It was Monday, Sept. 26, 2005. Free agent wide receiver Lance Moore was serving as a graduate assistant for the Toledo University football team while working to finish his degree. A month earlier, he had been waived from the Cleveland Browns.
Moore was traveling with the Rockets to play Fresno State the next night. When the squad landed in Fresno, a coach told him his mom and agent were trying to get in contact with him. Moore immediately called his mom and she delivered some great news – the New Orleans Saints wanted to sign him to their practice squad.
With just an overnight backpack, Moore took the next flight out of Fresno to San Antonio to meet with the Katrina-displaced Saints.
After splitting time between the active roster and practice squad during his first two seasons with the Black and Gold, Moore would go on to appear in 101 games with 30 starts and record 346 receptions for 4,281 yards with 38 touchdowns. He also returned 47 punts for 387 yards. His reception total ranks fourth in club record books and his receiving yardage and touchdown catch totals fifth. In six postseason contests, Moore had 13 receptions for 132 yards with one touchdown and also caught a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIV to give the Saints a 24-17 lead.
The Saints released Moore on March 9 after nine seasons with the squad. He signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks later.
Moore faces his former team Sunday when the Saints (4-7) battle the Steelers (7-4) at Heinz Field, an experience he admits will be strange.
"I haven't spent too much time thinking about it but I know it will be really weird," Moore said. "Just seeing those guys play now is weird for me. These are guys I have become good friends with and been accustomed to being around all the time. Not being around those guys or being able to share the field with them is different. When they come out of the tunnel and are on the opposite side, it's going to be a weird feeling."
This season, Moore has 11 receptions for 156 yards (14.2 avg.) and two touchdowns.
Moore said he felt like the "new kid in school" when he first arrived in Pittsburgh. One person that really helped in the transition was his former Toledo teammate and current Steelers backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.
"It was weird at first," Moore said. "You get so used to the same people, the same structure and how things are run somewhere. Now, you have to adjust to something that's completely different.
"The thing that made it easier for me was having my buddy Bruce there for me. He's from Pittsburgh and it definitely helps having people I knew in the city. He's the one who helped with my adjustment here."
The Steelers' strong tradition of success and head coach-quarterback continuity (Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger) attracted Moore to the Steel City.
The Saints (84-55) and Steelers (86-53) own two of the top seven NFL regular season records since 2006 and each have won a Super Bowl during that span.
"Having that sense of security knowing that guys have been there for so long is huge," Moore said. "They have had so much success together. I think that's important to a lot of older players that are just in this to win."
Another selling point for Moore was the family atmosphere the Steelers showed when he visited their facility.
"They had lost a few of their receivers in Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders early in free agency and were in need of guys," Moore said. "I am at the point in my career where it's not all about the money. As soon as they called, I was on the first flight to take my visit. They were so welcoming and everybody was so interested in the possibility of me playing here. It made for an easy decision to come here."
As appreciative as Moore is of his opportunity in Pittsburgh, he can't help but reflect on his time in New Orleans. Nine years, 101 games, a Super Bowl trophy and two NFC championship game appearances, it's hard not reminisce on his tenure in the Big Easy.
"While you are in it, it's difficult to truly appreciate what you have because you aren't stepping back to reflect on it," Moore said. "Being gone, I think back and know now I was blessed. From an undrafted free agent who didn't have a job to Coach (Jim) Haslett signing me to the practice squad in 2005 out of nowhere.
"I worked my way up the ladder to become one of those guys that showed up every Sunday to make plays. I was extremely lucky to stick around and I made the most of my opportunity. To play with those guys and enjoy the success that we did, it was awesome. I will always have those memories and relationships with me forever."
One of those relationships that Moore still holds in high regard is with Saints receiver Kenny Stills. The two spent just one season together in New Orleans but they became extremely close. The Saints drafted Stills in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft and he has quickly become one of the team's top targets. Stills gives a lot of credit to Moore for his quick rise.
"I felt like him being here made things a lot easier for me," Stills said. "I don't know what it would have been like without helping me with everything. Obviously, a lot of it was football stuff but he also helped with off the field things as far maturing. The business part of the NFL sucks sometimes but even though he isn't here anymore we still keep in contact and he has helped me this season as well."
Moore said he's not sure if Sunday would be tougher if it was played in New Orleans. Moore would certainly receive a warm welcome. He was a fan favorite during his time in the Crescent City not only for his big numbers but creative touchdown dances and extensive work in the community. Moore was honored for his philanthropy by the Saints in 2012 when he was named the team's nominee for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
"Saints fans' passion and support helped us so much during that great run we had," Moore said. "I definitely miss the fans down there. Hopefully that feeling is mutual."
There's no doubt about that.
Photos of WR Lance Moore with the New Orleans Saints. Photos by Michael C. Hebert