A low-slung, white Ford Galaxie 500 edged slowly through the gate into Firebird Stadium off Reservoir Road in Georgetown the other day. The driver, Charles Moore, got out and looked toward the lumpy field with brown and green clumps of grass.
The players from the University of the District of Columbia sensed their coach's presence. Passes were thrown harder, patterns became more crisp, and the linemen's grunts grew louder.
Moore, 40, also doubles as UDC's interim athletic director. He is a large man (about 6 feet 5) with giant-sized problems. UDC, an independent Division II school, is 0-4. The Firebirds lost, 56-6, last week to Delaware State and 51-0 to Bethune-Cookman two weeks before that. Both schools play in Division I-AA.
The UDC football program has been criticized for trying to do too much too soon, hoping to pick up where the highly successful basketball team left off. UDC has added four Division I-AA schools to its 10-game schedule this year.
"I think we can build a football program like our basketball program, and within four years," Moore said. "We know we are trying to capitalize off the reputation of the basketball team. We've hitched our wagon onto a shining star."
But it's been a rather bumpy ride.
"I always wondered what it would be like to lose like that," said Moore, who compiled a 27-5-1 record as head coach at Bethune-Cookman from 1973-75, including two conference championships and two coach-of-the-year honors.
"It's not like I'm going to die, but I do feel like going somewhere to hide," he said.
Moore's team also has lost to Mansfield State (28-14) and to Livingstone College (22-14). He's tried to find the right emotional response to the defeats, but it hasn't been easy. "I kind of hate myself. It's got to hurt some. I never will accept losing. Losing is an empty feeling, a feeling of utter frustration. I've had a lot of sleepless nights."
The Firebirds are having problems primarily because of their inexperience. "Eighty-five percent of my starters are freshmen. I think Bethune and Delaware start around 5 to 10 percent freshmen," said Moore, who coached future NFL pros Larry Little (Miami) and Boobie Clark (Cincinnati) at Bethune-Cookman.
Murphy Simon, a freshman right guard from Worthy High School in Houston, says he is hurt by the losing. "I felt a deep, deep pain in my heart," he said, his left hand on his swollen right hand. "After I started thinking about the game, I had that killer instinct again."
Not only has Moore had to contend with inexperience, but injuries have decimated his team. UDC has suffered 12 injuries (out of 50 players), and half those players are through for the season.
Two key players are starting quarterback Dwayne Butler, a junior, and senior captain Barry Tolliver, a wide receiver. Their injuries, a hip pointer for Butler and a hamstring pull for Tolliver, only compound the frustration of losing.
"Basically, it hurts both mentally and physically," said Butler, whose Theodore Roosevelt High team lost only five games in three years.
"It's a very bitter feeling," Tolliver said. "Those teams aren't 50 points better than us. We're a young team, still in the embryonic stage. So is the school, for that matter."
Saturday's game against Wagner College is Homecoming. "We need to win to give us a little breathing room," said Tolliver.
Tolliver used an analogy to describe how to forget the previous frustrating games.
"When you first start elementary school, the teacher puts you at the board and gives you a simple addition problem: one plus one.
"You say: 'Three.'
"The teacher tells you to erase it and answer again.
"Then you get it right. That's what we have to do here: erase those games from our memories and start all over again. We must learn from those games, but we cannot regress. If we regress, we will never progress."