Lance Moore thought his playing career might be over in the fall of 2005. A training camp in Cleveland came and went without the undersized wide receiver earning a spot on the 53-man roster. The finish line wasn't in sight, but the horizon was approaching.
Then the phone rang. The rebuilding New Orleans Saints had an open spot on the practice squad and a need for playmakers, even if the 5-foot-9 Moore didn't exactly fit the mold.
"They gave me a chance when nobody was really giving me a chance," Moore said.
The marriage lasted nearly a decade. Moore repaid New Orleans' confidence with nine productive seasons, catching 346 passes — the fifth-most in team history — while helping the beleaguered franchise to its only Super Bowl title.
Moore never wanted to leave. Yet he understands the reality. After injuries slowed him in 2013, Moore knew his $2.5 million salary was a luxury the Saints no longer wanted to afford. When the phone rang to say goodbye, Moore didn't complain. How could he have known back in 2005 he'd stick around this long?
"I have a special place in my heart for that organization," Moore said. "Things didn't end there the way I wanted to but it's a business first and foremost and I understand that. I definitely have love for them."
Moore has to push that fondness off to the side on Sunday when the enigmatic Saints (4-7) visit Moore and the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4), who scooped up the 31-year-old veteran two weeks after New Orleans let him go. Though Moore is on pace for the fewest receptions in a season since he became a regular in 2007 — he's won over his new teammates with his attention to detail.
"He can do a little bit of everything," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
Originally slated to take over the slot position left by the departure of Jerricho Cotchery, Moore has found himself as the football equivalent of duct tape. If there's a need on a given play, the Steelers will find a way to make him fit.
"He's a low maintenance guy," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's extremely professional. He's smart. He comes with good ideas. He knows all of the positions. He's very versatile in that way and we've had to utilize him in that way because he is playing with some young people."
Moore is less vital part than accessory these days, but he can live with the trade-off. Pittsburgh is winning, which is the main reason he chose to sign a two-year deal with the Steelers in March. His numbers might have been better somewhere else, but he's long since passed the time where ego played a factor in his decision-making.
Mention to Moore the Saints have struggled without him and he offers a quick correction.
"It's not all about me," he said. "I wasn't the only guy that was there last year that is not there this year. There's a bunch of guys that aren't there. I never wish a lack of success on them. There's a lot of my friends there. I want to see them do well."
Just not on Sunday. Moore spent the early part of the week giving the Steeler wide receivers a thorough rundown of the leaky New Orleans secondary, which is 27th in the league against the pass. Tomlin called Moore a "minor resource," which may be understating it a bit. Moore caught hundreds of passes from Drew Brees, probing defenses for soft spots and finding ways to fit into tight spaces.
While Moore doesn't know the Saints' offense as well as Brees, the gap is narrower than most think.
"He was extremely intelligent, great football I.Q.," Brees said. "Just so smooth. Just knew how it was supposed to look, knew how it was supposed to feel."
The fit hasn't been quite as snug in Pittsburgh. Moore dealt with a balky hamstring at the end of training camp and lost the starting slot receiver job to Justin Brown. He scored a meaningless touchdown in a loss to Cleveland but added an important 3-yard score in a Monday night victory over Houston that kickstarted the Steelers' current 4-1 stretch.
Moore admits he has no clue how he'll be used during a given week. The emergence of rookie Martavis Bryant has further jumbled an already crowded picture. The competitor in Moore wants to be on the field. The realist knows it's out of his reliable hands.
In a way, Moore is back where he started. He was a graduate assistant at Toledo when the Saints reached out back in 2005. He's taken on a similar role for receiving group where he's the elder statesmen. He's fine with the arrangement so long as Sunday ends with the Steelers inching closer to their first playoff berth in three years.
"I want to win," Moore said. "I'm not going to try to be Superman on Sunday, nor should anybody else."
NOTES: Bryant (illness) did not practice on Wednesday. ... Tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder) were limited.
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