Anthony Munoz: the Hall of Fame left tackle’s Bengals overcame the elements to beat the Chargers in the 1981 season’s AFC Championship Game
BEFORE WE CAME OUT FOR THE AFC Championship Game against the San Diego Chargers in January 1982, we decided that we weren’t going to wear long sleeves. The first-stringers didn’t want any material for the defenders to grab onto–that’s why all the offensive linemen, including me, wore tailored jerseys. If you wear a thermal sleeve, the defense can grab it.
So we went with no sleeves. The backups all said, “Oh man, do we have to go sleeveless, too?” We were like, “Yeah. We’re a unit. We should look the same.”
When we came out for a brief warm-up before the game, we looked over at the Chargers’ side and there were a couple of guys without sleeves. I made a mental note of it. Later, when we came out for the start of the game, I looked over and every Chargers player was fully loaded with clothes, all bundled up.
We knew right then that we had a psychological edge. You could tell they were already worried and focused on the cold weather and how they were going to handle it. We were focused on the game, so it was no surprise to me that we ended up winning.
It was so cold the morning of the game that my car wouldn’t start. We stayed in a hotel about 20 minutes north of our home field, Riverfront Stadium, and I had this big, full-size Blazer. I had to leave it in the hotel parking lot because its engine wouldn’t turn over, and I took a van to the game. That’s how frigid it was.
In our team highlight reel from the 1981 season, there was footage from that day of steam coming off the river. The reel also featured a disc jockey from a local radio station talking about how cold it was that morning. He said something like, “It’s 59 degrees below zero with the wind-chill factor. Keep your animals inside. Keep your cats and dogs all safe inside.”
I laugh at that now. Keep your dogs and cats safe inside, but for the 47,000 people who have tickets to the game, go out and watch football. And for the players, go out and play it.
Our quarterback, Ken Anderson, did a great job that day–it was amazing watching him throw the football. Usually quarterbacks wear gloves or keep their hands in warmers in the front of their pants to keep their fingers from going numb. Kenny played the whole game barehanded.
We got ahead 3-0 early, and then Kenny went to work. We recovered the ball when the Chargers fumbled on a punt return, then Kenny made this nice throw to M.L. Harris for a touchdown. It was 10-0, and you could clearly see that one team was dealing with this game a lot better than the other.
It’s funny because you heard a lot of talk that we were used to that kind of weather We were? I grew up in California, where it was 75 degrees all the time. We had a bunch of guys from California and Texas and Florida. Unless you grew up in a freezer, you couldn’t have been used to that kind of weather.
There also was a lot of talk that the game shouldn’t have been played at all, that it was too cold. The people who were saying this were doing so the morning after the fact. Look, it was 59 below for both teams–everyone had to deal with the elements. It was tough, but you still had a job to do.
I went to college at sunny Southern Cal, and the 1981 season was my second in the league. By then, I had adjusted to the different weather. My last game as a rookie, it was 15, 16 degrees. It was just a matter of not allowing that to affect you.
The longer this AFC title game went on, the stronger we got. The Chargers were coming off a long, emotional game the week before against the Dolphins down in Miami. That was the game in which the teams combined for 79 points and an exhausted Kellen Winslow had to be carried off the field after overtime.
Against us, the Chargers got a touchdown in the second quarter to cut our lead to 17-7, but then we made all the big plays. David Verser had some nice returns, and the defense was pressuring Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts the whole game and blanketing wide receivers Charlie Joiner and Wes Chandler. We kept attacking them.
Our offense didn’t get as much publicity as the Chargers’ offense, but we great balance: Anderson, wide receiver Cris Collinsworth, running back Pete Johnson, and even a guy like tight end Dan Ross, who wasn’t the fastest guy in the world but caught everything they threw his way. In Super Bowl 16 after we beat the Chargers, he had 11 catches, which still is a record. And then we added some guys like Harris, who came down from Canada with Forrest Gregg when Forrest took over as coach of the team.
A lot of people thought the only reason we won was because of the weather. They think that’s the only way we kept the Chargers’ offense in check. But they don’t remember that we had beaten the Chargers by more than three touchdowns during the regular season.
We didn’t beat them by as many points this time around, but we ended up with a 27-7 victory. We controlled the second half, with Jim Breech kicking a field goal and Don Bass catching a touchdown pass.
In closing, let me share a funny moment from that game. I sweat profusely, more than anyone I’ve ever seen. But when I came into the locker room after the game, there was no sweat on my body. Breech was amazed, saying, “This is the first lime you went through an entire game with no sweat on your undershirt.”
That’s how cold it was.
ELEVEN CONSECUTIVE ALL-PRO SELECTIONS. Three NFL Offensive Lineman of the Year awards. A spot on the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. Induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
There are many reasons why people say Anthony Munoz is greatest offensive lineman ever. Munoz has heard that lofty praise many times, and he says “it’s a embarrassing.” But the good part of being an NFL legend, he adds, is that doors fly open.
“When someone says something like that, I sit there saying to myself, ‘You can’t be talking about me,'” says the 45-year-old Munoz, who spent 13 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals before retiring in 1992. “But what my success on the football field has done is give me a platform. God gave me a gift. Now you have to ask yourself, ‘Am I going to use it in a positive or negative way?'”
Munoz is using that platform to help children in the Cincinnati area. Established in 2002, the Anthony Munoz Foundation has a simple mission statement: Empower young people to reach their highest potential. To make that happen, Munoz puts in a lot of time and effort. “Our foundation is a little unique,” says Munoz, “because our impact programs are hands-on type of deals.”
There are numerous programs, backed by 80 or so corporate sponsors. The foundation recently brought together 240 high school students for the second annual Youth Leadership Conference, with Bengals coach Marvin Lewis serving as the keynote speaker. Last year, the foundation brought in the real-life coaches from the movie “Remember the Titans” to talk with kids. Munoz also has a football camp and a college scholarship fund. ]n addition, the foundation raises money to help several ether charities, such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati.
Munoz knows what it’s like to have to struggle to get ahead, He never knew his father, who left his mother Esther to raise Anthony and four siblings by herself. Growing up in Ontario, Calif., about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, Munoz and his family didn’t have much, not even a car. And Esther was often battling arthritis.
But Munoz was blessed with a 6″6″ frame, great strength, and a love of athletics. He was a three-sport star at Charley High School before going onto USC. The Bengals selected him with the third pick overall in the 1980 draft.
These days, aside from his foundation work, Munoz spends a lot of his time watching his own kids. Son Michael plays left tackle at the University of Tennessee, just like Anthony did. And Michelle, a two-time Ms. Basketball in Ohio, is in her first season at Ohio State after transferring from Tennessee. “She’s the best athlete in the family,” Dad brags.
Munoz says he puts on a pair of sunglasses and a hat, and sits in the stands rooting for his kids.
“It was an exciting thing sitting here talking about what I did [and talking about my most memorable game],” says Munoz. “But watching them play is by far more exciting.”
Anthony Munoz’s Most Memorable Game
AFC Championship Game; January 10, 1982; Riverfront Stadium; Cincinnati
San Diego Chargers 0 7 0 0– 7
Cincinnati Bengals 10 7 3 7–27
Scoring Chargers Bengals
Cincinnati–Breech, 31-yard field goal 0 3
Cincinnati–M.L. Harris, 8-yard pass from 0 10
Anderson (Breech kick)
Cincinnati–Johnson, 1-yard run (Breech kick) 0 17
San Diego–Winslow, 33-yard pass from Fouts 7 17
Cincinnati–Breech, 38-yard field goal 7 20
Cincinnati–Bass, three-yard pass from Anderson 7 27
Team statistics Cardinals Rams
First downs 18 19
Rushing yards 128 143
Passes (attempts-completions-interceptions) 15-28-2 13-25-0
Passing yards 173 175
Punts-average 2-29.5 3-30.6
Fumbles-lost 2-Apr 1-Mar
Penalties-yards 15-Feb 3.25
San Diego: Moncie 23 rushes for 94 yards, Brooks 6-23, Cappelletti
1-5, Fouts 1-6.
Cincinnati: Johnson 21-80, Alexander 9-22, Anderson 5-39,
San Diego: Fouts 15 completions, 28 attempts, 185 yards, 2
interceptions, 1 touchdown.
Cincinnati: Anderson 14-22-161-0-2, Thompson 1-1-14-0-6.
San Diego: Winslow 3 receptions for 47 yards, Chandler 6-79, Joiner
3-41, Brooks 2-5, Sievers 1-13.
Cincinnati: Alexander 3-25, Ross 5-69, M.L. Harris 1-6, Collinsworth
2-28, Curtis 2-28, Johnson 1-14, Bass 1-3.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Century Publishing Co.
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