That is the thing about life. The longer you live, the more death is a part of it. People you looked up to, admired, whose careers you followed, who entertained and enthralled you in your youth, they don’t live forever.
I had not thought of Chuck Muncie in 20 years or more until yesterday when Mike Rhyner of KTCK 1310 “the Ticket” memorialized the former NFL running back. Rhyner, a few years my senior, gave Muncie a fitting tribute, remembering the impact he had on the game and how much fun it was to watch him run.
I remember Muncie as the tough and talented RB with glasses. He had bad eyes but great “vision,” which is common for all great running backs.
Muncie’s NFL career ended ingloriously in 1984, as he was suspended for cocaine use. As the LA Times reports, he kicked the habit and in his retirement became an advocate for overcoming drug addiction.
Muncie played his college ball at UC Berkeley. Berkeley in the 1970s was the epicenter of the counter-culture movement. Drugs were common fare there and that is where Muncie first came into contact with Cocaine, the drug that would end his career and later land him in jail:
In a statement, the Chargers called him “one of the greatest running backs” in the team’s history and a “tremendous athlete with a larger-than-life personality.”
Recruited to play football at Cal, Muncie started using cocaine and his drug-abuse only increased once he made it to the NFL, he said in interviews.
After the first regular-season game of 1984, Muncie’s career came to a dramatic end when then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended him after Muncie tested positive for cocaine.
Five years later Muncie was arrested and sentenced to 18 months for selling cocaine. Going to jail saved his life, he often said, and while behind bars he vowed to turn his life around.
In 1997 he established the Chuck Muncie Youth Foundation, a California-based nonprofit that helped youngsters steer clear of drugs and the kinds of bad decisions that nearly destroyed him. It also offered a highly regarded tattoo-removal program.
He also spearheaded a mentoring program for athletes at UC Berkeley that “would have made all the difference” when he was at the school, Muncie told The Times in 2008.
At 6 feet 3 and 225 pounds, Muncie was gifted with size, speed and power. While playing for Cal, he finished second to Archie Griffin of Ohio State in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1975. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies, according to the magazine.
A first-round draft pick by the Saints in 1976, Muncie was paired with Tony Galbreath in the team’s backfield. They were dubbed “Thunder and Lightning.”
In 1979, Muncie became the first Saints running back to break the 1,000-yard barrier in a season, with 238 carries for 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Former teammate Don Reese told Sports Illustrated in 1982 that Muncie had to be a “superman” to continue performing at such a high level despite his addiction.
Muncie would finish his NFL career with 1,561 carries for 6,702 yards, a 4.3-yard average, and 71 touchdowns. He also had 263 receptions for 2,323 yards.
In the middle of the 1980 season, Muncie was traded to the Chargers and the next year he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 19.
Muncie’s career spanned what, to me, is the golden age of the NFL. In the 1970s, the running back was the god of the gridiron. You had backs of such grace and power dominating the game. Names like OJ Simpson, Walter PaytonTony Dorsett, Earl Campbell, Franco Harris, Larry Csonka and Chuck Foreman were among the greatest ever to tote the rock.
Muncie was in that group. Sure, he only eclipsed 1,000 yards twice. Remember this, though. The first half of his career was spent with the lowly New Orleans Saints, whose fans were famous for wearing bags over their heads. This was a team that seldom had the talent to sniff the playoffs.
The second half of his career, Muncie played for the San Diego Chargers. That team was coached by Don Coryell, the mad football scientist of his era, and threw the ball all over the field. His offense was nicknamed “Air Coryell.”
Whatever accomplishments Muncie mustered was either on a bad team or on a team that utilized the passing game more than any other team of its era. Muncie finished his 8+ year career with 6,702 rushing yards and 2,323 yards receiving. He went to three Pro Bowls. He was voted first team All-Conference once and second team All-Conference twice.
As a young football fan, I was enamored of the 1,000 yard back. Muncie was of particular interest because he looked different doing it than everyone else. Bill Williamson of EPSN knows what I mean:
Yes, those high-flying San Diego Chargers of the early 1980s were known as Air Coryell.
Yet one of the most memorable and recognizable figures on those teams was a hard-charging running back named Chuck Muncie. With a menacing bar down the center of his face mask and thick, black-frame glasses, the big, strong Muncie was a load for defenses around the league to handle.
The California product was the No. 3 overall draft pick by the Saints in 1976. He was traded to the Chargers in 1980. He gave them a strong running presence, and quickly became a major part of an entertaining offense.
Muncie the man got his life straight and made a positive impact on succeeding generations. Muncie the football player made memories for guys like me…