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