Sports

Rachel: Behind Enemy Lines

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Game_Onair_DukesBell_640x480_071814 Dukes & Bell
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A Lot of people believed I was doing just that, going behind enemy lines when I accepted a job in Tuscaloosa in the summer of 2009. You see, I’m an Auburn grad; so to many the move was a mortal mistake with grave consequences.

A lot of things happened to lead me to Tuscaloosa. The summer before I moved I was jobless in the sportscasting field. After having a successful sports-talk show in Columbus, Georgia, I was one of the victims of the economic downturn of 2009. One day I was on the air, the next they literally couldn’t afford to pay us. It was a shock, and a huge blow to my career, or so I thought.

I still remember the hopeless feeling I had leaving work for the last time that day. I went home and locked the door and fell apart for a couple of days, but around day two I did what I’ve ALWAYS done. I pulled myself up by the bootstraps, wiped away the tears, and figured out what was next.

SEC Media days was fast approaching. I called some friends in the business and asked if I could help in their coverage of the event and ascertain a credential from their outlet. (I’m quite resourceful when I need to be.) I got the credential and away I went.  After three days of asking questions to SEC coaches, a gentlemen approached me and said, “I’ve watched you work these past couple of days, and I want to offer you a job covering the Crimson Tide football team. We’d need you to be there within a month.”

I went home and pondered the offer. I talked to my agent and literally made a pro/con list. I love Auburn; but at the end of the day I am a journalist, and I had to admit the offer was very intriguing. I packed my bags and away I went, not knowing a soul, other than my new boss.

To say I’m independent is an understatement. This independent streak prohibits me from asking for help many times (something I’m working on). You could call it my hamartia, or fatal flaw.  In Tuscaloosa I was incredibly happy with my job and co-workers, but I was also incredibly lonely, for the first time in my life. (But too stubborn to let anyone know. See above). I tried to turn it around and ask God what he wanted me to learn in this time of solitude. So I was seeking. I was open.

One of my jobs at the Tuscaloosa news was to procure feature interviews and packages. One of the first places I called was the Mal Moore athletic facility, to the office of Mal Moore himself. I got Mal’s LOYAL assistant Judy and we set up an interview time with coah Moore (as I called him). I remember being nervous at a wet cat before the interview (below), I mean this man was a part of countless national championships and played for, and worked for, THE Bear Bryant. AND he hired Nick Saban.

Coach Moore was just as gracious as he could be. He gave me lengthy answers, from the heart, and the interview went well over the allotted time. I can still remember how at peace he was with his memories, choices and decisions. He radiated contentment.

After the interview I went to shake his hand, instead, I impulsively hugged him (I’m a natural hugger). He gave me a big bear hug back. How could he have known how much I needed that hug?  Looking back, it’s funny how a simple hug could do so much to drive out the loneliness I was feeling in the time.

When I left that day coach Moore said to me, “if you ever need ANYTHING Rachel, you just call me or Judy,” and he meant it.

He was one of the most sincere people I’ve ever met.

I often called him for advice on historical interviews and leads. His reaction was always the same, genteel, kind and beyond helpful.

That day was the most special though, and  it sticks out in my mind for many reasons, but the mostly because a bond was formed, and a foundation was laid. I was in Tuscaloosa for another three years; EVERY SINGLE time I saw him after that day we hugged. Sometimes to the shock and amazement of others. (I can literally see them thinking now, what is that  little woman doing HUGGING Mal Moore?)  But every hug meant just as much as the first. I would congratulate him on a great game after a win, because this team WAS his team, this university HIS university. I would also pat him on the back after a tough loss. He always asked me how I was doing, and you know what? He genuinely wanted to know. Those moments may have not meant much to others, but they are priceless to me (streaming tears as I type this).

When I heard of his passing, I read many accounts of how he touched people’s lives. One of the most poignant was from fellow journalist Laura Owens. After a tour of a new facility, which he was VERY proud of, lunch was served. Laura knew no one and dined alone. Coach Moore approached her and asked if he could eat lunch with her.

THAT was coach Moore. And that’s a life we could all take a cue from.

Rest in peace, coach Moore.

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