BY BRAD LOCKE
Like his team, Jimmie Moore could not be defined by a number. Though that number – 51 – is significant, one cannot extrapolate from it the heart and mind of the late Hamilton football coach. One cannot begin to understand the teams and players he cultivated in this little town.
It's not hard to see that Moore, who passed away in 2003, was a great coach. The number 51 – the length of Hamilton's state-record winning streak from 1979-83 – attests to that. So do the two state championships and 203 victories he had at Hamilton, and the three titles he later won in Alabama.
Anecdotal evidence abounds, too, like the time he was scouting Pontotoc – without a notepad – and noticed that the quarterback tipped off when he was going to run by rubbing his knee pad.
The next week, that Pontotoc QB had negative yardage.
But to really know Jimmie Moore, to even begin to comprehend his enormous influence, one must study and ponder moments like this one:
A former Hamilton player, Mike Kennedy, was visiting Moore in Muscle Shoals, Ala., where the coach was dying a slow death from kidney cancer. Kennedy played for Moore long before 51 became a reality.
“You made me the person that I am,” Kennedy told Moore tearfully.
Moore and his wife – now Jean Wilson since remarrying- had two children of their own. Then there were the players.
“He was the epitome of the Brady Bunch and the Cleavers,” said Don Smith, who quarterbacked Hamilton to so many of those wins before moving on to Mississippi State and then the NFL.
Smith, who grew up without a father, had a bad habit of not showing up for school in fourth grade. Moore's wife was one of Smith's teachers, and she told him if he missed again, she would call his mother.
When he missed again, Mrs. Moore didn't just call – she was waiting for Smith at his house.
“That showed me she was truly concerned about me,” Smith said.
Hamilton's players were talented, they worked hard, but the love they received from the Moores is what really drove them to great heights.
“He loved them,” Wilson said of Moore. “He believed in them, and his believing in them made them believe in themselves.”
Said Smith, “He was the glue, man, that kept us all together and made better people out of all he came in contact with.”
That love eased the mental strain on the players as the streak grew. Moore confided to his wife that the kids were under a lot of pressure.
Well, that's what he thought.
“We didn't really think about the streak,” said Smith, who now owns a hotel installation company in Tampa, Fla. “We just wanted to win. At that point we really didn't understand the value it would later on become. We just wanted to go out, play, have fun and win football games.”
Like Moore, they were too caught up in being more prepared than other teams.
“His one rule for the players was, Just do right,'” Wilson said.
“He made sure we were responsible for what we had to do,” said John Lowe, who played receiver for Moore and now works for FedEx in Columbus. “We were more mature than the guys today, where you have to make people do stuff.”
Barry Thompson, a backup running back and cornerback during the streak, talked to a former Caledonia player about 10 years ago. The man had played against Moore's teams in the late 1960s and early '70s, when the Lions were nearly as dominant.
“He could tell what Hamilton would run,” Thompson recalled, “but Hamilton's execution was so good.”
Such execution was the result of intense practices. Mike Kennedy told his father, Kenneth, that he'd rather play four ballgames than have one practice under Moore.
But all that work was worth it.
“He could motivate those boys,” Kenneth Kennedy said.
The number 51 testifies to that, but so does the love for a man that still fills the old players' hearts.
“There hasn't been a day that went by that I haven't thought about that man,” said Smith. “He left such an indelible mark on myself.”
That's what mattered the most to Moore. The 51 is nice, but he took more joy in following his players after high school, watching them succeed at other levels.
That's how he defined himself.