(EDITOR'S NOTE: To access the Hank Bauer interview, click on the following attachment: Ep 47: Former Charger Hank Bauer Joins the Show | Spreaker)
Former running back Chuck Muncie isn’t in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has never been a finalist for Canton and, in all likelihood, never will be a finalist for Canton
But that’s not to say Chuck Muncie wasn’t a magnificent player. He was. In fact, he was so talented that one of his San Diego Chargers' teammates called him “the most physically dominating, gifted player I’ve ever seen.”
That would be special-teams standout Hank Bauer, appearing on a recent “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com, and he wasn’t talking about players of his era. He was talking of all time. And to illustrate his point, he recalled a mini-camp incident that convinced him that when it came “pure, God-given talent,” Muncie had no equal.
It happened in the spring of 1984, after Bauer retired and become a Chargers’ assistant coach. Bauer had been on a golfing junket in Maui with several NFL players, including Muncie, when he was told by then-Chargers’ coach Don Coryell to make sure the star running back showed up for mini-camp.
It was the following weekend.
That wouldn’t be easy. According to Bauer, Muncie had been in Hawaii for a month. It was no secret that he didn’t like to train and could miss practices. It was also no secret that he had alcohol and drug-abuse problems. So convincing him to fly to the mainland for an offseason mini-camp would be onerous. Nevertheless, that was Coryell’s order.
“So I talked to Chuck,” said Bauer. “Chuck and I were like brothers. And (I told him), ‘Chuck, please come.’ So Chuck takes the red-eye in for mini-camp. I wasn’t sure he was going to make it.”
But he did. Getting him on to the practice field, however, was another matter.
“First thing we’re going to do,” Bauer recalled of that day, “is we’re going to run 40s. So, everybody’s stretching, and it’s the first practice of mini-camp. And Coryell goes, “Hank, you promised me Chuck was going to come.’ And I (said,), ‘Coach, he took the red-eye in. He’s on the training table. He’s going to be here.’ (And) he said, ‘Why isn’t he out here stretching?’
“So I go into the training room to get him, and he’s sleeping in the training room. Because he hasn’t slept in a month. Chuck had his full sweats on. Full sweats … his jersey … and a helmet.”
Bauer wakes him, Muncie agrees to attend practice and the stage is set.
“Everybody is stretching,” Bauer said, “and now they go to individual drills. The gate swings open, and it was like a scene from a spaghetti western. Here comes Harry Vance Muncie. Six-foot four-and-a-half. Two fifty-five (255 pounds). Cigarette dangling from his mouth. Walking on to the practice field carrying his helmet.
“He jogs to the end of the field, (and) I tell him, ‘Chuck, I don’t care if you walk the 40. Coryell just wants you to do it, just to show your good teammate.’ He goes, ‘OK, Hammer.’ He walks to the end, all the scouts are out there. Running backs are up. Chuck does a couple of little stretches … right? … puts his cigarette down on the starting mark of the 40, puts his helmet on (and) … Bang! Four-four-six.”
As in 4.46 seconds.
“Hadn’t trained a day in his life,” said Bauer. “Unbelievable. He walks back, picks up his cigarette and looks at me and goes, ‘Hammer, like a fine wine.’ “
San Diego Union-Tribune columnist and former Hall-of-Fame voter Nick Canepa, who was covering the team then, was there that day and insists Muncie’s time was more like 4.55. It doesn’t matter. It was fast. In fact, Canepa thinks it eclipsed everyone but wide receiver Wes Chandler. Furthermore, he corroborated the rest of Bauer’s story, saying Muncie was so out of shape he might have weighed 260 and that he ran the 40 in sweats with his helmet on.
Most important, he remembered what Muncie said as he walked past him.
“Like fine wine,” said Canepa.
Like Bauer, he believes Muncie was the most talented … not the most accomplished but the most talented … running back he’s seen, and Canepa has been watching the sport for over six decades. He also believes Muncie could’ve been a Hall-of-Fame back were he not entangled in substance abuse. Yet even with a raft of off-the-field issues that finally forced the Chargers to give up on him in 1984, Muncie made such an impact that he was named to the Chargers’ 40th and 50th anniversary teams.
“I remember talking to (former Raiders’ assistant and later San Diego GM) Steve Ortmayer one day,” said Canepa, “and he told me the Raiders thought that Chuck Muncie was the greatest football player who ever lived … which means Al Davis thought he was. And that’s absolutely a direct quote.”
Chuck Muncie might just have been the most extraordinary running back Canton will never know.