get opportunities. Football is a game of athleticism and strength and etcetera. All of a sudden, if you look at this level that I’m at now, everybody wants bigger, faster, stronger. Guess what? When you do give a little guy a chance, it’s amazing what they do. I’m just so fed up with everybody trying to say this guy can’t play because of his size, or this guy can’t play because he throws a certain way. You know what? They did it their whole lives and they’ve been successful. All they ask for is an opportunity.
“As soon as we the media stop falling into that trap of ‘he ain’t big enough’ or ‘they’re looking for tall receivers, they’re looking for big runners.’ Chris Johnson – how big is he? They add more weight as they get a little older, that’s natural. You look at a guy like Chris Rainey, he catches the ball well, he’s a breakaway runner, he can return kicks. I even looked at Brandon James. Because of his size, he wasn’t given an opportunity, but he’s over in Canada and he’s playing pretty damn good. Ironically we have a tendency to just assume. When I played I was 185 lbs, they said I couldn’t play running back at that size. OK. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t play wide receiver or defensive back.”
AS: Is that why you think it has taken so long for Tim Tebow to get an opportunity?
NM: “I can’t really speak on what Denver’s thoughts are and their rationale for what they do and why they do it. That’s why they get paid the big bucks. Me personally, I just think that football is about opportunity. I’m one of those guys that believes Tim is a young man that understands everything that’s going on around him. He takes it in, depends on his faith and he will be prepared when his opportunity comes. When his opportunity comes, he will be a guy that they find it very difficult to get him off the field because of his production.
“I would look at a guy like Tim Tebow and, basically his mechanics are not what everybody says they should be, but most of the people that are saying that are people who didn’t play the damn game anyway. It’s about what you do. Bernie Kosar threw it side arm and looped it over. Bob Griese didn’t have a strong arm. Chad Pennington is a guy that, if you look at his arm, you wonder how he played at this level, but he holds the record for completion percentage. I don’t buy into all these things that they say a person has to have or a person has to be or a person has to do. You see guys that do things their own way and they win. My thought – when it comes to a guy like Tim – is that with all the mechanical errors they say he has, the guy still completed 66-67 percent of his passes. All I say is – you give people a chance.”
AS: How did you go from a player to a member of the Dolphins front office? You have also been very involved with charity over the years including with the Nat Moore Foundation. Can you talk about what the goal of that organization is and if there is anything going on soon?
NM: “I’m here because people gave me an opportunity. Had it not been for the organization and the people who wanted to help me get an opportunity, I would not be here. When I look at the platform that God has blessed me with, it’s an opportunity to give back, reward and give kids that aspire to be better and succeed their opportunity. There’s a lot of young kids out here that could be the person that comes up with the cure for cancer. If we don’t provide opportunities for them to reach their goals and their dreams, it won’t happen. Our goal is real simple: We want to do everything we can to empower young people to reach their goals and dreams. Our mission is: Helping Kids Help Themselves – kids from 5-17 and scholarships go further than that, too. I’m just a strong believer that there are some bright young folks out there that will not get that opportunity, especially with all the cutbacks and things that are happening within government.”
“We do one big fundraiser every year which is called the Canon Florida Golf Classic. It is an event at Doral where we bring in some of my closest celebrity friends and we put on a golf outing and a dinner to raise money for the rest of the year. We try to do one event a year that way we don’t beat up on all the companies all year wrong. We play 250-300 golfers and raise quite a bit of money”
AS: Let’s talk a little bit about the Gator Day celebration being put on for the Oct. 23 game against Denver. What is the goal of this from the organization’s perspective? Did you have a hand in this considering your close ties to Florida?
NM: “Let me start out by saying this because I think it’s really critical that everybody understands why and how we’re doing what we’re doing. Here with the Miami Dolphins, we have three commitments to our fans. The first one is to put a team on the field that’s worthy of our fan support with the goal of competing for championships year in and year out. We’re not successful at that yet but we’re working at it. The second one is to enhance the experience of our fans here at Sun Life Stadium and aggressively market the team to a broad region and a diverse fan base. It can’t be just about the University of Miami. It can’t just be about South Florida. It’s about everybody in South Florida. Whatever we can do to encourage them to come to our games – they might not be our fans starting out but they’ll never be our fans if we can’t get them in our stadium.
“When you look at, from a college standpoint, the University of Florida has more alumnus and more fans in South Florida than anybody else – anybody. That’s a group that we need to be able to reach. That’s a group that every other professional team in this market already does a Gator Day. We’re a team that through the years has stayed away from it, but I’ve been asking for this for three years. This year with our need to continue to sell tickets to try to get people in the seats so we don’t have to do blackouts, I finally got them to agree to it. I am the culprit of it. I don’t apologize for that. It’s not a slap on the University of Miami. I’m probably one of the biggest UM fans you’ll ever meet because I grew up here. But I’m also a Gator, and that’s my No. 1 love.
“In doing so, every year you’re going to have teams coming in here with an opportunity to raise money for scholarships. There’s a great opportunity to capitalize on Gators that are playing in the NFL that we’ve rooted for years that can come here. Fans can root for the Dolphins; they can root for the players. That’s not the issue. The issue is how do I get you here that you have such a good time that you do become a Dolphin fan. Doing what we’re doing, we’re going to raise substantial dollars hopefully for the University of Florida’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. We’re also hopefully going to find some new fans, some new people that would be coming to the stadium more o on a regular basis because they enjoyed themselves.
“This year, when we chose Denver, it was amazing how the stars just lined up. When I first presented this, Jabar Gaffney also was with Denver. Not just Tim Tebow and Marcus Thomas. It’s a tremendous opportunity for the Gator Nation to come back and celebrate one of our biggest victories ever, which was right here at Sun Life Stadium – the 2008 national championship team that few thought could beat Oklahoma. We won the championship here. That’s what this is all about. An opportunity to salute those guys.
“The true irony is that most of the superstars that play on that team are playing in the league. They won’t be here, but the other guys who are the unsung heroes, who gave it their everything will also be saluted. Urban Meyer is the only coach that is expected to be here because all the other guys are coaching. How many opportunities do you get where you can have all of those guys while they’re still young, while people still remember, to have them come back to they won it all? I think it’s a natural fit. We’re doing it and looking forward to that opportunity. Me as a Gator, I’m so proud of what they accomplished that I can’t wait for that day. I’ll be involved in so many different ways. Like I said, it’s something that I feel very strongly about and I’m very honored to be a part of it.”