ST. LOUIS — Twenty-five has become more than just William Moore’s number. It is part of his identity, part of his history, and he never wants to give it up.
When the Atlanta Falcons drafted the former Missouri safety in 2009, he was assigned No. 24. Moore, however, didn't want that number. He didn't want the number he wore in college, No. 1, either. He wanted No. 25 to honor his former Missouri teammate, Aaron O’Neal, who died during preseason workouts in 2005.
William Moore, Atlanta Falcons
Moore had four tackles in Sunday's game against St. Louis. He also intercepted Sam Bradford's shovel pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
Sean Weatherspoon, Atlanta Falcons
Sidelined since Week 5, Weatherspoon returned for Sunday's game but did not accumulate any tackles
Danario Alexander, St. Louis Rams
Alexander was inactive for Sunday's game.
So instead of accepting his assignment, he looked to make a bargain.
Veteran cornerback Von Hutchins, who was wearing No. 25 at the time, discussed the switch with Moore before the safety’s rookie season.
“We sat down, and I told him what I wanted it for, and he was like, ‘No problem,’” Moore said. “It didn’t mean really anything to him."
Hutchins wasn’t willing to give the number up for nothing, though. Moore agreed to donate money to the Lupus Foundation in honor of Hutchins’ mother, who suffered from the disease. The $5,000 donation seemed like a fair trade to Moore, who has been working for the past five years to keep his friend’s memory alive.
“That’s something that’s really close to him, that he takes a lot of pride in, keeping Aaron’s name going,” Falcons and former Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said, “That’s a big deal, and I’m glad he’s keeping that going.”
Weatherspoon, who was still in high school when Aaron O’Neal passed away, said that Moore always worked to keep O’Neal’s memory alive and part of the Missouri program. Danario Alexander, a former Missouri receiver who now plays for the Rams, also never knew O’Neal, but he has learned a lot about his legacy through Moore.
“That was one of his best friends when he was at Mizzou,” Alexander said. “They came in together, and he was always doing A.O. breakdowns in the huddle. That shows a lot that he’s wearing No. 25.”
When asked to describe his attachment to the number, Moore’s wide smile faded, and for just a split second his postgame excitement transformed into quiet seriousness. When asked if he thinks often of O’Neal, Moore didn’t pause.
“Yes,” Moore said. “Everyday.”
Moore added that Sunday's game in St. Louis at the Edward Jones Dome with two of his former teammates, Alexander and Weatherspoon, really made him feel like he was doing something special for O’Neal. His fourth-quarter interception added to that feeling, and there was one fan in the stands who couldn’t have been prouder of Moore’s play: O’Neal’s father, Lonnie O’Neal.
Moore made sure that Lonnie O’Neal had tickets to Sunday’s game, and he told Moore that he wouldn’t miss it for the world. His only advice to Moore before the game was to go out there and represent his son.
That’s not a difficult task for Moore, who said he does so every game, but coming from Aaron O’Neal’s father, it meant something more.
“It was good to come and play in this dome, here in this city, and knowing he (Lonnie O’Neal) was watching, it was huge,” Moore said.
For Moore, Saturday’s win wasn’t just another victory for his team. It was a chance to keep the connection to his Missouri roots alive, an opportunity to return to a stadium that holds a lot of memories for him. There’s one memory, though, that never leaves him, and with No. 25 on his back, Moore honors that memory every day.