There’s only one reason that the New England Patriots, not the Baltimore Ravens, are in the Super Bowl. That reason? Unheralded, undrafted rookie free agent Sterling Moore made the game saving play, knocking the ball out of Baltimore wide receiver Lee Evans’ hands in the end zone, negating what would have been the game winning Ravens touchdown in the closing seconds.
Moore’s story is a fascinating one. He didn’t get any scholarship offers out of high school. After enrolling at Laney Community College in Oakland, he tried out for the football team on a lark, as a favor for a friend. After playing for two years at Laney, Moore moved on to SMU for his final two collegiate seasons.
Why SMU? In Laney’s own words
: “They were the only D-I school that offered me. I felt like I could play at that level and said, ‘I might as well.’ “After a couple of undistinguished seasons with the Mustangs, he was not drafted. But his home town team, the Oakland Raiders signed him as a free agent for training camp, and then assigned him to the practice squad to open the season. He was released three weeks later.
The Patriots have suffered from injuries and attrition in their secondary all year long. They signed Moore to the practice squad back in October, and then activated him for the final six games of the regular season and the postseason. Still, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone on the Patriots roster less likely to be a hero on their road to the Super Bowl.
On the key play of the AFC Championship Game, Baltimore had a 2nd-and-1 on the New England 14-yard line. Lee Evans beat Moore to get open in the end zone. Moore was beaten so badly on the play that he never got his head turned, and never saw Joe Flacco deliver a strike to Evans. But because he was beaten the way that he was, Moore just happened to be looking right at where the ball came into Evans hands. In that flash of a second, he was able to reach out and get juuuuust enough of a touch on the ball to prevent Evans from making the game winning catch.
Two plays later, Billy Cundiff missed the potential game tying field goal and the Patriots were on their way to the Super Bowl. None of that happens if the Patriots braintrust hadn’t found Moore languishing on the waiver wire back in October; yet one more example of Bill Belichick’s ability to craft a near perfect-53 man roster from other teams’ castoffs.