Guest columnist: If only there were more Sundays for Bolts' Chuck Muncie

Photo courtesy of L.A. Chargers

Clark Judge

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Each weekend this offseason a guest columnist weighs in with thoughts on the NFL -- past, present or future. Today's it's former Hall-of-Fame selector Nick Canepa of the San Diego Union-Tribune with memories of the late, great Chuck Muncie, a star who made choices that cost him a Hall-of-Fame career.)

If they started a Very Easily Could Have Been a Member of The Pro Football Hall of Fame, Chuck Muncie would be in the inaugural class.

Harry Vance Muncie, the late, bespectacled running back, was a monster. A monster who couldn’t escape his demons.

There’s a great chance Chuck never will be enshrined in the real Hall. The demons kept the door locked.

“I’m not there because of the choices I made,” he once said.

His choices away from the game were awful and eventually ruined what could have been a career to be envied, not pitied.

But let’s just say it right here and now. There aren’t many backs in Canton who could run with Muncie when it came to size, speed, hands and feel. He was 6-3, 230 (that’s 230 when in shape, which later on wasn’t possible), a football freak, a remarkable physical talent, a nimble bruiser.

They couldn’t clean his glasses.

His career as a Saint and then more famously as a Charger had ended (1985) when Steve Ortmayer came from Oakland to San Diego in 1987 and began a short stint as general manager that didn’t exactly ring with success.

Once, Muncie's name came up during one of our conversations, and Ortmayer said: ‘The Raiders thought Muncie was the greatest football player who ever lived.”

In other words, Al Davis, who WAS the Raiders, thought so. And, when it came to horseflesh -- especially during that time, before he became overly enamored with sprint champions -- Al was a keen judge.

Chuck may have been the most remarkable athlete I’ve been around. His talents were so profuse, he was able to survive by going several feet less than the extra yard. Only an authority much higher than the rest of us knows what might have been, had Muncie’s work ethic included something other than lifting a coke spoon.

In the spring of 1984, which would be his final year in San Diego -- it ended when even Don Coryell had had enough of his shenanigans -- the Chargers were running 40-yard sprints in drills. Chuck was there, in full sweats, lounging alongside a soccer net, when his name was called.

I’m guessing he dressed out at about 265 pounds then _ he had a belly _ and it was obvious his offseason wasn’t spent doing calisthenics.

I don’t believe in football 40 times. They’re lies. But Chuck lined up in those sweats and sneakers, ran his 40 on bad grass, and as he walked by assistant GM Tank Younger, who had a stopwatch, Tank said: “4.55, Chuck.” Only Wes Chandler -- speaking of Hall-of-Fame talents -- recorded a faster time.

Chuck looked over to me, grinned and said: “Like fine wine.” He then settled back down next to the net.

It’s what’s called football fast, and it's what’s important.

Of course his problems have been well-documented. In 1984, he was traded to Miami, but he took a bad pee and eventually was suspended indefinitely by the NFL. He went to Minneapolis, played in an exhibition game, then was suspended again for not following conditions for reinstatement, and retired for good.

In the late 1980s, he was found homeless and soon was sentenced to 18 months in a San Diego federal prison after pleading guilty to a cocaine-selling charge.

Lost in all this is that Chuck was a good guy. He always was the last player to leave the training room, and I was smart enough to wait for him. He usually would come out with a smile, a bandage across the bridge of his nose, where his game glasses had abused him.

And he cleaned himself up. After his incarceration, he did wonderful work with the Boys and Girls Clubs and other charitable organizations. He gave back to his college, Cal, and started a high-school recruiting service.

I talked to him prior to his 2013 death from heart failure, and he was the same Chuck. Only focused. Helping people after he finally helped himself.

Remember, Chuck had good backs around him -- Tony Galbreath in New Orleans and James Brooks in San Diego. Nevertheless, over nine seasons he played in 110 games, gaining 6,702 yards rushing (13th all-time when he retired), and he caught 263 passes for 2,323 more and three touchdowns. He scored 71 rushing touchdowns, his 19 in 1981 leading the league.

Until he beat back his demons, he never was all he could have been. But he was a gamer.

It was safety Tim Fox who said: “Chuck will do anything you ask him to do -- on Sunday.”

There just weren’t enough Sundays for Chuck to make a key that would open that door into Canton.

Comments (5)
No. 1-3
brian wolf
brian wolf

A sad story ...

Muncie should have been in the HOF.
His power and long strides, were tough for defenses to handle but like another tall, talented back with glasses -- Eric Dickerson of the Rams -- he could also fumble at the worst times, especially when the Chargers were close to a championship.

Maybe he was tough on himself after those tough playoff/championship game losses, or maybe he was frustrated with Owner Gene Klein, who didn't want to pay him, or stars like John Jefferson or Fred Dean, or maybe he didn't like being in a pass-first offense but off the field, drugs and a lackadaisical attitude, hurt his career and overall effort.

What might have been had the Chargers kept Fred Dean and John Jefferson during the 1981 season, instead of giving them to the cinderella 49ers, and Packers, in salary disputes ...

Had they kept Gary "Big Hands" Johnson in 1983 and James Brooks in 1984, while finding ways to keep Muncie healthy and motivated, especially with their great offensive line still intact ...

Painful memories for SAN DIEGO Chargers fans ...

2 Replies

brian wolf
brian wolf

Wes Chandler was another great Charger ...

How the Saints could get rid of him is anyones guess but Charger Owner Gene Klein was luckily able to get him to replace frustrated WR John Jefferson.

Chandler may never make the HOF but he was an effective player as long as QB Dan Fouts was in the lineup ...

From 1983-1987 Fouts had injury problems due to age, fearlessness in the pocket that led to, too many hits and an aging offensive line that was in transition.

The Chargers, despite a terrible defense that stayed on the field too long, were always a contender as long as Fouts and Chandler were on the field. Age and injuries started affecting WRs Winslow and Joiner as well.

Chandler was slight and never wore enough padding himself and had bumps and bruises as well but was unselfish in demanding the ball. The Chargers developed other backs, TEs and receivers that took away from his own statistics but put more pressure on opposing defences.

Had Chandler cried for the ball like an Owens, Rice or Sharpe he may have made the HOF, yet he was a quiet, team player and will always be remembered by Charger fans.

Clark Judge
Clark Judge

Editor

I covered those teams, Brian. Wes was one of the most talented WRs I ever saw. Look what happened in 1982. He was on his way to a 2,000-yard season but the strike got in the way. When I talk to Charlie Joiner about WRs who belong in Canton he always mentions Chandler first. Extraordinary talent.

Plawren2
Plawren2

Personally not a big fan of speculative cases for the Hall, yes they can be fun and interesting, but we can only base a players case for election based on what they actually accomplished. And yes its sad to think of what might have been with so many players. Its unfortunate, but the history of the league is full of "what ifs" when it comes to players gave us a hint of their potential only to see it get washed away by injuries and other factors, some out of their control, some directly of their making. Getting elected is a special and rare honor, so many deserving are still awaiting, considering others who may have had such a career is interesting but really not too enlightening.

force263
force263

I guess this really what you’re doing anyway, but I bemoan the fact that Chuck Muncie didn’t get more out of himself, not that he’s not enshrined in Canton. Halls Of Fame really are a joke, in general, insofar as voters purport to be really KNOW who should be in. We have seen voting PRIVILEGES abused, such as the case of certain Baseball writers never Voting anyone in unanimously. Canton’s problem is that there is zero clarity on who “belongs”, especially when it comes to WRs...

Anyway, Chuck is dead and gone - RIP, big man - and while it might Have been nice for his family to know he’d gotten in, Chuck has long since stopped caring. He got on with his life. Young men make bad choices, I’m living proof. What’s the point of crying over spilt milk? We Fans discuss these things because they matter to US, And it’s FUN, but I’ve stopped really caring about ANYTHUNG that’s not settled on the field. I don’t get upset if my favorite player wasn’t voted MVP anymore, because I don’t really respect a whole lot of others’ OPINIONS on these things, which is all an MVP vote is, an OPINION. An award is the accumulation of like opinions. HOFs are no different, although I do have fun talking about it and laughing about how F’d up HOF voters are. Chuck was responsible for a shitload of production on those Chargers teams. That’s a big deal. I’m a Raiders guy, but if it weren’t for strong opponents, who’d even want to watch it?

And Expectations create disappointment. Expectations don’t matter to Chuck anymore. I try my damndest not to have them myself. Chuck Muncie was a GREAT RB, that’s all I need. Not for somebody ELSE to tell me how good he was or wasn’t.


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