Michael Munoz had played a full football season. His Moeller Crusaders had won the conference title in 1997, but the state playoffs loomed. "I was worn out," he says. "We'd accomplished a lot of stuff."
Anthony Munoz and his wife DeDe, daughter Michelle and son Michael sit near the pond in the backyard of their Deerfield Township home.
(Michael Keating photo)
The boy asked his father, Hall of Fame Bengals tackle Anthony Munoz, how he had motivated himself when he was tired.
"He told me, 'Play to make yourself a better player,"' says Michael, 17 today and a rising Moeller junior.
"'Play for the team. Play for God.'"
Sometimes, when she's battling for position under the basket, Michelle Munoz will get called for a foul she thinks she didn't commit. It's precisely at these times she hears her father's voice boom from the bleachers.
"He'll say, 'Good post-up, Michelle. Good box-out. Keep it up,'" says Michelle, 15, who started last season as a freshman on the Mason High School girls varsity basketball team. "Mom is great, but Dad has been there."
|THE MUNOZ YEARS|
|JUNE 27, 1980|
| Munoz and Trope file a $13 million breach of contract suit against the Bengals. |
|JULY 19, 1980|
| Munoz and Bengals agree to a million-dollar six-year contract and Munoz drops suit against Bengals. Contract includes incentives for making All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams. September |
Started all 16 games as a rookie. . . . Named to all-rookie squads as a starting tackle.
|JULY 31, 1981|
| Son Michael is born. |
Started all 16 games at left tackle, helping lead team to Super Bowl XVI. . . . Key man on offensive line as QB Ken Anderson led league with a 98.5 passer rating. Anderson was sacked just 35 times compared with 63 times in 1979. Named NFL offensive lineman of the year. . . . Earns first Pro Bowl selection as a starting tackle. . . . Unanimous All-Pro pick. . . . Winner of Seagrams Award as ''the most effective and most consistent offensive lineman in professional football in 1981."
Whether in the quiet of his son's room or the noise of a high school gym, Anthony Munoz is there for his children. And he has been there for his wife. His support of DeDe Munoz was central in her overcoming agoraphobia, the fear of open spaces and public places.
He is so devoted to his family that one close friend, Wendell Deyo, president of Lebanon-based Athletes in Action, says Anthony "has been a full-time father and husband" since he left the game in 1993.
"Anthony has always seen his role as husband and father as far more significant that his role as a football player," adds Deyo, who coordinated chapel services for the Cincinnati Bengals and Reds from 1974-1991.
But Anthony connected the three: God, family and job. "I'd ask him before a game, 'Who are you playing for this week?'" Deyo says, "and he'd say, 'I'm playing in thanksgiving for DeDe.' '
Anthony's motivation is simple. He grew up without a father, who left the family when Anthony, now 39, was an infant. The man lived only a few blocks away from his family in Ontario, Calif., but tried only twice -- unsuccessfully -- to contact his youngest son. Anthony's mother, Esther, brought up her three boys and two daughters alone.
He's trying to break a family cycle.
"Personally, I think Anthony's the way he is because he never had a dad," says DeDe Munoz, who's a few years older than her husband -- exactly how many she won't say. The child of a military family, she was born in Germany and met Anthony when she was employed at the University of Southern California and he was a student there.
DeDe's sitting in the family room of the family's Deerfield Township home on a Thursday afternoon, 2 1/2 weeks before her husband's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Anthony is driving back from Chicago, where he'd spent a week with Michelle. She had attended an invitation-only basketball camp. Anthony and Michelle will be home for a day. Then it will back to Chicago for another camp. For eight days in late June and early July, the family was in Des Moines, Iowa, where Michelle had played on an all-Ohio team in a national AAU basketball tournament.
It has been in the last year that Michael's and Michelle's athletic talents blossomed and started to attract widespread attention.
Michael Munoz, all-state as a sophomore, lumbers down the curved staircase in the two-story foyer. At 6-feet-7, 320 pounds, he's bigger than his father, who's 6-6 but has dropped 20 pounds from his playing weight of 290. Michael, wearing a Hammer Strength T-shirt, walks into the room past a small Christian cross hanging from the wall. He sits beside his mother on one of two floral couches.
The Munoz family enjoys walking with their Labrador retrievers along a path at their home.
(Michael Keating photo)
The couches. The glass-top coffee table. The oversized shelving units that hold family photographs and autographed footballs. It's all from Furniture Fair, one of the companies for whom Anthony does commercial endorsements.
The large-screen TV is built into a facing wall and is tuned to the Food Network. A shelf above the unit holds several of Anthony's most prized trophies: NFL Man of the Year, 1991; NFL Players Association Lineman of the Year; NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. A three-dimensional glass case dominates an adjacent wall and holds his white, No. 78 Bengals jersey. A gift from Boomer Esiason, the display features 10 color photographs of Munoz is action. He likes nine of the images.
"But not this one," Michael says. "He's holding the guy."
Quiet times important
The family finds order amid even the busy lives its individual members lead. A quiet Christmas Eve dinner of rib roast, twice-baked potatoes, green beans and creamed corn is a tradition.
"Don't forget the apple pie," Michael says. "Mom makes the best apple pie."
They find time to pray as a family almost every day, too. A devotional can happen anywhere in the home or when they're together on the road. The prayers are in appreciation of each other, for protection and guidance and asking the Lord to strengthen them.
DeDe and Michael describe the perfect family day. It's less frequent now because of the children's schedules.
"We call them 'nighty days,'" DeDe says. "You know, the kind where you stay in your nighty all day. We'll put in a movie and just be together. We'll draw the blinds and won't answer the phone or the door."
She might make the kids' favorite dinner, chicken enchiladas. Top movie fare includes Pure Luck and What About Bob?, which stars Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss.
"What About Bob? is the one we seem to quote the most to each other," DeDe says. "Michelle likes the romantic Broadway musicals."
Fast forward to Friday.
Anthony's sitting in the family room. He's wearing running shoes, shorts, a Chaffey Tigers T-shirt (his high school alma mater in California) and a Nike baseball cap. He's working the TV remote, alternating between a Janis Joplin biography and British Open golf coverage on ESPN. He'll work this fall as a NFL analyst and reporter for ESPN radio and television networks. He's going to miss one of Michael's Moeller football games.
Michelle started at center for Mason's varsity girls basketball team her freshman year.
"It's good for him to do something for himself during the year," DeDe says later. "He's going to be busy."
If Anthony weren't so devoted to family, his wife and children say, he'd accept more of the speaking engagements that come his way from around the country. He'd coach. Or he'd golf more often.
"He hits enough good shots," Michael says, "to keep him interested."
The family poses for photographs in the backyard. The 10-acre lot features a man-made pond on which a floating dock has been built. The family's three-month-old puppies, brown (Boo) and black (Dakota, "Cody" for short) Labrador retrievers, follow them to the pond. It's there, on early morning walks with the dogs, that Anthony and DeDe often stop to pray. They are prayers of thanksgiving for the blessings, she says, and for strength to continue to serve the Lord.
On the way back to the house, Anthony, Michelle and Michael toss a tennis ball and Frisbee to the dogs.
'Hey, Dad," Michael says. "I was watching the World's Strongest Man Competition from 1982 on ESPN the other day, and guess who was on it? Ross Browner." Browner, a defensive lineman, is a former Bengals teammate of Anthony's.
"He used to win the NFL boxing matches," Anthony says. "He was strong."
Michael names a couple of other men in the competition, football players and body builders alike. Anthony has no tolerance of steroid use to enhance strength or size. Michael's mention of another name, a non-football player, brings this comment from his father: "That was the best body chemicals could build."
Three baseball bats lay on a sidewalk near the house. The walk connects the back door to a concrete apron in front of the family's four-car garage. A couple of worn leather basketballs rest next the post that holds an adjustable hoop. A free-throw lane and three-point arc are painted white on the concrete. Anthony and DeDe bought the land and had the house built. They moved in in March 1995.
DeDe asks Michael to put the bats away. The dogs are led to screen porch. DeDe ushers the family and two visitors into the kitchen. She gets out several glasses and offers ice water.
Faith guides him
Anthony and Dede.
Anthony sits at the table with his son and daughter. The backyard spreads out from a picture window behind him. DeDe stands at the sink rinsing dishes. A water cooler purrs in the corner.
The conversation turns to family and Anthony's role as husband and father.
"My faith . . . the first thing that motivates me in all areas of my life is my relationship with Jesus," he says. "When I make a mistake, I can come and apologize to them. Never having a father, never experiencing that, it was something I wanted to provide my children. A relationship like the one I have with DeDe was something I never saw at home."
DeDe admires her husband's ability to admit when he's wrong. In fact, she calls it "the No. 1 best thing I love about him. He'll say, 'I blew it. How can I make it different? You've got to pray for me in that area.'"
But he's not perfect. "He's not as confident in some ways as I wish he'd be or that you'd think he would be," she says. "I'm open. He's not as open. He doesn't have heart-to-heart conversations with many people. He trusts the three of us. He's very good at surface discussions, at telling stories. He's not forthcoming about things."
At the same time, DeDe says, Anthony "adores me," and for that she is thankful.
"DeDe will sing before thousands of people at church," says Carol Snyder, a neighbor and member, like the Munoz family, of Hope Evangelical Free Church in Mason. "When you watch Anthony watching her, he just glows. He's so proud."
This much is clear, too: DeDe and Anthony adore their children. Anthony says he has taken full advantage of a profession that didn't consume his time. During the football season, he was home at a decent hour to spend time with the family. The football season is shorter and demands far less travel than pro basketball and baseball.
"I always did stuff with my teammates," most notably the weekly feast quarterback Esiason would throw for the linemen that protected him. "But I was able to go to school plays, to dance recitals."
It was when he became a father that Anthony Munoz began missing his father.
"Looking back, once I got to high school, I wished I'd had a dad to lean on for advice or wisdom," he says. "The college recruiting process was pretty intense. I had to go through it on my own."
Former teammates and coaches are among those who know Munoz best and say that his family played a role in the success he enjoyed on the field.
"Sometimes, people have personal problems in life, and they bring them to work," says Forrest Gregg, Munoz's first coach with the Bengals. "To his and DeDe's credit, he always had a stable family life. Anthony never brought problems to work with him."
Former Bengals lineman and broadcaster Dave Lapham says, "Anthony is a role model is so many ways -- husband, father, Christian, athlete."
Sam Wyche coached Munoz for eight seasons in Cincinnati. Wyche, who will work this season as a football analyst for CBS-TV, is also co-author of a cartoon strip -- No Huddle -- that will appear in dozens of newspapers beginning this fall.
While the strip is fictionalized, Wyche pays tribute to Munoz by name in one episode.
Panel 1: Veteran and rookie members of a football team are telling jokes and using colorful language in the locker room when in walks an imposing figure. A veteran says to the rookies, "Hey, clean it up. Here comes Anthony."
Panel 2: A rookie asks innocently, "Why do we have to clean it up just because Anthony's in the room?"
Panel 3: "Because," the veteran says, "you know all those speeches we give in schools, well, Anthony believes all those things and lives that way."
Says Wyche, "All of the things you hear about Anthony are true, as opposed to being close to the truth."
Munoz is widely admired for his wholesome lifestyle, calm demeaner and profanity-free vocabulary.
During a 1985 game, Munoz dislocated a finger. A doctor pulled and pushed the finger until Munoz could no longer stand the pain.
"Son of a biscuit-eater!" he yelled. In a 1986 Enquirer interview, he recalled the incident: "God gives me the strength to decline those things."
Making Mom and Dad proud
God, apparently, through the example of Anthony and DeDe Munoz, has given the same strength to Michael and Michelle.
Anthony sits at the family kitchen table and says he and his wife are most proud of their children as people.
"When a parent calls you and tells you that your child excused themselves from a room where kids were watching a movie that doesn't gratify any one, not because they think they're better than anyone else, but because it's what they believe is right, that's pure joy," Anthony says. "When Michael takes a young lady to a dance and her parents call and say what a gentleman he is, or when a coach says that Michelle is a leader and a pleasure to have on the team . . . that's when I feel my chest is just huge, better than anything I did in 13 years as a player."
Michelle is 6-1, with long, dark hair and a quick smile. She wants to play basketball at the University of Tennessee, the nation's top women's program. It's her decision. Not her father's. And that's most important in her mind.
"You feel like you don't have to do things to please them," she says of her parents. "They'll love you no matter what. They don't pressure you. It's all encouragement."
The words of family pride and unabashed expressions of love move DeDe Munoz to tears.
She asks visitors if Michael may be excused from the table to go upstairs and rest. He's in the midst of intense conditioning sessions at Moeller. Before he goes, Michael is asked what he'll say when he introduces his father for enshrinement Aug. 1.
The young man politely declines to go into detail. "It's a great honor. It will be a blessing," Michael says. "I want him to hear it there."
DeDe adds that, in their family, a blessing constitutes words that come from the heart and are expressed during times of prayer.
But why Michael for the induction? Why not any of the estimated 215 people -- family, friends, former teammates and coaches -- who will be in Canton for the ceremony? Esiason will be broadcasting the game for ABC-TV. He paid for a bus and put former Bengals lineman Joe Walter in charge of lining up riders -- almost exclusively linemen -- to make the trip from Cincinnati. DeDe is throwing a private, three-hour party that night in Canton. The next day, they'll be back home for a Moeller picnic.
Life always comes back to family.