Dreamer to famer

Chet Moeller’s quiet ride to the Hall of Fame

By Marc Katz


He was a dreamer, Chet Moeller said of himself. He grew up in Kettering, when Jack Tatum was starring at safety for Ohio State.

He saw the All-America Tatum and thought some day he could be that kind of player, even though at 6-foot, 160 pounds, it seemed unlikely.

Moeller had three goals, actually. He wanted to go into the military and serve his country; he wanted to get a great education; and he wanted to play Division I football.

All three goals were served at once by applying to and being accepted at Navy.

Then, 35 years after he helped his Navy team beat a Tony Dorsett-led Pittsburgh 17-0, the year before Pitt won the National Championship and 36 years after he blew up Penn State’s offense with tackle after tackle in a 7-6 Navy victory, Moeller was on his way to his church (he’s involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes) when summoned home quickly by his wife Jenny.

“My wife said they sent a football with my name on it,” said Moeller, who has lived in Montgomery, Alabama, for years. “I said, ‘What’s that?’ She said, ‘Read it.’”

It was the College Football Hall of Fame’s way of announcing to one of its newest members his inclusion in 2010. He, indeed, had been a player of Tatum’s stature, a consensus All-America in 1975, and now a Hall of Famer [in its Atlanta location], just like the late Tatum.

“I broke down in tears,” Moeller said. “I still get teared up, just thinking about it. It just shocked me. I knew I was on the ballot. That in itself was enough. I’m very grateful to be part of an elite group of men.”

Moeller isn’t finished being honored.

This December, he will receive the Charlotte Touchdown Club’s Bronko Nagurski Legends Award, as an outstanding defensive back.

Moeller was even more surprised about the Nagurski award than the Hall of Fame’s.

“I got this strange email about some Bronko Nagurski award,” Moeller said. “I thought someone was playing a joke on me.”

It was no joke for a guy who set the Navy record with 25 tackles for losses as a junior and finished three varsity seasons with 275 tackles in all.

Navy, of course, has two Heisman Trophy winners in running back Joe Bellino and quarterback Roger Staubach. Moeller became Navy’s sixth consensus All-America.

Born in Tennessee, Moeller moved with his family to Cincinnati for a couple of years before settling in Kettering when he was entering second grade. He graduated from Fairmont West in 1972, and he wanted to continue playing football.

“I was serious about it,” Moeller said. “Dick Hoppe was our coach. I loved Dick Hoppe. What a motivator he was to me. He’s still coaching, too. He’s at Waynesville, coaching linebackers and running backs.”

The problem was, of course, Moeller’s alleged too-small size.

He looked at some Mid-American Conference schools and Cornell, and they looked at him. Someone asked if he’d be interested in Annapolis. It was structured and regimented. It was pure academics and football. Moeller never felt out of place.

Becoming an All-America didn’t happen right away. There was a kerfuffle freshman season when Moeller was mistakenly called to the varsity squad – allowing him to miss an evening of extra duty – and embarrassingly sent back to the freshman squad the next day.

It worked out for the best, he figured, saving him for freshman football and allowing him to build up to 190 pounds. He also was able to play for a new head coach, George Welsh.

“He was a great offensive mind,” said Moeller, who also praised his defensive coach, former University of Dayton assistant Lenny Fontes.

“Those guys were fantastic coaches. I just kind of fell into a good situation. We thought we were going to win every game. We beat Penn State (9-2 that season) my junior year. It rained hard. They ran this offense I loved to play defense against,” he continued.

“I could read everything they were doing.”

Close games and all, Navy had two 4-7 seasons with Moeller playing, followed by a 7-4 senior season when big honors began coming his way.

Then, he served in the Marine Corps and was flying jets before moving to computers and communications when Type 1 diabetes hit. The Corps medically discharged him honorably four years into his first five-year commitment.

Instead of moping, he tried out for the NFL Giants and was doing well until he sprained an ankle in a mini-camp. He decided against bouncing around rehab machines and trying to make rosters. He had already made one of the toughest rosters around.

He went back to Montgomery, where his wife’s family lived, near Auburn where his brother-in-law Mike Kolen played before he was with the undefeated 1972 Dolphins.

Because he’s on a grant foundation at Navy, Moeller sees several games a year and recently celebrated the 1975 team with his teammates. Because of his modesty, you’d think they’re the only ones who knew he played – until he entered the Hall of Fame.

“A number of people said to my wife, ‘I didn’t know Chet played college football,’” Moeller said.

Oh, yeah, he did.

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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