By Eric Garland
COLLEGE PARK – Before every University of Maryland football game at Byrd Stadium, No. 99 leads the team out on the field.
But once the Terps players make their way back to the sideline for the start of the game, No. 99 doesn’t follow. That’s because he isn’t a player. He’s Keith Moore, better known as “Special K,” a Maryland super fan who has pumped up the crowd at Byrd Stadium for decades.
Moore, a lifelong Maryland backer and a professional motivational speaker, began leading the student section in cheers as a freshman at Maryland in 1987.
He patrols the sidelines in a Maryland-themed outfit: red sneakers, football gloves, sunglasses, a football jersey, a hat, and yes, a cape. He holds up signs, leads the crowd in cheers, and dances with Testudo (the Terps’ official mascot).
Sometimes, he also plays peacemaker. During a game against Connecticut last month, two Huskies fans used profanity to heckle Maryland supporters after the Terps gave up a touchdown. Moore quickly silenced them.
“You don’t have to do that, don’t do that,” Moore told them. “I respect the (Connecticut) colors but this is not a popular thing to do. We feel the love and I’m going to keep (the Maryland fans) off of you, but sportsmanship, okay gentleman?”
The student section fell silent and waited to see what would happen next.
“I understand that,” one of the Huskies fans told Moore. “Thank you, Special K.”
Moore has come to expect hostility from opposing fans.
“Some of the cheers out there can sometimes lead down the wrong road,” he said. “A lot of times guys out there might have had a little extra lemonade out in the stands or had a little extra Coca-Cola to drink and they might slip out a little word here or there. You always want to make sure you correct that.”
Dealing with rowdy fans is only part of the dilemma of being Special K. Moore said the other extreme is just as hard: fans who don’t care enough.
“Maryland football has had its struggles over the years with a level of apathy,” he said. “Everybody doesn’t want to be motivated. There are some people that still come to those games that won’t get up, won’t stand up … all you’ve got to do is work around them.”
And when many fans were disappointed with Maryland’s 2-10 record under new coach Randy Edsall last season, Moore took it upon himself to keep the crowd feeling positive.
Why does he do it? Moore’s mother, Evelyn, wonders the same thing.
“I think it’s interesting,” Evelyn Moore said, laughing.
“Especially that he is still doing it at this age … I thought it was exciting when he was in college but now I’m just damn amazed that he is still at it.”
As a Maryland freshman in 1987, Moore was working for WMUC, the campus radio station, when a friend asked him to be the cheerleading squad’s “microphone man” to motivate the fans at Byrd Stadium.
“I went to the game and they gave me the mic, it was sort of like open mic,” Moore said. “From there man it was sort of like it just caught electric.”
And if screaming into a microphone did not draw enough attention, his attire did. He wore a tuxedo to every home game until he graduated in 1991. After graduation, he returned every year at homecoming to step back into his role as Special K.
In 1999, The Maryland athletic department asked him to attend every home game. He’s been on the sideline at Byrd ever since. When he returned to full-time duty, he took off the tux and put on a brand new outfit of his own creation — complete with a cape.
Moore doesn’t wear the cape because he thinks of himself as a superhero. He got the idea after stopping a shoplifter at a grocery store. A manager thanked him and suggested he should wear a cape. So he did, at least on Saturdays.
Evelyn Moore said her son has something “special” with the Special K character.
“It was an original thing for him,” she said. “He is great in communication, period. He’s just really, really good. He’s a good motivator, he’s an excellent speaker. He has so much initiative.”
Evelyn Moore also said Moore’s duties as Special K do not interfere with his family and his work. If anything, she said, the character helps him stay focused on his motivational speaking job with his company, Moore Motivation Inc.
Moore established the company in 2004 and has clients including AT&T, Office Depot, Long & Foster and Staples, according to the company’s website.
Moore enjoys the attention he gets from playing Special K, his mother said.
“Oh definitely, without doubt” she chuckled. “He would say no but he does. I think that’s a big part of it. He’s skillful as a speaker. He is a dynamite speaker.”
Moore said Special K isn’t about promoting himself – it’s about promoting Maryland.
“As an alumni, it’s an opportunity to come back six Saturdays in the fall and really contribute back to the university,” he said. “You’re really trying to build Maryland pride and try to help be a part of Maryland pride … that’s a big payoff.”
And while some laugh at the six-foot-plus man jumping around in a cape, other Maryland students depend on the energy he brings.
“He brings energy to the crowd,” Maryland football fan Katie Kobylski said. “Everybody is just sitting here (before the game) and when he comes out everybody just starts going crazy and gets excited for the game.”
Moore said he has no plans to stop patrolling the Byrd Stadium sidelines.
“When I ain’t having fun, that’s when I’m done,” he said. “But I’m having a lot of fun right now.”