UNIVERSITY PARK - Lenny Moore woke up early Saturday morning at the Nittany Lion Inn and took a walk downtown.
He wanted to see the old haunts he remembered from the 1950s. After he hit College Avenue, walking past The Corner Room and The Diner - "they used to call it the Penn State Diner," he said - he headed toward Rec Hall and the Nittany Lion shrine.
As he stood before it, a lifetime of memories flooded back.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Honorary PSU captain Lenny Moore shakes hands with Syracuse captains before Saturday’s game.
"Things," he said, "were happening inside me."
Picking the best running back in Penn State history, among the bevy of choices, is difficult. There's all-time rushing leader Curt Warner and 1994 kingpin Ki-Jana Carter. There's season record holder Larry Johnson and Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti. There's Blair Thomas and Curtis Enis, Lydell Mitchell, Franco Harris and Charlie Pittman.
But there's no debating this: If he wasn't the best one - and he may well have been - Lenny Moore was definitely the first great one.
In an era where the players went "both ways," playing offense and defense, Moore averaged a ridiculous 8.0 yards per carry, a record that still stands among the season leaders - 55 years later.
He also led the team in interceptions twice and punt return average three times, including a blurry 17.5 per in '54.
Moore, now 75, was an honorary captain Saturday. It is the first time in memory a former player was accorded the distinction of being at midfield with the current captains for the coin toss and, if this becomes a new tradition, what a great choice to start.
"Lenny Moore was probably the best football player I've ever coached, all-around," Joe Paterno said Saturday after the Lions beat Syracuse, 28-7. "He was super. Some people think there wasn't any football here until I came. There's been a great history here, going way back."
Moore, who played at old Beaver Field (capacity: 30,000), was numb at his introduction to the pre-game roar of 107,000.
"It's wonderful, man," he said. "Wow. Looking at all the people, and hearing the 'We Are Penn State,' I'm just amazed at how we've grown. I can't get over this."
Following the coin toss, Dave Truitt of the 1959 Liberty Bowl team, which was honored at halftime, approached Moore.
"Thanks for starting it all," Truitt, whose son Greg was the snapper on the 1987 national championship team and a long-time NFL player, said.
He and Moore embraced.
"He was such a legend," Truitt said. "He could do things with the football other people didn't. He was such a pure athlete in an era when lifting weights wasn't allowed. When we played [against Pitt's] Mike Ditka [in the early 1960s], he [Ditka] was 208 pounds. It was a different game, but Lenny, without question, was a great, great athlete."
For whatever reason, many if not most of the top backs in Penn State history did not quite equal their college success in the NFL.
That was not the case with Moore, a centerpiece of the old Baltimore Colts and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Back then, you're just going from year to year, and when you become older and all the years of professional football [are over] and I look back, I was a part of all of this, and that just grips you," he said. "It's a blessing."
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.