Why Miami's Greatest WR Never Played in the NFL
Updated: Dec 11, 2020
If you saw Connie Moore play football, you likely have a story or two about him. If you were a fan, he probably did something spectacular at the games you witnessed. If you were an opponent, you probably still remember what he did against your team. If you were his teammate, you just know. I played with Connie in high-school from 1993 to ‘94, and I’ve got a story about him. On the surface it may seem like it's about a once-a-generation talent who falls short of the big stage because he couldn’t outrun his past. You’ve heard that one before. Too often.
There's more to Connie than cliches. A lot more. This story is about one of the greatest football players Dade county has ever produced, and why he never played a down at the Division I or NFL level. Fertile Grounds Miami’s Dade County has a well-earned reputation for putting players in the NFL (“The League” as those who’ve played there refer to it). In fact, it's been over 10 years since the The League held a draft without a player from Dade County taken in the first three rounds. If we only consider wide receivers since 1994, Dade’s alumni in The League reads like a roll call of playmakers and perennial Pro-Bowlers: Andre Johnson (Miami High), Marvin Minnis (Northwestern) Santana Moss (Carol City), Antonio Bryant (Northwestern), Antonio Brown (Homestead), Chad Johnson (Miami Beach), Roscoe Parrish (Miami High). The list of wide-receivers from Dade in the NFL goes on and Connie was as good as any of them, too. He may have been better, but we’ll never know. Connie’s playing resume tells the story of great wide receiver who almost had enough talent to make it to the top: All-state as a high-school senior; Junior College All-American as a collegiate sophomore; Division I scholarship to a Big 10 school; signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free-agent; cut by the Cowboys before ever playing a down in a regular or pre-season game. End of dream. Like every great player or bust, the underlying narrative of Connie’s career lies in the subtext of the events that happened off the field. To understand Connie’s story you have to go back to 1993 and one of the greatest high school football teams ever assembled. The Wandering Spartan The 1993 Miami Southridge Spartans went undefeated en-route to a Florida 6A state championship. Led by Head Coach Don Soldinger, two future NFL running backs--Sedric Irvin (#33 pictured) and Troy Davis (#6 pictured)--and countless future Division I players, the Spartans mercilessly pounded the ground for a then-record 69 points in the title game.
As great as the ’93 Spartans were, they could have been greater. Just prior to the season, a lanky wide receiver who was a step faster than anyone on the roster transferred from Southridge and took his talents north to 118th street, where they were welcomed with open arms and a wide open passing game at Palmetto Senior High.
The High Flying Panther At Palmetto, Connie excelled in coach head coach Joe Mira’s one-back offense. In two seasons as the Panther’s #1 receiver he amassed a highlight reel that would have dominated YouTube had the internet been then what it is today.
Connie's physics-defying plays would become the stuff of Dade County legend. This play from the '94 season against Southridge (then the #1 team in Florida) has found its way to the web and since been called by viewers as the greatest catch in high school history:
Connie--along with gun-slinging quarterback Ivan Mandel, running back Markeith Cooper (who would set Dade's single season rushing record in 1995), and future Division I tight end Sterling Kihei--led a Panther offense that treated packed houses at Tropical and Tamiami Parks to a weekly fireworks show.
After catching 46 passes for 886 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns during his senior year in 1994, Connie was named first team All-Dade County. He would later be one of nine Dade players named to the Class 6A All-State first team by the Florida Sports Writers Association.
The best college programs in the country salivated at Connie’s abilities on the field. His paltry grade point average, however, was an anaphrodisiac to their enthusiasm. A poor GPA and poorer SAT scores looked to be the only thing that could slow Connie’s meteoric rise. March 10, 1995 It was a Friday night in the kind of East Kendall neighborhood doctors and other professionals call home.
Two Metro-Dade detectives were on a stakeout, looking to thwart the rash of driveway robberies that had plagued the area in recent weeks. Anything unusual would prompt the cops to jump into action in defense of the affluent natives. A Honda Civic speeding in reverse past a house whose owners had just returned home qualified. A passenger in the car putting on a ski mask sealed the deal.
The detectives followed the Civic out of the neighborhood and ordered it to pull over. Inside the car, the cops found two nineteen-year-olds and two minors, ski masks, crow bars and a .9mm pistol that had been reported stolen from Dallas, Texas 9 years earlier. Connie was driving the car. Prior to the incident he didn’t have a criminal record. That night he was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit robbery, loitering and prowling.
On April 19, 1995, the Dade state attorney’s office dropped all charges against Connie and the other three teens. Prosecutor Betty Avgherino-Butchko declined to discuss the decision, saying only the cases were dropped "pending further review." Connie was a free man. Free to play football at the collegiate level. Free to pursue his dream. 1st and 10 in Yuma Unable to meet the NCAA’s academic requirements, Connie began his college career at Arizona Western Community College in Yuma, Arizona. Having impressed coach Walt Criner in summer workouts and fall practices, Connie was set to be a starting receiver and a go-to option in the Matador’s offense. Connie was in his dorm room on August 16, 1995, when police officers knocked on his door. Back in Miami an unnamed minor who had been arrested with Moore the previous May and who had been charged with illegal possession of a concealed weapon had agreed to testify against his fellow conspirators in exchange for leniency. Connie’s tenure with Arizona Western was over before it began. He would spend the entire 1995 season away from the gridiron. Back to the Future After sitting out the 1995 season and settling his legal affairs, Connie landed at Northwest Mississippi Community College. For two years he was the best player on the field. During his sophomore season he hauled in 55 receptions for 882 yards and 8 touchdowns on his way to being named a first-team All American by the NJCAA.
His success earned him a scholarship to the University of Illinois, where coach Ron Turner was looking to quickly reverse the fortunes of an Illini program that had gone 0-11 the previous year. Turner, who had spent 3 years as the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears from 1996-93, believed he had found in Connie the kind of elite weapon that would help his west-coast style offense make an immediate impact on Big 10 scoreboards.
Upon arriving in Champaign that summer, Connie got down to business on the field and in the classroom. He hit the books with purpose and fulfilled his academic requirements by completing the final class needed to attain his junior college degree. That was the hard part. When it came to playing football, Connie was Connie. During summer practices Connie showed he was as good as advertised with a perpetual clinic of have-to-see-it-to-believe-it catches and Miami speed. In the Illini’s final scrimmage during fall camp, Connie snatched 5 receptions and solidified his role as the team’s number one receiver. The dream was taking shape. Another altercation with authority would irrevocably knock it off course.
The "Detrimental" Incident On August 24, 1998—less than two weeks away from Illinois’s season opener-- head coach Ron Turner announced to the media that Connie Moore had been dismissed from the Illini football program for “conduct detrimental to the team.” The second year coach amidst a school record 17 game losing streak refrained from elaborating further abut why he showed his top recruit and most explosive playmaker the door.
Sources close to the team divulged that the detrimental incident involved alcohol and a physical altercation with a member of the Illini coaching staff.
Connie would never play for another Division I team. The Second Chance Business Released from his Illinois scholarship, Connie was free to pursue other football opportunities. He didn’t remain without a team for long. Murray State coach Denver Johnson made an offer almost immediately after Illinois had issued Connie his walking papers. “We’re kind of in the second-chance business,” Johnson told the News Gazette just five days after Connie’s Illinois dismissal. “We've got some decent receivers, but we don't have anyone like him. That guy will catch 75, 80 balls for us.” Since he had practiced with the Illini, Connie would have to sit out the 1998 season if he chose to play for another Division I school. The same restriction didn’t apply for Division 1-AA schools. A week after being booted from the Illinois football program, Connie Moore was in Murray, Kentucky. On September 5th, 1998, he suited up for the Murray State Racers in their season opener against Southern Illinois. In the Racers’ second game of the 1998 season, Connie caught 5 passes for 77 yards. His best day with Murray State would come in the penultimate game of the season against Tennessee State (7 catches, 143 yards, 2 TDs). He finished the ’98 season with 31 receptions for 463 yards and 2 touchdowns. Not bad for a transfer who missed summer camp and fall drills. Connie had used up his collegiate eligibility. The single catch he made in the final game of 1998 would be the last of Connie Moore’s college career.
In wooing Connie to their program, Murray State allowed the receiver to stay in Murray longer than the 48-hour time limit allowed by the NCAA for an official visit. To make matters worse, the school paid for Connie’s lodging during his extended stay.
Although the school reported their misstep to the NCAA, the Racers allowed Connie to play in 9 games during the 1998 season. In 2000--with Connie long-gong from the Racer program and vying for an NFL roster spot--Murray State received sanctions for their minor infractions. America’s Team. The End of a Dream. In January, 2000 Connie signed a one year contract with the Dallas Cowboys. “America’s Team,” a nickname the club had earned in 1978 from NFL Films for their penchant for appearing in nationally televised games, was rebuilding. Gone were the superstars who had brought three Super Bowls to Big D when Connie was in High School. Future Hall of Famer Michael Irvin had retired after the previous season, and the Cowboys were particularly thin at receiver. In Connie the Cowboys must have seen the physical skills of an NFL wideout. They also must have realized that a lone undrafted receiver from Murray State does not an NFL receiving corps make. They promptly traded their first round picks in both the 2000 and 2001 drafts to Seattle in exchange for Joey Galloway, a proven deep threat who by 1999 had three 1000 yard seasons on his NFL resume. Connie was waived by the Cowboys on May 5th, 2000. The Legend’s Denouement In 1996 I was a member of the University of Florida baseball team and worked out among the Gator football players .
I saw the Gators' touted receiver corps up close: Ike Hilliard, Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green. Each played an integral role in coach Steve Spurrier’s Fun-n-Gun Offense that helped the Gators win a national championship in 1996. Each stood no taller than 5'11'', the same as Connie. Each was a top draft pick in the NFL who earned tens of millions of dollars playing on Sundays over the next decade. Connie was, in my opinion, better than each of them. Faster. Stronger. Better hands. A more explosive playmaker. A better player. Period.
As is the case with most competitive businesses flushed with talented applicants, references and experience often bolster chances for NFL employment.
The vaunted Gator trio came into The League chauffeured by a dominant Division I program, sporting championship rings on their fingers. Connie knocked on The League's door with 31 career catches at Murray State. The past can’t be changed, though our perspective of it can. Mine hasn’t wavered. Connie Moore was the greatest high school football player I ever saw, and one of the most dynamic football talents to ever come out of Dade County. There is a reason why you never saw Connie’s name on the back of an NFL jersey, streaking past defenders and snaring passes from the sky on Sunday afternoons. It had nothing to do with a lack of talent. If you saw Connie play, you just know.
The story you've just read is based solely on my memory of Connie as a player and from countless public documents about his life on and off the field (newspaper articles, etc--all are listed below) that are available on the web. This story is accurate by journalistic standards, but it's not the whole truth.
It had been more than 20 years since Connie and I last spoke. When I began working on this piece, I wasn't sure I'd be able to track him down. He lives a private life away from social media. But I found him, and we talked at great length about everything in this article and more.
It was an emotional conversation that revealed so much about a man I've come to realize few people really know.
Most of us are content to judge the world based on what little insight we glean from the headlines. If you've read this far, you've probably judged Connie twice in your life: when you saw him rise and fall in the 90's and just now.
You can stop there if you want. Dismiss Connie as a guy who had all the talent in the world, but couldn't do the little things to stay in line and achieve the highest level of success.
But if you truly want to know the real Connie--as I do now--if you want to read his words describe who he was and is...I urge you to read the second part of this article.
At the outset of this piece I told you that there was a lot more to Connie.
I promise you, there is.
What They Said:
The media, former coaches, and players on Connie Moore...
“Palmetto's Connie Moore will catch 10 passes against Columbus, which will put him well on his way to setting the Dade County reception record for one season and move him even closer to playing at UM.” -Mike Phillips Miami Herald Sports Staff September 22, 1994
"I've been around Dade county football for over 35 years. I haven't seen anyone with Connie's abilities. He was the original Percy Harvin. There are a lot of guys who've made millions in the NFL who didn't have Connie's skills. I've been lucky to coach a lot of great football players, but I don't still watch their highlight tapes. I do that with Connie. I'm still amazed."
former Palmetto WR coach (1993-'94)
(quoted in 2016) “He’s a true 4.3 40 guy. He has rabbit quickness and for a guy his size is an outstanding blocking wide receiver.” -Bobby Franklin (quoted in 1998 in the Chicago Tribune) Head Coach NW Mississippi Community College 1979-2004 186 wins, 52 losses, 6 ties “We had very high expectations.” Ron Turner (quoted in 1998) Head Coach University of Illinois 1997-2004 (35 wins 57 losses) “Moore was projected to do for Illinois what Tim Dwight did for Iowa, what Brian Alford contributed to Purdue, what D'Wayne Bates means to Northwestern. He was projected as the UI's most explosive receiver this decade. Now he's gone. Booted. For conduct detrimental to the team.” “We saw his talent, but we didn't know what was behind it. We should have been suspicious about why Florida State, Miami and Florida didn't put up a stronger battle for a former Miami all-stater who became the nation's No. 1 junior college receiver.” “He wasn't shy about mentioning that he had had problems in the past. We should have tried to find out what they were because, as we've seen time and again, character is as large a part of being a football player as talent. The character issue reared its ugly head and obscured the talent Sunday. -Loren Tate Reporter for the News Gazette- Champagne, ILL (quoted in 1998) "Our rule of thumb is if a kid's made a mistake or had a problem, we want to help him. If a kid is a mistake or is a problem, we're going to walk away from him...This guy would be an answer for us.” Denver Johnson (quoted in 1998 after learning Connie had been dismissed from UI.) Head Coach Murray State 1997-1999 (21 wins 12 losses) “Connie Mo was the best. Wish I could’ve watched him on the highest stage.” -Remus Williams former Palmetto WR (1992-’94)
"Connie was the real deal. Explosive speed. Soft hands. A monster. And he did it in the '90s, when it was raw."
former Palmetto DB/QB (1994-'95)
"There's a lot of speed in Miami, a lot of toughness. To come from where we come from you've got have both before you can be great. Connie was up there with anyone.
[At Auburn] I played against Hines Ward, Ike Hilliard, Peerless Price. Connie was with them."
former Palmetto RB (1993-'95) Auburn Tigers (1996-'99)
"During his senior year I came home from college to watch him play against North Miami. Coach Mira punished Connie and made him run 15 110's before the game. Then he got on the team bus, went 45 minutes north, and scored 3 TDs with 200 yards receiving. Connie Moore was the greatest WR to play in Dade County."
former Palmetto LB (1993) Bethune Cookman Wildcats (1995-'96)
"As a defensive player, you normally don't watch your team's offense during games. You're sitting down, resting, getting ready for the next series. With Connie you had get on your feet and see what he was going to do. You had to see what was making the crowd go crazy. 4.3 in motion. That was Connie.
former Palmetto LB (1994-'99) Former Auburn Tiger (1996-'99)
"He was one of the best receivers I ever played with. Connie has the speed to take you on a go route. He also has this lateral step that makes him hard to tackle. I've seen him catch a short pass and make three guys miss him just by jumping side to side."
former Palmetto DB (1992-'94)
"Connie had explosive speed and amazing feet, but he was always under control. You don't see that in high school players. He had soft hands, too. Even when he would sky above defenders, his hands were still soft. He had skills that were on another level."
"Connie Moore, Markeith Cooper and Jacquez Green are the only three people I've ever seen who could ALWAYS make the first man miss on a punt return. Look at the film. The first man down the field never made the tackle on those guys."
Former Palmetto OL (1993-'95)
"We were playing South Dade [in 1993] and Connie caught a hitch pass from Ivan. He took it to the house and made every defender miss him twice ."
Former Palmetto LB (1991-'93)
References The Lakeland Ledger :
The Miami Herald: STAR ATHLETE AMONG 4 JAILED IN ROBBERY ATTEMPT March 11, 1995 CHARGES DROPPED AGAINST TEENAGE FOOTBALL STAR, PALS April 19, 1995 EX-PALMETTO FOOTBALL STAR REARRESTED August 17, 1995 The News-Gazette Junior college receiver wants big first year numbers—Bob Asmussen May 26, 1998 UI receivers don’t know quit—Bob Asmussen Aug 12, 1998 Juco Receiver not in UI’s plans—Bob Asmussen August 24, 1998 Turner lays down the law for Illini—Bob Asmussen August 25, 1998 Moore latest in long list of ex-Illini—Loren Tate August 25, 1998 One Player Won’t Make or Break UI—Loran Tate August 27, 1998 Moore Incident Involved Alcohol—Bob Asmussen August 29, 1998 The Times/NWI.com Illini coach kicks off top junior college recruit—August 25, 1998 Kentucky New Era: NCAA Sanctions Murray-- March 25, 2000 Lubbuck Avalanche Journal: Sports brief --May 5, 2000 GoRacers.com: Murray State Cumulative Statistics 1998 The Chicago Tribune: No Speed Limit for the Illini—Gary Reinmuth January 16, 1998 ESPN.com Free Agent Signings--February 17, 2000 BiggerFasterStronger.com: Spartan Power --Len Walencikowski 1994 The Seattle Times: Sliding Illini have tradition but little else—Dick Rockne September 4, 1998
Photos courtesy of:
University of Illinois
The Miami Herald
Palm Echo 1995
From 1992-94 Fred Smith played with and against some of the greatest football players in history as a member of the Palmetto Panthers. His debut novel, The Coolest Labels, is loosely based on his experience as a teenager in South Dade County in the early 1990s.