SANTA CLARA — On Christmas Eve, 2018, Damontre Moore sat with his wife inside of their Bay Area home to discuss his future in the NFL. After sitting in all but two games during the regular season, and playing in just nine games over the previous three seasons, Moore considered the possibility that his playing career was over.
“That was torture,” Moore said. “I talked to my wife about it and we broke it down … I was just like alright, let me hit it harder in the gym and when that time does come [that I get a call], all of this pain and anxiety I had as far as not playing, I’m going to use it on the field.”
Determined to avoid retirement, Moore turned to the Alliance of American Football. Once nearly out of football, Moore and offensive tackle Daniel Brunskill — both alumni of the now-defunct league — are now tasked with replacing major contributors on an 8-1 49ers team likely to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“It was a great experience for me,” Moore said “I got back to that Little League, childhood passion as far as just loving the game. To see a lot of people go to [the AAF] and get another opportunity like myself and Dan, it’s nothing short of amazing.”
Early this week, Moore signed with the 49ers for the third time in the last seven months following the season-ending ACL injury to defensive lineman Ronald Blair. He’d been with San Francisco during camp, but was a victim of a numbers crunch, and didn’t have practice squad eligibility.
“You can never have enough pass rushers,” said defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. “If he was on any other roster in football, he would have made their team … Damontre displayed a great amount of tenacity. The man has been through the ringer.”
Originally drafted by the New York Giants in the third round in 2013, Moore played in 45 games during his first three seasons, split between New York and Miami. He barely played over the next three, seeing action in just four games for Seattle in 2016, then three for Dallas and two for Oakland.
“You start asking yourself, ‘Is this the end?’” Moore said. “But you wasn’t going to catch me uttering the “R” word until they take me off of the field.”
Moore decided to join the AAF’s San Diego Fleet for its inaugural season. Brunskill, 25, joined midway through the season after spending his first two years in the NFL on a practice squad for the Atlanta Falcons.
“Sometimes you’re getting the best looks, sometimes you’re not [on practice squad],” Brunskill said. “To be able to play your game at the same spot and multiple reps [in the AAF], that’s the best thing you can get. It’s probably the one reason I’m here right now.”
Moore was ecstatic when Brunskill arrived because he now had legitimate NFL talent to practice against. It was an opportunity to sharpen his mind and body ahead of a comeback.
“I was going against some good competition but when Dan got there, that’s when I was like, ‘okay, this is my guy,’” Moore said. “I would ask him, ‘Hey, if you see anything that you can help me critique on stuff like that, let me know,’ and then vice versa.”
“If there was something that one of us messed up really bad it was, ‘man, he got me good,’” Moore continued. “And so that was good to pick his brain.”
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 AAF as his work with Brunksill began to pay off. On top of that, winning football games with the Fleet bolstered his confidence.
On April 3, though, the AAF ceased operations, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy two weeks later. Moore was in team meeting when he received the news from his brother and father, who had caught wind of the collapse via Twitter. Moore walked out of the meeting and knocked on the office door of head coach Mike Martz.
“The rumor is that the league is officially shut down,” Moore said. Martz confirmed the news.
While horror stories surfaced about players stranded states away from home and being held responsible for team-organized housing when the AAF folded, Moore and Brunskill said things were handled very professionally in San Diego.
“It sucks that we had those few bad spots,” Moore said. “I feel like everybody’s just harping on how it got shut down or some people didn’t get paid. But what about all the people that’s in the league making plays?”
Before Moore was brought in, Brunskill filled in for injured right tackle Mike McGlinchey for five games — all wins — as San Francisco raced out to an 8-0 start without missing much on offense despite losing their top two tackles and starting fullback.
Moore now joins a defensive line group that hopes to give the 49es an edge sitting at 8-1, gunning for the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a first-round bye. After Blair went down on Monday, Moore worked out early week, and signed soon after.
“It’s was like, waking up at seven o’clock that morning and I’m like, yo, it’s Christmas,” Moore said. “Telling your parents to wake up like that, that joy you had. That’s the joy that I had when I got that call.”