My calendar indicates that this is Thanksgiving week.
Daniel Moore’s calendar shows that this week is Christmas, because Alabama playing Auburn in the Iron Bowl produces the same euphoric high for Moore like Santa Claus making a house call.
“This year, it’s a little bit scarier than before with Cam Newton playing for Auburn,” says Moore, 56, a 1976 University of Alabama graduate.
You may not recognize Moore’s name until you walk in a restaurant or a bar or a friend’s sports memorabilia room somewhere in the South. Look closely and you’ll see Moore’s name scribbled in the corner of his framed artwork with such names as The Kick, The Catch, The Goal Line Stand, all depicting dramatic, frozen-in-time moments of Alabama’s rich football history.
Moore has done hundreds of paintings of various schools in his three decades as the South’s preeminent sports artist. He knows that few rivalries annually produce enough drama to possibly end up in one of his paintings as does Alabama vs. Auburn.
“I don’t want to be just doing a painting from every Alabama-Auburn game,” Moore says. “I want it to be significant, have meaning, be able to carry a message for that year, whatever it might be.”
Like Moore’s painting from last year’s game, in which unbeaten Alabama had to drive 79 yards in the final minutes to edge Auburn 26-21. Two games later, the Crimson Tide won their first national championship since 1992.
Moore’s depiction of Alabama running back Roy Upchurch grabbing the game-winning 4-yard TD pass vs. the gritty Tigers is known as “The Drive,” and is the fourth print of Moore’s five-print series commemorating Alabama’s national title.
“The determination of Alabama to drive 79 yards with the game on the line has a lot of parallels in life and life lessons,” Moore says. “Right now, I don’t have any plans to do a painting of this week’s Alabama-Auburn game. But you never know what will happen.”
The same could be said explaining how Moore was guided down his career path.
His passion for art started in formative years as a child in the Birmingham area. He soon discovered it mixed well with his love of sports.
“The two were ingrained in me at an early age with my Dad feeding my sports side and my Mom feeding my art side,” Moore says.
“I played in all kind of youth leagues and my Dad kept me in cleats, baseball gloves and football equipment year-round. My Mom majored at the University of Kentucky in art education, so my brothers and I were often occupied on rainy days with finger painting on butcher block paper, along with crayons and water colors.”
Moore’s first oil painting in the fifth grade was of George Washington. And no, it wasn’t of Washington crossing the Delaware, something that Moore could have called “The Crossing.” It was a simple portrait done for a history project, copied from a photo in an encyclopedia.
When Moore was in high school, he realized as merely a decent football player that colleges wouldn’t be knocking down his door to offer scholarships. That’s when he turned his full attention to art, and he earned a bachelors degree in fine art from Alabama.
“My plan was to do commercial art until I was able to break off and do fine art when I turned 50 or 60,” Moore says.
Moore worked for a couple of advertising agencies fresh out of college before he ended up as a staff artist for Alabama Power. On the side, Moore had done fine art, sold paintings and entered competitions.
He had never done a sports painting until 1978. Alabama Power had an employee magazine and Moore was asked to paint a picture to accompany a story about an Alabama Power employee training for the Boston Marathon.
Moore liked his first sports-related work so much that he asked his superiors if he could print it as a poster and sell it. He was given permission, so he decided to sell it for $4.50 each and advertised it in Runner’s World magazine.
On January 1, 1979, Alabama won the national championship over Penn State, 14-7, in the Sugar Bowl, thanks to a heartstopping goal line stand capped by linebacker Barry Krauss’ fourth-down stop of Penn State running back Mike Guman.
A few days after that, one of Moore’s fellow employees at work mentioned he had a friend named Rick Rush who was a Tuscaloosa artist who did a print the previous year of Alabama’s Sugar Bowl win over Ohio State.
“My friend said I see what you’re doing with the poster of the runner, so why don’t you do a painting of the goal line stand and issue it as a limited edition print?” Moore says. “I didn’t think I would have time to do it.
“But when I saw Sports Illustrated go back for a re-print of that national championship issue with the picture of the goal line stand on the cover, that was like a confirmation from God that this might be an answer to my prayers of painting full-time.”
So Moore painted the goal line stand (“It pretty much embodied Bear Bryant’s defensive philosophy,” Moore says) and after two months of taking orders from an enthused public, he switched to the profession he has enjoyed and excelled in for 31 years.
“I was married and had no kids at the time,” Moore says. “It was kind of a leap of faith, moving from a stable job that had a sure future and a retirement plan, and into a pool that maybe was just half-full of water not knowing if there would be enough water by the time I hit. But I saw something there. I sold the original oil canvas of Goal Line Stand for $10,000.”
Moore didn’t underestimate the passion of not only University of Alabama sports fans, but also Auburn and other SEC schools. He has found subjects and captured moments of greatness beyond Alabama football, producing works of Heisman Trophy winners such Auburn’s Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson, and Georgia’s Herschel Walker.
Moore often knows the exact moment he has the subject for his next painting.
For instance, in last year’s BCS national championship game won by Alabama 37-21 over Texas, Moore was as thunderstruck as Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert when Alabama’s Marcell Dareus plucked a Gilbert pass and ran 28 yards for a touchdown with three seconds left in the first half.
“I noticed Kareem Jackson and Eryk Anders were sort of escorting Marcell into the end zone,” Moore recalls. “Both of them raised their arms and were pointing to the end zone, like they were directing him or giving him the No. 1 sign.
“That was a big play and almost immediately I could see that would be one of the vignettes on the `Crimson Tradition’ painting I did, with (Alabama coach Nick) Saban holding up the crystal national championship trophy. Crimson Tradition is one of my favorite recent paintings.”
There are occasions when Moore gets by with a little help from his friends and family discovering his next subject, such as his painting of Alabama receiver Tyrone Prothro’s incredible 42-yard catch in 2005 against Southern Mississippi just before halftime.
On the play, Prothro basically was being faceguarded and stumbling backwards inside the 5-yard line when he reached around the head of USM’s Jasper Faulk to make the catch at the USM 1-yard line. It was so spectacular that the play won a 2006 ESPY award and was named the Pontiac’s Game Changing Play of the Year.
“My jaw was on the floor on that one,” Moore recalls. “Two of my daughters were watching the game with me and they are the ones that said, `Dad, that could be your next painting.’ And I’m thinking, `Yeah, maybe that could.’ I wasn’t even thinking about it, but they pointed it out.”
Prothro’s play became a Moore painting known as “The Catch.”
There are times when Moore probably thinks he takes on more than he can handle, like when he did a painting in 1992 celebrating 100 years of Alabama football.
“I had to tell the visual story of 100 years of Alabama football in a confined, two-dimensional space,” Moore says. “And there wasn’t one particular thing that hit me. So it ended up being a setting of various trophies, equipment, Coach Bryant’s desk, stories on the wall that also told the history. So that was much more involved.”
Moore’s creative process isn’t merely looking at a photograph of a play, and painting from that. He has various photographers that give him different angles of a play he might be interested in painting. He also tapes a lot of games so he can study a play on TV over and over.
“It’s about taking various compositions and creating a new, original layout,” Moore explains. “The pictures can give me visual, detailed information, like the words `Crimson Tide’ that are on Roy Upchurch’s chin strap in my latest work.”
The angle is which Moore depicts a subject is extremely important and often unique. For instance, take two game-deciding field goals Moore painted from dramatic Alabama finishes almost 25 years apart and both are depicted from completely different viewpoints to emphasize the drama of the moment.
Probably the most famous play in Alabama-Auburn history is Tide placekicker Van Tiffin’s 52-yard game-winning field as time expired in the Crimson Tide’s 25-23 victory in 1985.
Moore attended the game with his late father, and they were sitting in the end zone in which Tiffin’s kick sailed through the goal posts.
“That game was special because it’s the last one I went to with my Dad,” Moore says. “When Van kicked it through, we jumped up and down like two high school kids. I remember telling my Dad, `I think I have the inspiration for my next work.’ It had everything that football is meant to have – a good, close, hard-fought game coming down to one hero.”
Yet when Moore depicted the play known as “The Kick,” which sold out within five weeks of its initial issue, he painted it from the perspective of Auburn’s Kevin Porter who jumped offsides, came roaring in from the right side (Tiffin’s left side) trying to block the kick.
“I wanted to show Porter from the side stretching out like Superman trying to block it,” Moore says.
Fast forward to 2009, and Alabama’s national championship hopes are in trouble against Tennessee. Leading the Vols just 12-10, Tennessee placekicker Daniel Lincoln launches a potential 44-yard field goal as time expires. But it gets blocked by the Tide’s Terrence Cody in the middle of a human wall of Alabama defenders.
In Moore’s painting of the play known as “Maximum Block,” he depicts it as if he were standing behind Lincoln, staring at a pile of Crimson jerseys that formed a mountain. Moore also has Alabama kick rushers Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson diving from the left and the right in front of Lincoln.
“Those guys almost meet in the middle to complete the `A’ in an A-frame composition,” Moore says. “I took some liberties to create that wall of Tide players trying to bust over the dam and all those orange guys trying to hold them back.”
Since 2006, Moore has been part of a project he created through the U.S. Sports Academy, which is located in Daphne, Ala., just across the Mobile Bay Bridge from downtown Mobile. The academy houses the American Sports Art Museum and Archives.
After Moore won the Academy’s 2005 Sports Artist of the Year award, he came up with the idea of a selection committee voting on a national college “Game of the Year.” Once they select a game, Moore paints a scene from it.
The selection committee is chaired by Jack Lengyel, the former Marshall University head football coach who rebuilt the program after the school’s tragic plane crash in 1970. Also on the committee are former coaches Vince Dooley of Georgia, Dr. Homer Rice of Rice and Ron Dickerson of Temple, who was the first black head football coach in NCAA Division I-A history.
So far, Moore has depicted games with Rutgers, Texas Tech, Appalachian State and last year Alabama as his primary subjects.
“It just worked out that the committee chose Alabama’s win over Florida in the SEC championship game,” says Moore, whose painting depicted Tide quarterback Greg McElroy on a key third-down run with Tide coach Nick Saban charging down the sideline watching the action. “I don’t know what they’ll choose this year.”
Each football season brings new story lines with unfolding drama and constantly changing characters, which is why Moore is as enthusiastic and motivated today as he was back in ’79 wondering if Goal Line Stand would sell.
“I appreciate the fact buyers have recognized what I do as not just sports art, but fine art with sports as the subject,” says Moore, who sells his art online at newlifeart.com. “I’ve always approached it that way and it’s been a blessing that people have continued to like what I love to do.”