There are good football player and there are great ones, former Cincinnati Bengal's offensive lineman Anthony Muņoz, was great at his position -- Offensive Tackle. From the very beginning, everyone knew he was made for football. The 6-6, 275 pound kid, whose grandparents are from Chihuahua, Mexico, attended Chaffey High School on the Northwest side of California.
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An all-around athlete in high school, Muņoz played baseball, basketball, and football, but it was football which brought him national attention.
Right from the start, everyone noticed that Muņoz's game was special and dominant. "It was like watching a man playing against little boys. Muņoz was an obvious talent," said a reporter who was covering his high school game in 1975.
That game was his school's Chaffey Tigers versus San Marcos Royals on October 3, 1975. Playing in front of an estimated 3,300 fans, San Marcos dominated the game statistically, rolling up 268 yards of total offense to Chaffey's 78 and earning 15 first downs to just three for Tigers. With the stadium clock inoperable due to electrical problems, game time was kept by the officials on the field and when the Royals scored to take a 7-0 lead with about 41 minutes left to play, the Tigers needed a quick answer. At about the :90 seconds mark, near the end of the game, Chaffey faced fourth-and-22 at the San Marcos 45. The coaching staff called for a tackle eligible play, with quarterback John Gable hitting a wide open Muņoz on a 10-yard pattern. Battling through several defenders, the powerful Muņoz rumbled the final 35 yards, dragging two San Marcos players with him into the end zone for a touchdown.
On the ensuing conversion, Chaffey faked a kick, passed it to Rick Fellhauer for a two point conversion which won the game for Chaffey 8-7.
Despite the certainty that Anthony Muņoz was going to have a great football career, he faced an uncertain future physically. Anthony was having all kinds of trouble with his knees for the next 2 years.
"My future after USC was not a for-certain thing," said Muņoz. Football at the next level was real doubtful. Muņoz was injured in the first game [senior year at USC], and he had his third knee operation. Bryant Gumbel, then a sports anchor with an LA TV station, interviewing Anthony at the hospital after the third surgery. "He asked, 'Anthony, when are you going to quit? When are you going to give up? This is ridiculous. This is your third knee surgery. Why are you going through all this?'
Anthony's response? "If God gives me the desire to play again, I'll play." After his release from the hospital, Anthony asked his young wife to pray that he get a chance to play in the Rose Bowl. At the time, his leg was still in a cast and there was no guarantee USC, though ranked No. 1 in the country, would make it. "From the very beginning Anthony had a childlike faith and my faith was very skeptical. I wanted to believe but thought, Nothing good has happened to us except each other. It's been a rough life. So when he asked me to pray, I thought, Poor Anthony. Please, Lord, don't let him down." said Muņoz wife, DeDe.
Anthony was determined. When he came out of the hospital, he started jumping rope. He and DeDe kept praying together, and he started getting stronger. He began running. DeDe realized that a comeback, though still a long shot, might be possible.
Then, right before the UCLA game, the lineman who took Anthony's place was injured and was unable to play in the Rose Bowl. Anthony went over to Coach John Robinson and said, "Coach, I want to play in the Rose Bowl," DeDe remembered. He said, "Yes, we'll put you in at wide receiver only if you got a doctor's okay." He came home with tears in his eyes and said, "I know I can do it."
Anthony went back to his head coach a second time and his persistence was rewarded. "The left leg was actually stronger than my right leg, and I started practicing for the Rose Bowl," he said. He helped the Trojans beat Ohio State 17-16 for the national title and later on was the winner of the Lombardi Trophy [awarded to the top college lineman].
Anthony Muņoz was then drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1980 and became a starter that same year.
He was the first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals and the third player selected overall in the 1980 NFL draft. Some considered the pick a risk because of a knee injury and the fact that he played only one full game his senior year at the University of Southern California. But as the two-time All-American lineman (1978-79) proved, the concerns were unfounded. Muņoz missed only three games due to injury. His rigorous workout routine included working out in the weight room he had installed in his home and running three to four miles every day. He set high personal standards and worked tirelessly to achieve them.
An exceptional straight-on blocker, Muņoz was agile, quick, and strong. He had great foot quickness and agility necessary to block quick defensive ends. Considered by many to be the premier tackle during his 13-seasons of play, he started 164 of 168 games from 1980-1990. An all-around athlete, he even caught seven passes and scored four touchdowns on tackle eligible plays. His stalwart play was the key to the success that propelled Cincinnati to three AFC Central Division titles and two AFC championships (1981 and 1988).
The recipient of virtually every possible honor, Anthony was elected to 11 consecutive Pro Bowls and was named all-pro 11 straight times from 1981 through 1991. Muņoz played in two super bowls with the Cincinnati Bengals and was named the NFL Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1981, 1987, and 1988 and the NFL Players Association Lineman of the Year in 1981, 1985, 1988, and 1989.
During the spring of 1998, Anthony Muņoz was named into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first attempt on the ballot. The ultimate honor in anyone's career but in Muņoz's situation it also made him the first and only Latino to be inducted into the Football Hall of Fame. "Todavia no lo creo. Es un honor increible" said Muņoz to a Spanish newspaper.
But, who would introduce him at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in August? Who might he pick from the vast array of well-known, big-name individuals who had influenced him during 13 years in the NFL? In the end, Anthony took the advice given by many football players, he stayed at home. He picked his son.
"Out of all the people he's met in football and all the people he's known, to pick someone from his own family kind of tells where his priorities are," Michael said.
When it came time to address the Hall of Fame audience in Canton, Ohio, Michael Muņoz didn't describe Anthony Muņoz the great football player, he chose to speak about Anthony Muņoz, the husband, father, and friend.
The effect was overwhelming for Anthony. "I had to talk after him, and I'm crying like a baby," he admitted. "So many times as a dad and a husband and a friend you see all your failures and the times you have to go back to your kids and ask for forgiveness. It just shows the goodness of God to see that through all that, He has been faithful in allowing DeDe and me to pass along important things to our kids. It's very gratifying, and it excites me about my faith and how big God is and how God can use us if we allow Him to mold us and shape us."
In October 1999, during Hispanic Heritage Month, Anthony Muņoz was given a Hispanic Heritage Award honoring him for his great achievements in the world of sports. This award ceremony was hosted by Daisy Fuentes and was aired nationally on NBC.
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