Search

Chips off the Old Block Michael and Michelle Munoz are following in the enormous footsteps of their Pro Football Hall of Fame father

May 29, 2000
May 29, 2000

Table of Contents
May 29, 2000

Chips off the Old Block Michael and Michelle Munoz are following in the enormous footsteps of their Pro Football Hall of Fame father

The memory of that moment can still bring tears of joy. On the
first day of August 1998, Anthony Munoz was enshrined in the Pro
Football Hall of Fame, validating his 13-year career with the
Cincinnati Bengals as one of the best ever by an offensive
lineman. He was introduced that afternoon by his son, Michael,
who had turned 17 the day before. With the poise of a grown man,
Michael stood before the ESPN cameras and the vast crowd, which
included his mother, DeDe, and 15-year-old sister, Michelle, and
praised his father not for what he had done in the NFL but for
what he had done at home.

This is an article from the May 29, 2000 issue

Dad, thank you for coming home when you could have gone out with
the guys. For not taking jobs, so you could watch me and
Michelle play basketball and football.... Thank you for being
consistent in your work ethic.... Thank you for being consistent
in your walk with the Lord.... Thank you for always being there.

"Funny thing is," says Anthony, "I asked Michael before we went
onstage if he was all right, because I figured he would be
pretty nervous. Then he blew me away, at least with the parts I
could hear when I wasn't crying."

Being inducted into the Hall of Fame was a sweet moment, but
Michael's speech touched Anthony more deeply because his
paramount goal for the past 20 years was to be a good father.
His own father had abandoned his family when Anthony was a
toddler. He and his four siblings were raised by their mother,
Esther, in Ontario, Calif., and each afternoon some combination
of the kids would run to meet her alongside the railroad tracks
behind their small house as she walked home from her job crating
eggs. Anthony didn't fully feel his father's absence until he
was married, a pro football star with little children of his
own, sitting in a Father's Day service at his church. "I always
figured it didn't matter that I never had a father," says
Anthony. "But there I was, sitting in church, and all these men
were standing up and sharing the experiences they'd had with
their fathers. I thought, Man, I don't have any memories like
that. I can have those experiences with my own children."

Could he have imagined that there would be so much to
experience, to celebrate? Anthony and DeDe have raised two
children who could become one of the most potent brother-sister
athletic pairs in history. Michael, 18, who last fall finished a
three-year varsity football career at Cincinnati's Moeller High,
was regarded by many recruiting experts and college coaches as
the best high school offensive tackle in the country, a 6'7"
296-pounder with water-bug feet and snapdragon hands. He was
named all-state three times--All-America as a senior--and didn't
yield a sack in his career, despite a succession of Division
I-bound opponents. "Even when he was a sophomore, you could have
put him in an Ohio State uniform, stuck him in one of their
games, and nobody could have picked out the high school kid,"
says former Warren G. Harding High coach Gary Barber, whose team
faced Moeller the last two seasons. "He does things a person
that tall and that big shouldn't be able to do."

Little sister Michelle, 17, a 6-foot junior center at Mason
(Ohio) High, led her basketball team to a 27-0 record and the
Division I state championship. She was only the third junior to
be voted Ohio's Ms. Basketball, and twice in four years she led
her AAU team to the national final four. "She's an incredibly
complete player," says Mike Hughes, her AAU coach. "You can't
guard her with somebody her size because she'll go into the post
and destroy them, but you can't guard her with somebody 6'3" or
6'4", because she'll take them out on the perimeter and do the
same thing."

Last summer Michelle attended Tennessee's elite women's
basketball camp. Given that her bedroom has been an
orange-and-white shrine to the Lady Vols since Michelle was in
fifth grade, it was no surprise that she told her mother before
leaving for Knoxville, "If Pat [Summitt, the Tennessee coach]
says anything that even sounds like a scholarship offer, I'm
saying yes." Sure enough, Michelle, who had yet to enter her
junior year of high school, was so impressive that Summitt,
without actually offering a scholarship, made it clear that
she'd make a fine Lady Vol. Exercising great restraint, Michelle
waited 12 hours before orally committing to Tennessee. "A lot of
little girls dream of going to Tennessee to play for Pat," says
Michelle. "That dream is going to come true for me."

Michael, though older, waited longer to commit. He visited
Florida State and Michigan before orally committing to Tennessee
in December and signing with the Vols on Feb. 2. "Gonna be weird
having us both down there," he says, making it clear that he
takes great pride in Michelle's success. He never lets her
forget that his girth and elbows often ended their pickup games
and sent Michelle sulking into the house. "I'm the one who made
her tough," he says.

Brother and sister look forward to being together in Knoxville
in the fall of 2001. Anthony and DeDe will not be far behind. On
April 3 they closed on a three-bedroom condo on the banks of the
Tennessee River in Knoxville, headquarters for Team Munoz from
August to April for the next five years.

This spring as Anthony looked forward to an orange-hued future,
he filled a corner of an oversized couch (really oversized--it
leaves visitors with their feet dangling inches above the
carpet) in the family room of the Munozes' sprawling home in the
Cincinnati suburb of Mason. DeDe sat on a facing sofa, while
Michelle sprawled over the rest of it, her stocking feet in
DeDe's lap. Michael was rummaging through the kitchen, seeking
an after-school snack. "It's been an incredible time for us,"
says DeDe. "We're not just proud of them; we're honored to be
their parents."

Michael's and Michelle's achievements represent greatness
begetting greatness. "If I had been as good at my position as
Anthony Munoz was at his, I would have been 10 times better than
Joe Montana," former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason once
said. At USC, where Munoz also pitched for the baseball team
that won the 1978 College World Series, his football career was
marred by three knee injuries, the last a ligament tear in the
left knee in the first game of his senior year. He underwent
surgery but insisted on playing in the 1980 Rose Bowl four
months later. "He was sure to be a high first-round draft pick
but he wanted to play anyway," says John Robinson, USC's coach
at the time.

The Trojans, ranked No. 3 in the nation, trailed No. 1 Ohio
State 16-10 with 5:21 to play. USC offensive coordinator Paul
Hackett was contemplating his crunch-time attack when, according
to offensive line coach Hudson Houck, now an assistant coach
with the Dallas Cowboys, Robinson told him, "Give the ball to
[Heisman Trophy-winning tailback] Charles White and run it
behind Munoz. That's how we'll win the damn game." USC did just
that, driving 83 yards in eight plays, all on the ground, to win
17-16 and finish No. 2 in the country.

Bengals founder Paul Brown and his son, Mike, now the team's
president, watched that Rose Bowl on television and laughed
about Munoz's dominance. They decided on the spot that if the
6'6", 285-pound lineman was available, they'd take him with the
third pick in the 1980 draft. He was and played 13 seasons and
in two Super Bowls for the Bengals. "Thirteen years, and I
remember him having one bad game," says Jim McNally, Munoz's
line coach with the Bengals and now in the same position with
the New York Giants. Munoz was named to 11 consecutive Pro Bowls
and missed only 11 regular-season games, eight of those in his
last season, 1992, when he suffered from sore shoulders and
reinjured his left knee.

"He had this explosiveness off the ball that's so rare," says
Max Montoya, who played on the same line with Munoz for 10
years. "It was the same thing that John Hannah of the Patriots
had--he just knocked people backward with one step. I don't
remember a team attacking Anthony's side. It just didn't happen.
Anthony worked at his craft, too."

Munoz also worked at building a family, passing on most of the
carousing that is available to pro athletes. On Thursday nights
Esiason would treat the offensive line to dinner, and many of
the diners would then take the revelry elsewhere, Friday being a
light practice day in the NFL. Munoz would eat with his
teammates and then go home. "When a bunch of guys were going
out, you just didn't ask him very often," says Esiason. "You
knew what the answer would be: I'm sorry, guys--Michael has a
game, or Michelle has something, or I'm going home to see DeDe
and the kids."

Munoz took his family with him to the Pro Bowl game in Hawaii
most years and set aside several days before and after the game
to spend time with them. During the off-season Munoz would do
his running at a nearby high school, and Michael and Michelle
would often be there with him. Every December the family
attended a showing of A Christmas Carol at Cincinnati's
Playhouse in the Park. Still does. They would take spring break
vacations together. Still do. On Thanksgiving, Anthony would
take Michael and Michelle into downtown Cincinnati to help serve
dinner at the Salvation Army center. Still does.

Religious faith is at the center of their lives. Anthony, who
had met DeDe while in high school, began dating her after his
freshman year at USC, and joined her in accepting Christianity
in October 1978. That decision, Munoz says, saved his life. "I
was going hard down a bad path," he says. "Partying, hanging
out, drinking. If you look at my family, you'll see drug
addiction, alcoholism, crime. Early in my career, when I would
go back home, I'd have to ask, Who's locked up, who's out, who's
living where? The Lord showed me a lot of mercy."

Since they moved to Cincinnati in 1980, Anthony and DeDe have
been active in their church there; Michael and Michelle have
followed suit. Even today both kids leave home early on Sunday
mornings for services and a church-related meeting at a
restaurant afterward. They use the same word to describe their
lives: blessed.

Both kids are also strong students. Michelle carries a 3.6 GPA,
Michael a 3.3. ("Calculus dragged me down from a 3.5," he
groans.) O.K., so he's not perfect. Any of his buddies who
follow Michael into a rest room know not to touch the door
handle, lest they grasp a freshly hocked loogie. Last Halloween,
Michael dressed as Anthony, circa 1979, replete with huge Afro
wig, a mustache and loud polyester. "He looked goofy, but he
also looked like Anthony did back then," says DeDe.

Michael also inherited his father's athletic genes, which is why
a fascinating subplot in the Munoz Chronicles will be Michael's
attempt to measure up to the imposing standard set by his dad.

As a youngster Michael played soccer and Little League baseball,
but he was too big to play youth league football. "They'd hand
out the sign-up sheets in school, and I'd see the weight limits
and just laugh because I wasn't even close," says Michael, who
was 6 feet, 200 pounds by the sixth grade. When he joined
Moeller's freshman team in 1996, he asked his father to teach
him the finer points of playing offensive tackle. Delighted,
Anthony shoved aside the coffee table in the family room and
showed Michael the foot slides and hand drills that separate
offensive linemen who are merely big from those who are skilled.
"It's almost like Anthony has passed along a trade to his son,"
says Tennessee offensive line coach Mike Barry, who helped
recruit Michael.

The father-son tutorials continued. In fact, Anthony worked as a
volunteer coach at Moeller from 1997 through '99. (He was an
analyst-reporter for ESPN on NFL broadcasts in '98, as he had
been for other networks from '93 to '96.) Anthony is also a
spokesman for a Cincinnati-based furniture store, a bank and an
auto dealership, and last December he sold his share in a
successful Italian restaurant, but he doesn't plan to resume his
broadcasting career or other full-time business commitments
while Michael and Michelle are playing college ball.

By the summer before his sophomore year, Michael had grown to
6'4" and nearly 300 pounds. Anthony took him to California to
visit Esther and enrolled him in USC's four-day football camp.
Barry, who was then coaching under Robinson, threw Michael into
a one-on-one drill against a high school senior, and Michael,
after getting beaten once, dominated the older kid. "He just
tigered up and handled him," says Anthony. "That's when I knew
he had the attitude to play."

Two months ago Moeller coach Steve Klonne sat in a tiny film
room and zipped though tape of his team's 1999 victory over
Harding. He pointed out that when Munoz was across from John
Lumpkin, a quick, 255-pound pass rusher who would sign with
Indiana, he neutralized Lumpkin with fast, powerful hands and
quick feet, and when Munoz was left uncovered, he fired out and
hit smaller people. "Watch him emulsify this linebacker," Klonne
said as Munoz ran over an opponent. He plays every down to the
whistle.

Later that day, Anthony drove Michael, Moeller teammate and
Virginia Tech-bound tight end Mike Jackson, and a friend of
Michael's, Joe Ashbrook, to the home of Bengals strength coach
Kim Wood. In his basement was a dungeon of weightlifting
contraptions. If Edgar Allan Poe had been a personal trainer,
his gym would have looked like this. Wood teaches what he calls
"combat sports training," a form of puke-inducing,
high-intensity lifts and creative exercises designed, in Wood's
words, "to teach these young men to get the most out of their
bodies." Among the exercises they perform are curls with
90-pound duffel bags, in which the stress is not essentially in
the biceps but on the fingertips that grip the bags.

Michael moves quickly from station to station in these cramped
quarters, from the hip and back machine to the hulking decline
press, screaming his way through the last several reps. Curls
with huge, rusting metal plates follow. Anthony sits on a bench
and watches impassively. A fierce worker in his prime, Munoz
doesn't usually come to these workouts, but when he does, he is
quiet.

After the workout, father and son drop off Jackson and Ashbrook
and then drive home. As soon as Anthony pulls his Jeep Grand
Cherokee into the driveway, Michael is out the door and on a
search-and-destroy mission, seeking sustenance. He knows his
parents and Michelle will be attending a banquet that night, so
food is a major concern. Michael finds a full Crock-Pot steaming
in the kitchen and sighs with relief. Still concerned about his
second course, he flings open the freezer door and hauls out a
frozen pizza. There are precious few days left in his senior
year and on July 7 he will start the second session of summer
school and preseason workouts in Knoxville, getting a jump on
his college career. "I'm looking forward to helping out down
there next year," he says. Barry diplomatically says that
Michael will be given a chance to compete for a starting spot.
Truth is, Tennessee fully expects him to win one.

In the meantime, father and son will continue to work together,
in anticipation of Michael's quest for greatness. Michael will
study tapes of Anthony's NFL games. They will work out in the
Munoz's basement gym. Anthony will lift weights alongside
Michael until his shoulders and pecs burn, and he'll stop and
ask himself, Why am I doing this? Then he'll look at his son,
veins about to burst as Michael pounds through 40 reps on the
leg press, and he'll smile. Later they will wrestle on the
living room rug, dad reminding son to go easy, that he is 41
years old now. Or they will pass each other in a hallway and
Michael will try to pin his hands on Anthony's chest and
Anthony, like a defensive end, will try to slap them away. Then
they will laugh, and the walls will shake.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICH FRISHMAN MUST BE THE GENES Michael (seated) and Michelle inherited Anthony's work ethic.COLOR PHOTO: TONY TOMSIC/NFL PHOTOS KING OF THE TRENCHES In his 13 years on the Bengals' line, Anthony was the best in the business, playing in 11 straight Pro Bowls.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICH FRISHMAN SIBLING RIVALRY Michelle may be Ohio's reigning Ms. Basketball, but that doesn't mean Michael cuts her any slack at home.TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICH FRISHMAN VOLS Michael (sending Dad into the family pond) hopes to make a splash at Tennessee this fall, while Michelle must wait until 2001.
When left uncovered, Michael fired out and hit smaller people.
"Watch him emulsify the linebacker," Klonne said.