SANTA CLARA, Calif. — As Damontre Moore made his way off the Levi’s Stadium field on Sunday, he wept.
A week ago, he was cooking dinner in his Mansfield, Tex. home, watching his five-month-old son, Sekani, with the NFL on television, wondering if he’d get another shot at playing professional football.
On Tuesday, having been cut from four teams in the last four years and having seen the the implosion of the league he was relying on to revive his career, Moore signed with the San Francisco 49ers. Five days later, he played a significant role in a 36-26 win over the Arizona Cardinals, and as the final horn sounded, he was overwhelmed.
“It don’t get no better than that,” Moore said in the locker room, still choking back tears.
A week ago, the 27-year-old defensive tackle was wondering if he’d ever get to play in the NFL again. For the second time in two years, he was contemplating, as he puts it, “The ‘R’ word” — retirement.
A third-round draft pick out of Texas A&M, Moore played for five teams over the last six years, including two stops in Oakland. Having played just nine games over the last three seasons, he first broached thoughts of retirement before trying his luck with the San Diego Fleet of the Alliance of American Football this spring. With 22 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in eight games, Moore became one of the top defensive linemen in the league, before it folded in April, bereft of operating capital.
He caught on with San Francisco after the AAF’s April collapse, but in the second week of the preseason — after racking up four tackles and three quarterback hits against Denver — he injured his thumb. When it came time for roster cut-downs, Moore — without practice squad eligibility — was cut.
He returned to the Dallas suburbs to recuperrate and to train.
On Monday, San Francisco defensive tackle Ronald Blair — with whom Moore formed a close bond during training camp — went down for the season with a torn ACL. After he was diagnosed, he called Moore, and on Tuesday morning, as Moore was headed to Atlet Gym in Midlothian, Tex. — where he trained for the NFL Combine in 2013 — to work out with other free agents, he got a call from his agent, Joby Branion, of Vanguard Sports Group.
“You’re going to have to leave today,” Branion told him. Fifteen minutes later, Moore got a call from the 49ers, telling him he had a flight in two hours, then an afternoon workout.
“Next thing you know, Wednesday, I’m in practice, full pads,” Moore said. “This whole week has been a whirlwind.”
“He’s been cut and he’s felt that and he’s been out of the league, so he’s got a different why,” said defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. “His drive is going to push him to success. I don’t think he’s going to fail, personally. We’re pumped to have him.”
Having paid close attention to the 49ers while he was gone, Moore saw the likes of former AAF teammate Daniel Brunskill step into the right tackle spot for injured starter Mike McGlinchey, rookie Justin Skule step in for injured All-Pro tackle Joe Staley and Ross Dwelley step in for fullback Kyle Juszczyk and tight end George Kittle.
“I kept up with everything,” said Moore, who had weekly talks with 49ers defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. “I kept up with everything around the league, but in particular with this team, because my heart was always here. When you love your brothers, you always keep up with them, not just the D-line.
“I keep up with Marquise Goodwin, we went to high school together and rivals in college. You keep up with him, with [Matt] Breida, with Brunskill. Jeff Wilson, I got really close with him in the preseason, and he stepped up big today. Mark [Nzeocha], I played with him, [Richard Sherman], I played with him in Seattle. I kept up with everybody. It’s a family. You keep up with your family.”
On Sunday, Moore became a part of the fill-in crew. On Arizona’s penultimate drive, he spun off a cut block with a dead leg and rallied to the ball, popping it loose from Cardinals receiver KeeSean Johnson’s arms. The fumble – recovered by Jaquiski Tartt — helped to help seal the win, along with Moore’s two tackles.
“These guys have held a high standard since I’ve been gone, so I wanted to do it for them, I wanted to do it for Ronny B,” Moore said. “This team took a chance on me knowing everything about me, still wanting me to come out here and play and work, and then bring me back later on, I just can’t say enough good things. To experience all this, coming from an injury and being out all these weeks, wondering if this really was the end of my career, all the emotions came.”
Surrounded by a clutch of reporters and cameras, Moore realized what time it was.
“Now I’m going to go home and cook,” he said. “The only thing missing is my son.”