The most prolific edge rushers of the 1980s trembled in fear whenever they faced Cincinnati Bengals left tackle Anthony Muñoz.
Muñoz didn’t just hold them off – he manhandled and destroyed them consistently.
He was also a versatile offensive lineman who had seven receptions and four touchdown catches during his time in the National Football League.
The secret lay in Muñoz’s fitness levels. He had the agility of a smaller football player living in a 6’6″, 278-lb. mountain of a body.
Muñoz silenced the critics who thought he wouldn’t make it in the pro football ranks after three major knee surgeries in college at USC.
But Muñoz proved them wrong, racking up eleven Pro Bowl berths and nine First-Team All-Pro selections from 1980 to 1992. He also became the first Bengals player enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Muñoz’s greatness has gone beyond the four corners of the football field – his charitable and philanthropic efforts have changed thousands of lives for the better.
Truly, Anthony Muñoz was one of the best left tackles in pro football history.
Michael Anthony Muñoz was born in Ontario, California on August 19, 1958. He has two brothers and two sisters.
Muñoz’s mother Esther, who battled rheumatoid arthritis for most of her life, told Sports Illustrated’s Jay Greenberg in 1990 that Anthony’s father left them when he was very young.
Anthony and his siblings grew up in a yellow stucco house in Ontario. Their father lived nearby. He reached out to Anthony when he was five years old. He did it again seven years later.
Regrettably, father and son never spent time together. Esther Muñoz confirmed that the former has already died.
Despite Esther’s health predicament, she worked hard to provide for her five children by packing eggs at a farm. Anthony and his brother Tom helped shoo newborn chicks into their coops on weekends.
Years later, Anthony’s wife DeDe recalled the times when her husband downplayed the hard and trying times his family went through. She marveled at her mother-in-law’s tenacity during Anthony’s formative years.
By the time Anthony was five years old, he looked like a nine-year-old. Since he was involved with so many sports teams, they had to fight for his services when they squared off.
Anthony Muñoz’s first love was baseball. According to his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 1998, he rode his bicycle as a six-year-old boy growing up in Ontario, CA to many baseball games during the summer.
Muñoz and his friends went to Parks and Recreation where they met Chaffey High School baseball coach Jim Semon.
Semon gave them access to the shed and baseball gloves so they could play to their hearts’ content.
Awesome time in Ontario, CA sharing the stage with my brothers Dr. James Hammond, Superintendent of Ontario-Montclair School District, and NFL Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz. A special thank you to the amazing team of administrators of the @OMSD_omsd. True Champions. #LeadInspired pic.twitter.com/iaB4HexVL3
— Eric Boles (@EricLBoles) July 27, 2021
That experience motivated Muñoz to launch various charitable causes in the Cincinnati, OH area during his time in the National Football League from 1980 to 1992.
Muñoz wanted to become a platform for people who want to pursue their lifelong dreams and passions.
When Muñoz was growing up in Southern California, his football idols were offensive linemen Art Shell and Gene Upshaw of the Oakland Raiders and Charlie Cowan, Joe Scibelli, and Tom Mack of the Los Angeles Rams, per Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson.
Before long Muñoz also looked up to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson. He knew Dawson’s linemen Jim Tyrer, Ed Budde, Dave Hill, and Jack Rudnay by heart.
Anthony Muñoz excelled in baseball, basketball, and football at Chaffey High School.
He met his future wife DeDe at a pickup softball game in Ontario, CA when he was 16 years old. Muñoz made quite an impression on her – he denied her several base hits during the game. They eventually got married four years later.
Anthony Muñoz remained in-state and become one of the pillars of the USC Trojans’ offensive line in the mid-to-late 1970s.
College Days With The USC Trojans
Anthony Muñoz attended the University of Southern California from 1976 to 1979. He was a two-sport star who excelled in baseball and football for the USC Trojans.
Muñoz put his pitching skills to good use toward the end of his sophomore campaign at USC. He was one of the pitchers of the Trojans’ national title team in 1978.
Muñoz married his high school sweetheart DeDe in 1978. He was 20 years old and was entering his junior season at USC.
The couple converted to Christianity in October of that year. The decision helped straighten out Anthony, who was going down the wrong path in high school and college.
Muñoz admitted to Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden in 2000 that he drank and partied hard during that phase of his life. He couldn’t believe he was like that years later.
Muñoz’s pro football aspirations took a serious hit when a Texas Tech Red Raiders pass rusher’s helmet collided with his left knee in the 1979 season opener.
The Trojans’ offensive lineman had to undergo major reconstructive knee surgery. Well-meaning coaches and teammates urged him to petition the Pac-10 for one more year of college eligibility.
Muñoz was having none of it – he declared he would return later that season. Trojans head football coach John Robinson laughed it off and even told him he could return as a wide receiver.
Although Robinson never intended this remark as an insult, Muñoz went home and sobbed. He still had that burning desire to participate in a Rose Bowl game before he bade the college gridiron ranks goodbye.
After three knee surgeries and a lost senior season, USC great Anthony Muñoz had one last shot at the Rose Bowl.
He made the most of it. pic.twitter.com/rVoXv6GZ4d
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) January 10, 2020
Less than four months after the brutal hit against Texas Tech, Anthony Muñoz’s key block freed up USC running back Charles White for the game-winning touchdown in the 1979 Rose Bowl.
The third-ranked Trojans beat the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes by a whisker, 17-16.
Cincinnati Bengals owner and team president Paul Brown was at the game with his sons Mike and Pete.
Although the Brown family was apprehensive about Muñoz’s knees, he put that issue to rest with his inspired play in the Rose Bowl.
“The three of us sat there and laughed out loud,” Mike Brown, the Bengals assistant GM, told Sports Illustrated eleven years later. “The guy was so big and so good it was a joke.”
Muñoz ended his college football career in style – not only did he help the Trojans win the Rose Bowl, but he also earned consecutive All-American honors in 1978 and 1979.
As Muñoz’s time on the college gridiron was winding down, he landed a part in the Charles Bronson movie “Borderline.”
Muñoz told The Athletic’s Shannon Russell in 2020 that his offensive line coach at USC was a friend of the movie’s producer. They needed extras for the film so he agreed to become one of them.
Muñoz portrayed an illegal immigrant named “Guatemalan.” He rambled some words in Spanish to a U.S. border patrol agent.
Muñoz remembered having lunch with Bronson and the other extras during filming in Valencia, CA. He didn’t remember how much he earned for his cameo role.
Mike Brown sent head coach Forrest Gregg to USC to work out Muñoz during his senior season at USC in 1979. Muñoz had already gone through three knee surgeries in four years.
Despite Muñoz’s injury history, he knew he had to impress Gregg, a former nine-time Pro Bowl tackle with the Green Bay Packers.
Gregg put Muñoz through several drills before pass-rushing him without warning. Muñoz acted instinctively.
“Just as he made them, I stuck both hands right in his chest and jammed him to the ground,” Muñoz said in his 1998 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech. “You better believe I was scared.”
A petrified Muñoz extended his hand toward Gregg, who smiled and nonchalantly brushed off the hit.
Little did Anthony Muñoz know his blocking maneuver on Gregg convinced the Cincinnati Bengals to draft him third overall several months later.
Despite concerns about his previous knee issues, Muñoz was well on his way to becoming one of the best offensive linemen in pro football history.
Pro Football Career
The Cincinnati Bengals made Anthony Munoz the third overall selection of the 1980 NFL Draft.
Muñoz bought his mother Esther a house with his first paycheck from the Bengals. Even with two artificial knees due to her rheumatoid arthritis, she had ample room to move around inside.
Anthony Muñoz got off to a great start in his NFL career. He earned PFWA All-Rookie Team honors in 1980.
Unfortunately, the Bengals won just six games that year and missed the postseason for the fifth straight time.
Muñoz recalled the times when Bengals offensive line coach Jim McNally called him up regularly at ten in the evening while he spent his first two offseasons in California.
McNally, who worked all offseason long, often discovered some new blocking stances or techniques that he wanted to share with Muñoz.
One time McNally asked Muñoz to get in his stance while they were talking on the phone. The latter complied while he was shifting his weight from side to side with the phone in his ear, per ProFootballHOF.com.
On another occasion, McNally rang Muñoz up again. This time around, the Bengals offensive lineman was lying on his bed and performed the stance McNally asked him to do while grabbing his pillow.
The Muñoz couple decided to settle in Cincinnati in Anthony’s third year with the Bengals in 1982. According to Sports Illustrated, the city’s sense of community greatly appealed to them.
It was also around that time Anthony and DeDe Muñoz helped found the Hope Evangelical Free Church in Mason, OH.
DeDe also had her own health issue – she had been coping with agoraphobia for years. She freaked out and suffered panic attacks whenever she felt trapped in certain places and circumstances.
Anthony, being the dutiful husband that he was, supported her throughout her ordeal. After undergoing treatment, DeDe’s agoraphobic tendencies subsided considerably.
Anthony Muñoz had his second acting stint during his fourth season with the Bengals. He portrayed “Gonzalez” in the 1983 Academy Award-winning movie “The Right Stuff.”
Muñoz got the part after his second season in Cincinnati. He had painful bone spurs in his right elbow so he consulted Los Angeles Raiders team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Rosenfeld
Dr. Rosenfeld was also widely known in the showbiz industry. When Muñoz had his final checkup with him, the latter told him he had some connections in the movie industry who could have a role for him, per Russell.
Muñoz demurred at first but eventually relented. He went to his audition and thought nothing came out of it after several weeks.
To Muñoz’s astonishment, he received a phone call after a month – he got the role. Muñoz recalled seeing seasoned actors Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, and Scott Glenn on the set.
Some two decades after Muñoz last saw his father, he became a dad himself and missed his old man terribly.
“I probably have thought about him more in the last few years since I had children of my own,” Muñoz told Greenberg when he was in his 11th season with the Cincinnati Bengals. “See, I never had a father so I never knew what I was missing.”
Whenever he attended church service, he recalled seeing men sharing testimonies about their experiences with their dads. Although Muñoz couldn’t relate to their experiences, the best thing he could do was become a responsible father to his kids Michael and Michelle.
Anthony Muñoz set the bar high for the left tackle position during his heyday in the NFL. He appeared in eleven consecutive Pro Bowls from 1981 to 1991.
He also earned nine First-Team All-Pro and two Second-Team All-Pro selections in his pro football career.
Muñoz also won the 1991 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award for his performance on the gridiron and his charitable work off it.
Muñoz was so good McNally remembered him having just one bad game in his thirteen-year NFL career.
Some of the most respected defensive linemen in the league sung his praises.
Houston Oilers defensive end William Fuller thought Muñoz’s excellent hand-foot coordination prevented pass rushers from catching him off guard.
On the other hand, eleven-time Buffalo Bills Pro Bowl defensive end Bruce Smith – who’s also enshrined in Canton along with Muñoz – also sang his praises.
“There are no comparisons between him and other tackles,” Smith told Sports Illustrated in 1990. “He’s proven it year after year that he’s the best.”
Smith was right – Anthony Muñoz was in a league of his own. He was one of the rare pass-catching threats at left tackle. In fact, he had seven career receptions and four receiving touchdowns in his legendary NFL career.
Muñoz helped protect Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason from 1984 to 1992.
For his part, Esiason lauded his Pro Bowl left tackle for his outstanding pass-blocking abilities. Esiason told Greenberg in 1990 that if he were as good as Muñoz at left tackle, he would’ve been “10 times better than Joe Montana.”
Muñoz was also such a dedicated family man that he never participated in any suspicious extracurricular activities with his teammates.
Esiason typically took his offensive linemen out for dinner on Thursday evenings. Because Friday was a light practice day for the Bengals, they hung out elsewhere after dinner.
Not Anthony Muñoz, though. Esiason knew his left tackle would always turn down their post-dinner invites. Muñoz always told them he had to attend to family-related matters.
Family is everything to Anthony Muñoz. He regularly brought his wife and kids with him to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl – an annual event for him given his stellar play on the offensive line for the Bengals.
Muñoz also ran with his kids – who became stellar athletes themselves in high school and college – at a nearby learning institution during the offseason. He also took Michael and Michelle with him to help give out food at the local Salvation Army in Cincinnati, per Layden.
Not only that, but Muñoz and his family also went on spring break and Thanksgiving vacations together. They were regulars at the Playhouse in the Park in Cincy to watch “A Christmas Carol” every December.
Muñoz’s durability set him apart from other offensive linemen. During his time in the NFL, he missed just three games to injury in his thirteen pro football seasons.
"There’s not one (player in NFL history)… I would trade for Anthony Muñoz."
7️⃣8️⃣ DEYS TO KICKOFF pic.twitter.com/XA7HX7Eek6
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) June 26, 2021
The secret lay in Muñoz’s commitment to fitness. He did weight training three times weekly in his home gym and ran three to four miles daily. His hard work away from the gridiron reaped enormous dividends in terms of his longevity.
Muñoz always worked hard in training and never cut corners. In fact, Bengals strength coach Kim Wood told Sports Illustrated in 1990 that Muñoz never took steroids,
The Bengals were mostly an average team during Anthony Muñoz’s thirteen-year pro football career. They averaged eight wins from 1980 to 1992 with him as their left tackle.
However, Muñoz and the Bengals won twelve games in 1981 and 1988. They made it to the Super Bowl on both occasions but couldn’t get past Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers each time.
After missing just three games in his first twelve pro football seasons, Muñoz missed a huge chunk of the 1992 NFL campaign due to knee and shoulder issues. He decided to retire at the end of that season.
However, Muñoz had a change of heart and signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1993.
The San Diego Chargers were also interested in Muñoz’s services. However, Muñoz ultimately chose Tampa Bay because some of his former Bengals teammates were with the Bucs.
Plus, Sam Wyche, the head coach he had played for in Cincinnati for eight years, called the shots for Tampa Bay.
Other factors also helped Muñoz favor Tampa Bay over San Diego. He liked the idea of playing on grass rather than artificial turf because the former was easier on his thirty-five-year-old body, per the Chicago Tribune’s Annette Mey Meade.
The thought of playing somewhere else on the offensive line piqued Muñoz’s interest. Tampa Bay was already set at left tackle, so the Buccaneers eyed Muñoz as either right tackle or guard.
Alas, Anthony Muñoz wearing another uniform for the first time in his career never materialized. The Buccaneers released him just before the 1993 NFL regular season kicked off.
Muñoz decided to retire from the National Football League for good this time around.
Anthony Muñoz had many charitable endeavors during his time in the Queen City. He represented various organizations such as Teen Challenge, Athletes in Action, and United Appeal, per Greenberg.
Muñoz gave talks on drug and alcohol abuse and helped spread awareness of cystic fibrosis during his playing days in Cincinnati.
Anthony Muñoz and his wife DeDe have a son Michael and a daughter Michelle.
According to SBSun.com’s Pete Marshall, Muñoz settled in the Cincinnati, OH area after he retired from the National Football League.
However, he never forgot his California roots – he visits the Ontario region regularly to visit family and friends. He has also organized football camps in the area that emphasize character building.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrined Anthony Muñoz in the summer of 1998. He became the first Cincinnati Bengals player who earned that distinction.
His son Michael, who introduced him to the crowd in Canton, OH, thanked him for being a responsible father. The younger Muñoz remembered the times when his dad went home early instead of hanging out with his teammates.
Michael Muñoz also gave props to his father for not taking extra jobs, so he could play sports with him and his sister Michelle. Above all, he lauded his dad for being a committed Christian.
For his part, Anthony Muñoz asked his son if he was okay prior to his introductory speech because he thought he was nervous.
“He blew me away,” he told Sports Illustrated two years later. “At least with the parts I could hear when I wasn’t crying.” .
Muñoz founded the Anthony Muñoz Foundation in 2002. According to the organization’s official website, its mission is to help Cincinnati-area youth develop physically, mentally, and spiritually through its various Impact Programs.
Muñoz received the Walter Camp Foundation’s Man of the Year award in 2005.
Muñoz officially became a member of the Bengals Hall of Fame in 2021. He’s also a member of the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, and the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame appointed Anthony Muñoz as its chief football relationship officer in the summer of 2022.