A worn-out Corey Moore ambled through the terminal at Dulles International Airport yesterday morning with a firm grip not on the two prestigious national awards he had won this week, but on a shiny maroon Virginia Tech helmet.
The Nagurski and Lombardi award trophies that Moore, the Hokies' all-American defensive end, acquired during his six-day trip from Blacksburg, Va., to Charlotte to Houston to Orlando had been packed and shipped to Blacksburg. After this last layover at Dulles, he finally was headed back there himself.
"I've had a lot of fun this week, but I missed being with the teammates," Moore said between autographs. "And I missed being in Blacksburg with the fans because there is just so much excitement there right now.
"I've had the time of my life, though. This week, this whole season, has been so much more than I ever could have dreamed."
The journey began at 8 a.m. Sunday. For Coach Frank Beamer and the rest of the second-ranked Hokies, the day was about waiting for the official announcement of whether they would be matched with top-ranked Florida in the Sugar Bowl. For Moore, it was about flying to Charlotte for the Charlotte Touchdown Club's presentation Monday night of the Bronko Nagurski Award, which goes to the nation's top defensive player as voted by the Football Writers Association of America.
Moore arrived in Charlotte at 2:45 p.m. A limo took him to his hotel, where he joined his mother in watching the Bowl Championship Series selection show on television.
"I really wanted to be there with them, but we knew we were going to get in," Moore said. "It was still hard being away from them, but I was on the cell phone with Anthony [Midget] just before he went on TV. I told him not to be nervous and not to talk any trash."
Sunday evening, Moore met the other Nagurski Award finalists. They included Minnesota safety Tyrone Carter and a trio who became his traveling companions for the week: Florida State nose guard Corey Simon, Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington and Penn State defensive lineman Courtney Brown.
Monday morning, a limo arrived to take the five to an 8:30 breakfast with local officials. Introductions and a procession of photo opportunities followed. A luncheon and a tour of a local hospital took up most of the afternoon, and then it was time to return to the hotel to prepare for the evening's dinner.
"I didn't have [a speech prepared]," Moore said. "I didn't think there was any way I would win it."
But he did.
"I was in shock," he said. "I couldn't believe it. Here you had all of those great players, and I thought for sure one of them would win it. I didn't know what to say. It was like, complete disbelief."
The ceremony broke up at around 11:20, and though he was facing a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call for his flight to Houston, Moore was too excited to go right to sleep. The feeling would become familiar.
Moore, Simon, Arrington and Brown arrived in Houston a little before 11 a.m. After a one-hour limo ride, they were at a luxury hotel across the street from the Galleria, a shopping mall.
Simon and Moore will be on competing teams in the Sugar Bowl, but a bond began to grow between them and the two Nittany Lions.
"I am honestly impressed," Simon said of Moore. "You can tell he's a nice guy by the way he deals with people on an everyday basis. There's nothing phony about him. He's a great person who happens to also be a great football player."
There was time to unpack and grab a sandwich at the hotel before the limo returned for the next engagement: a visit to a home for orphans, where the players signed autographs and mingled with the children for 90 minutes.
Were he not doing this, Moore would be in class. He already has earned a degree in finance, but he is working on a management degree. He took one test before he left Blacksburg because he knew he would be traveling this week. He also brought some work with him.
"I try to study some every day, because you don't want to fall behind," he said.
It wasn't easy. Next was dinner at a restaurant packed with fans and local dignitaries who want to gobble appetizers and meet the players. After that, the players returned to the hotel, but there was barely enough time to change to evening clothes for a reception at the Petroleum Club.
Afterward, Moore said he knew he should be getting tired. "But right now," he said, "I'm still too excited to be tired."
He watched some television but still couldn't sleep. "I finally got up at 4 and went down to the fifth floor and got on the treadmill," Moore said.
Two hours after his workout, he was back in the limo for a trip to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and time with children stricken by the disease.
"They're so thrilled to see us," Moore whispered to Simon as they arrived. "They're so happy."
A boy gave Moore a hug and showed Moore a drawing he has made of a football player. The player was wearing No. 56, Moore's number. Moore, out of earshot of the other players, asked a staff member for a tissue.
The players did not seem ready to go an hour later, when it was time to move on to the Texas Children's Hospital. "You think you have problems, you think you've got it rough. Then you see these kids," Moore said, shaking his head. "It makes me realize how lucky I am. God bless them. God bless them."
After returning to the hotel for a luncheon, the players went to their rooms at 2:15. But at 4:15, Moore was dressed in a black tuxedo and standing with the other finalists in front of the 40-pound granite trophy named for Vince Lombardi and given by the Houston Rotary Club to the nation's most outstanding linemen.
For the next 45 minutes, the four posed for pictures with the trophy and with fans who have shelled out $50 to $1,000 to attend the dinner, which benefits the American Cancer Society. Following two hours of introductions, anecdotes, tepid jokes and highlight clips, the big moment arrived again--and again, Moore was the winner.
Flashbulbs popped, as did Moore's always expressive eyes, from which he soon was fighting tears.
It was another late night, followed by a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call and more plane travel, but Moore said: "I'll probably have to get on the treadmill again. I'm still too excited to sleep."
That was about to change.
Running on Empty
A nice surprise awaited Moore on Thursday morning in Orlando: 15 Hokies fans, waiting at the airport gate, cheering. But Moore couldn't mingle for long. He was headed for a photo shoot for Sports Illustrated, accompanied by other members of the coaches' all-America team, which was to be honored in the evening.
Moore checked into his room at a Disney resort, where some people were lying by the pool and others were jet-skiing. But there was no time for that. And no time for a nap, which Moore suddenly needed very badly.
"I like traveling. I like meeting all the nice people. But I'm worn out," he said. "It's like I'm sleepwalking. I was in the room for less than an hour before I had to get dressed and start moving again. At that point, you've really got to concentrate on what day it is, what city you're in. It would be embarrassing to not know what city you're in."
Late in the afternoon, Moore entered the Disney Wide World of Sports complex's 2,000-seat field house. It was filling for the College Football Awards Show, the nine-year-old invention of Chuck Gerber, an ESPN executive who said he looked at all of the national awards that are given to college football players and thought, "Wouldn't it be great television if . . ."
About 45 players were brought to Orlando at the expense of ESPN, which also pays the production costs and sells the advertising time (it also has sold a title sponsorship for the show). "I think we do" make money off the event, Gerber said. "Not a lot."
Gerber said players generally arrive the day before the show and appear at various events, but he said the show's organizers regularly accommodate the schedules of players who have conflicts such as exams. But, he said, "at the most, a handful" have said they couldn't attend at all. He could recall only one player who ever asked to have some study time in Orlando--Stanford running back Tommy Vardell.
"The reality at this level of success in football is that most of these players are coming out" of school to turn pro, Gerber said. "The recognition that comes with [being an honoree or an award finalist], they want to have that. It's all part of this thing they're in--looking to the NFL."
As the players are waiting for this year's show to begin, some who arrived on Wednesday talked about working with some Pop Warner League players, who were on site for a tournament. Other players were recovering from a late-night visit to Church Street Station, a restaurant and entertainment district. Moore couldn't relate.
Then, it was time for everyone to take a seat. ESPN's live broadcast was moments away. The Florida State fans in the crowd couldn't keep quiet.
"Go 'Noles!" they yelled.
"Go Hokies," came a two-fan reply.
"What's a Hokie?" one of the Florida State fans shot back.
Others laughed. Moore just shook his head.
He was a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Trophy, which goes to the Maxwell Football Club's defensive player of the year. He had familiar competition--Arrington and Brown.
Secretly, Moore hoped Brown will win. "Courtney's so quiet, but he's so good," Moore said. "LaVar's going to win the Butkus [Award, which goes to the nation's top linebacker]. Everybody knows LaVar. I've already got two. Courtney needs one. That's fair."
Arrington won, and Moore applauded--and applauded loudly when Arrington dedicated the Bednarik to Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick, who lost out earlier in the evening to Stanford's Troy Walters for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the nation's top receiver. Warrick pleaded guilty to theft charges during the season and also was not a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Moore was angered by this snub and still was talking about it when some players gather for a party next door at the All-Star Cafe.
"Peter Warrick, not the best wide receiver in college football?" Moore said. "What a joke."
Moore mixed easily with all the players, sharing stories with Purdue quarterback Drew Brees and Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne. Moore was like a magnet, standing back in the corner, and everyone gravitated toward him.
Somebody pointed outside, where fans waited in a roped-off area.
One was 12-year-old Hampton Tignor of Sarasota, Fla. He was holding a football and wearing a Virginia Tech cap.
Moore walked outside. "What's up, my man?" he said, signing Tignor's football and giving him a playful nudge.
Tignor beamed. "Corey's my favorite. He sets a great example. And I love his eyes. He's got, like, Marty Feldman eyes."
Moore enjoyed the fans, the handshakes, the awards. But at this point, he knew it was almost over.
"Everybody should have a week like this, where you're waited on hand and foot, and you feel kind of like a king," Moore said. "I don't know if it's reality, but it's fun."
This story was written and reported by staff writers Angie Watts and Steve Berkowitz in Washington and special correspondents Jim Molony, in Houston, and Joey Johnston, in Orlando.
SUNDAY, DEC. 5
Starting at 8 a.m.,
Moore travels from Blacksburg to Roanoke,
then flies to Charlotte.
MONDAY, DEC. 6
After a series of activities, Moore wins the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's top defensive player.
TUESDAY, DEC. 7
After a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call, Moore flies from Charlotte to Houston, where he attends three functions.
WEDNESDAY, DEC. 8
Moore rises at 4 a.m., works out, visits two
children's hospitals, and wins the Lombardi Award (right).
THURSDAY, DEC. 9
A 4:30 a.m. wake-up call
and a trip to Orlando, where he joins 40 other players for ESPN awards show.
FRIDAY, DEC. 10
After the last party, the trip home. A 10:20 a.m. flight
to Dulles, then to Roanoke and on to Blacksburg.