One of the many great sights on game days is watching countless Falcons fans fill the Georgia Dome, and away venues, wearing the jersey of their favorite player, which got us to wondering if the players have a specific reason why they're wearing their current jersey numbers.
If everything goes according to plan, Falcons safety William Moore will make his return to the starting lineup Sunday for the first time since injuring his shoulder Week 4 against the Minnesota Vikings. Until then, the former Missouri Tigers safety will continue practicing, lacing up the cleats, putting on the pads and jersey No. 25 for a reason that goes far beyond football.
"I wear number 25 for my former teammate, Aaron O’Neal, who passed away in 2005," Moore said. "He was a great friend to me. We came in together as freshmen."
Not long after arriving on campus at the University of Missouri, Moore and O'Neal bonded. An instant brotherhood was formed. Both players didn't just talk with each other about being great, instead they worked in a way to make their dream a reality, on the field and in the classroom.
Routinely, the duo would train together in the morning and then go to class. When O'Neal wasn't at either the workout or the class one morning in July, Moore knew something was wrong. He later received the call, informing him that his teammate had died.
"To get that phone call," Moore said before taking a moment to compose himself, "it changed my life. Every day, I take a very different approach on the game. It's bigger than the game."
After being drafted in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft, S William Moore quickly became an anchor on the Falcons defense and a leader on and off the field.
Gripped by the loss of its teammate, the Tigers football team honored O'Neal by each taking turns wearing his No. 25 jersey in practice and always breaking down team huddles by shouting "A.O." (Aaron O'Neal).
Moore continues to honor his former teammate, embracing the promise he made to O'Neal's father, vowing to wear No. 25.
"I told him as long as I play football, I'm going to represent A.O." Moore said. "That number means so much to me. I actually have a tattoo of it on my arm. He gave his life for it. The same game I'm playing, Aaron wanted to do the same. Every day when I put that jersey on, I'm breaking it down for A.O. Every day."
It's been more than nine years since O'Neal passed away. The loss of his best friend seems like it happened just yesterday for Moore, who continued chasing his dream, as well as that of his teammate.
Months after wearing No. 25 in Missouri's Senior Night win against Kansas State, Moore's dream came true. The Atlanta Falcons selected him in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft (55th overall).
Since then, he's faced injuries, setbacks and the emotions that follow wins and losses in the league, doing so with a perspective that honors O'Neal.
"God has given me everything, including the privilege to play this game," Moore said. "My shoulder injury, I wasn't stressed about it because I realize when you play this game, there are things that happen. Aaron gave his life for this game. I have nothing to complain about. A.O. inspires me to persevere in everything I do."