Chuck Muncie: the running back was dazzling under the bright lights of “Monday Night Football” in 1979, but the Saints were still no match for the Raiders

Chuck Muncie: the running back was dazzling under the bright lights of “Monday Night Football” in 1979, but the Saints were still no match for the Raiders – The Game I’ll Never Forget

WHEN YOU PLAYED FOR THE New Orleans Saints in the 1970s, you weren’t used to being on “Monday Night Football.” But late in the 1979 season, we played the Oakland Raiders on Monday night, and we built up a three-touchdown lead. I had more than 100 yards rushing that game, as well as a touchdown in the first half, and Howard Cosell was saying this was “Muncie Night Football.”

Playing on Monday nights made your adrenaline run higher. As a player, you knew you were going to be on center stage. You got up for this game more than any other.

Aside from being on Monday night, this was a big game because we were actually battling for a playoff berth. We were trying to keep pace with the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC West We were dying to make the playoffs.

Up until then, making the playoffs seemed like a distant dream. We went through a lot of losing seasons, struggled to find a direction. But as we started to win in 1979, the fans were really getting behind us.

I think they were coming out to see our offense, which could put points on the board. Archie Manning was the quarter-back, and we also had Wes Chandler, Henry Childs, Ike Harris, Tony Galbreath, and me. In addition, we had brought in Conrad Dobler to strengthen the offensive line, and we had Garo Yepremian kicking. It was a lot of fun coming to the stadium every day because you knew we had a lot of good players and a lot of firepower. You knew it was only a matter of time before we started winning some games.

We had a great offense, but stopping the other team with our defense was another matter. We just didn’t have a lot of great defensive players back then. Just didn’t have ’em.

One thing we did have, however, was camaraderie. We were really a close-knit team. New Orleans is a big little town; whenever you went somewhere, you weren’t by yourself. Usually four, five, six, seven, or eight guys went out to dinner together.

That’s one of the things I attribute to Hank Stram. When he was our coach, he really put an emphasis on camaraderie. He’d have little functions after practice–they would bring in big boxes of Popeye’s chicken. Instead of guys bolting out the door, Hank would bring in some beer and some Popeye’s fried chicken, and we would hang out in the locker room. Guys wouldn’t have even gotten into the shower yet and they’d sit there for two, three hours together, just talking. So we got close, and I believe that by 1979, when Dick Nolan was coach, that made all the difference in our team.

Our attitude really helped us that year, and we thought we had that game against Oakland in the bag. But we should have known better. The Raiders never quit.

I’ll tell you a story about how much the Raiders loved to compete. Later in my career, when I was with the San Diego Chargers, the Raiders got a report that I had an injured ankle. It was the left one, but they got their report mixed up and thought it was my right one. So I got tackled, and on the bottom of the pile Lyle Alzado had my right ankle and was grinding it and everything. I got up and pretended to limp. I looked back at him and said, “Hey, wrong ankle, — hole!” They were always a tough bunch of guys, from quarterback Ken Stabler on down.

And it was Stabler who began to lead the Raiders on a comeback on this Monday night. They kept closing the deficit, and we couldn’t do anything to stop it.

Cliff Branch was the big problem for us that night. We were still ahead when he caught a little five-yard out and put a move on. Branch went all the way for a touchdown. Branch later caught another TD pass that wound up winning the game for the Raiders.

We got the ball back with just a minute or so to play, but we couldn’t get anything going and their defense shut us down. After mounting a 28-14 half-time lead, we lost 42-35.

That was a really tough loss because not only did we blow a big lead, but we also fell a game behind the Rams in the NFC West. We didn’t make the playoffs that year–we finished at 8-8–and that late-season loss may have been the key.

Chuck Muncie’s Career Statistics

Year Team Atts. Yds. Avg. TDs

1976 Saints 149 659 4.4 2

1977 Saints 202 811 4.0 6

1978 Saints 160 557 3.5 7

1979 Saints 238 1,198 5.0 11

1980 Saints/Chargers 175 827 4.7 6

1981 Chargers 251 1,144 4.6 19

1982 Chargers 138 569 4.1 8

1983 Chargers 235 886 3.8 12

1984 Chargers 14 51 3.6 0

Totals 1,561 6,702 4.3 71

Chuck Muncie’s Most Memorable Game

December 3; Louisiana Superdome; New Orleans

Oakland Raiders 7 7 7 21-42

New Orleans Saints 0 28 7 0-35

Scoring Raiders Saints

First Quarter

Oakland–Chester, 3-yard pass from Stabler

(Breech kick) 7 0

Second Quarter

New Orleans–Galbreath, 2-yard run (Yepremian kick) 7 7

New Orleans–Galbreath, 17-yard pass from Manning

(Yepremian kick) 7 14

New Orleans–Muncie, 1-yard run (Yepremian kick) 7 21

New Orleans–Childs, 28-yard pass from Manning

(Yepremian kick) 7 28

Oakland–Whittington, 1-yard run (Breech kick)

Rushing yards (net) 14 28

Third Quarter

New Orleans–Bordelon, 19-yard pass from Manning

(Yepremian kick) 14 35

Oakland–van Eeghen, 1-yard run (Breech kick) 21 35

Fourth Quarter

Oakland–Ramsey, 17-yard pass from Stabler (Breech kick) 28 35

Oakland–Branch, 66-yard pass from Stabler (Breech kick) 35 35

Oakland–Branch, 8-yard pass from Stabler (Breech kick) 42 35

Attendance: 65,541.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Ultimate comeback.

CHUCK MUNCIE WENT FROM AN ALL-PRO running back with a stallion’s stride and a warrior’s will to a junkie, from the green fields of the NFL to the iron bars of a federal prison, where he was sentenced in 1989 for perjury and drug dealing.

Muncie had been the runner-up for the 1974 Heisman Trophy at Cal. In the NFL, he became a two-time 1,000-yard rusher and a Pro Bowl MVP. Now his life was shot.

But going to jail, Muncie says, changed his life. Saved his life. Gave him life.

“I had a chance to really sit there and took at myself and say, `How the hell did I get here, and what am I going to do to not have it happen again?'” says Muncie, 48, who lives in Lafayette, Calif.

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, playing for the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers, Muncie was one of the best running backs in the game. He became the first Saints player ever to reach the 1,000-yard plateau when he ran for 1,198 yards in 1979. In 1981 with the Chargers, he ran for 1,144 and a league-high 19 touchdowns.

But when he tested positive for cocaine in 1984, his career was doomed. He finished with 6,702 rushing yards in his career, but he couldn’t run from a cocaine problem that landed him in jail for 17 months.

When Muncie got out of jail, he committed himself to helping people before they went down despair’s path. In 1993, he set up the Chuck Muncie Youth Foundation.

The foundation runs several youth programs aimed at self-motivation. No one earns a dime, not Muncie, not his wife Laura, not any of the volunteers. “I do the fundraising to fund the program, pay for materials, that kind of stuff,” says Muncie.

For Muncie, operating his foundation presents more challenges than running away from mammoth, slobbering defenders did. But it’s also a lot more rewarding.

“It’s like I tell people, `If you guys get something out this, great. But I’m getting a whole tot out: of it,'” Muncie says. “It’s my program, it’s my way of being able to walk my talk and keeping me straight and sober and walking that straight line. And it’s because I wake up feeling good about myself.”

To make a donation to the foundation, write to 3334 Woodview Ct., Lafayette, CA 94549 More information about the foundation is available at

COPYRIGHT 2002 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group