Tide Track & Field Legend Charley Moseley Was Larger Than Life

May 1, 2014

By Christopher Walsh

One glance at his bio and, not only does it scream the word "legend," one almost has to wonder if Charles E. Moseley was the inspiration for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" ad campaign by Dos Equis.

"Charley" wanted to be a University of Alabama football player for Paul W. "Bear" Bryant, which may have been one of the few things in his life that he didn't get to attempt, only to instead become one of the biggest track and field stars in Crimson Tide history.

He graduated with both business and law degrees from Alabama, but became a smokejumper, a kicker (not the football kind), worked in insurance, got his real estate license and spent 15 years in Oklahoma with Wildcat Oil Industry. His spirit of adventure may have only been exceeded by his sense of fearlessness, which is really saying something because Moseley used to loan his car to his college friend Joe Namath to go on dates.

"Yeah, he did a lot in his lifetime," Moseley's son John said about the 73-year-old who passed away April 8 in Mobile. "In everything he's done, from an early age until he died, if you could only say one thing about him it's he was gracious and always gave to anyone who was in need."

To give an idea of what kind of athlete Moseley was, consider that heading into this outdoor track season his long jump of 25 feet, 10 inches in 1963 was still the seventh best in Crimson Tide history.

Initially a walk-on, he set several school records and at one point held Southeastern Conference records in the long jump, triple jump and the high hurdles. Moseley was the first Alabama athlete to score points in the NCAA Championships when he placed fourth in both the high hurdles and long jump, and dominated more than a few dual meets.

For example, against Memphis State in 1963 he won all six events he entered: the high jump, broad jump, pole vault, high hurdles, intermediate hurdles and the triple jump.

"I didn't get three minutes sleep the night before that first meet, but I was a happy sapsucker after that," he told the Tuscaloosa News in 1963.

After a similar result against Houston, another newspaper referred to him as a "one-man gang" long before the pro wrestler with the same name became popular in the late 1980s.

Coach Harold "Red" Drew once dubbed him the most outstanding track man at Alabama, which Moseley backed up by being named the 1963 winner of the Hugo Friedman Award as the Crimson Tide's best all-around athlete of the year. At same awards banquet current Director of Athletics Bill Battle received both the "Jimmie" Moore Memorial Trophy for having the best grade point average, and the Frank Thomas Award as the football player who excelled in "scholarship, sportsmanship, team spirit, leadership and campus activities."

But even then, Moseley was already heading down an unusual path.

"When he was first at Alabama as a freshman he met another student in one of the cafeterias, this is the story as told by him to me, and the guy was talking about going to the Pacific Northwest to put out forest fires for a part-time job in the summertime," John Moseley said. "He'd grown up in southwest Alabama where my grandmother managed a large game estate, and we did controlled burning of the forests down there."

A fan of dramatic Zane Grey cowboy stories, Charley pursued the opportunity and worked the first summer on a ground crew, but met a couple of smokejumpers who parachuted into remote areas to combat fires. It's still considered one of the best ways to extinguish or contain blazes before they become a major problem, and has inspired numerous movies over the years.

"He just thought these guys were bigger than life," John Moseley said. "He wanted to try and be one and ended up being selected for the training."

After graduating, Moseley worked for Air America in Southeast Asia, which was covertly owned by the United States government. While most military personnel were already tied up with escalation of the Vietnam War, civilians with extensive parachute experience were in demand, especially smokejumpers that could pass the security screening.

"That's kind of originally where they started recruiting from, and it was all word of mouth," said John Moseley, who was subsequently born in Bangkok, Thailand. His father's job as a "kicker" was to deploy cargo out of the back of a flying plane (while making sure he didn't accidentally go with it).

By the time he came back to Tuscaloosa and earned his law degree in 1969, Charley and his wife Jean also had a daughter, Molly, but local law firms weren't paying too much. So he went back to work as a smokejumper for the Bureau of Land Management, this time in Alaska, where another daughter, Casey, was born in Fairbanks.

That was also where he had a memorable meeting with law enforcement during the early stages to one of the extensive and expensive American investigations of the 20th century.

In 1971, a man dubbed D.B. Cooper hijacked and threatened to blow up a plane full of passengers, extorted $200,000 from its owner, Northwest Orient, then leaped from a Boeing 727 with 21 pounds of $20 bills strapped to his torso somewhere between Seattle and Portland, Ore. Neither he, nor the money, was ever seen again and it remains the only unsolved air piracy in American aviation history.

"The morning after D.B. Cooper left the aircraft over the Pacific Northwest, the FBI showed up at the parachute loft in Fairbanks, Alaska, and my dad was one of the top suspects," Jon Moseley said. "There are still several people who think he did it, but my dad had an alibi. He was in the parachute loft and there were several witnesses in Fairbanks."

Still, it makes another great story about the likeable and popular Moseley who, when visiting the Capstone, would tease the Crimson Tide track athletes chasing his records.

"He never met anyone who was a stranger," John Moseley said. "He was like the more successful politicians like Bill Clinton. I've read that once they meet you they know your name and (remember) all the details of your first encounter with them. That's the way my dad was. He had an uncanny ability to recall details and names of people he probably hadn't encountered during the past 30 years."

A memorial service for Charley Moseley will be held by his family in June near Cave Junction, Oregon. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to the NSA Good Samaritan Fund, c/o Chuck Sheley, 10 Judy Lane, Chico, CA 95926.

Charley Moseley

Charles E. Moseley passed away April 8 in Mobile, Ala. Charley was 73 years old, a native of Washington Co., Ala., and resident of Oklahoma for the past 15 years. He was a graduate of the University of Alabama Business School (B.S., 1963) and School of Law (J.D., 1969) where he was a scholarship recipient and track athlete, setting several school and SEC track & field records. He received the Hugo Friedman Award in 1963 as the Crimson Tide's best all-around athlete. Charley worked for the Bureau of Land Management as a smokejumper, mostly in Oregon and Alaska. He also worked with Air America in Southeast Asia as an air freight specialist (aka "kicker"), and later in the wildcat oil industry. He is survived by three children: John (Briana) Moseley of Colorado Springs, Colo.; Molly (Richard) Peterson of Fairhope, Ala.; and Casey (Burke) Armistead of Saraland, Ala.; the mother of his children, Jean Furr Moseley; two brothers, Bob Moseley of Mobile, Ala., and Billy (Loretta) Moseley of Fruitdale, Ala.; one sister, Bonnie Onderdonk of Hobson, Ala.; five grandchildren, Amelia and Ally Moseley; Audrey and Clark Peterson; and Jared Armistead; and numerous nieces, nephews and other relatives.